By Alice Bugani | The BL

The Japanese initially greeted MacArthur with suspicion and concern, but by the end of his stay, they saw him off with tears of gratitude and appreciation in their eyes.

When 65-year-old MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in August 1945, he became the man who would determine the fate of post-war Japan.

He arrived in Tokyo on the 30th of August, where was assigned to oversee the demobilization of Japan’s military forces as well as the restoration of the country’s economy. On September 2, 1945, when he officially accepted Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, he pledged that he would do anything in his power to create a better world for Japanese people.

Over the short period of 6 years, he worked hard to accomplish his goal of eradicating Japanese feudalism and reforming its political, economic, and education system entirely based on the American model. He paved the way for Japan to prosper and become a country advanced in the socio-political-economic spheres.

MacArthur signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri. American General Jonathan Wainwright and British General Arthur Percival stand behind him. (Public Domain)

Initial phase

Surrender of Japan, Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, reading his speech to open the surrender ceremonies, on board USS Missouri (BB-63). (Public Domain)

After arriving in Japan, MacArthur immediately prohibited the Allied army from attacking the Japanese and taking their scares food. He asked the US Government to provide emergency food relief for Japan to prevent hunger and political turmoil. Following the collapse of the ruling government and the destruction of its main cities, Japan was in a destitute state – 9 million people were homeless, 13 million were unemployed, and 10 million were living in hunger.

At the brink of starvation, and with the cost of food increased by 7.5 times, MacArthur’s priority was to come up with a solution to tackle hunger. He set up a food distribution network and reduced US troops and military personnel to 200,000 in number, utilizing the excess food to help the Japanese people.

In the fiscal year 1946, the US Government provided emergency food relief worth US$92 million.

The US Congress responded to all requests to feed starving Japanese people raised by MacArthur. As a result, in 1948, Japanese civil servants enjoyed a diet of 2,000 calories a day. In 1949, its food reserves amounted to 3 million tons, while rice production in 1950 reached 9.5 million tons. The Japanese government planned to abolish its food stamp program in April 1951 but had to postpone it because of the Korean War and China’s sudden involvement.

MacArthur encouraged the formation of American-style democracy. He further fostered Japan’s democratic reform by issuing the Shinto Directive to abolish state support for the Shinto religion, as the Allies thought that the “State Shinto” was a major contributor to Japan’s nationalistic and militant culture that lead to World War II.

On October 4, 1945, he also ordered the release of all political prisoners, and decided to trial and punish all Japanese war criminals.

To implement it, American judges organized various military tribunals, uncovering more than 5-700 guilty officials, of which 149 were sentenced to death. Twenty-eight military and political leaders were tried and charged in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, 25 of which were found guilty, with six defendants sentenced to death.

Douglas MacArthur joking around in 1912 as 4 star General LOC18374u. ( / CC BY-NC-SA)


MacArthur advocated for the establishment of the military occupation of the country to create a demilitarized, democratized, and decentralized Japan. The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers was given direct control over the main islands of Japan (Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the surrounding islands to limit its national sovereignty, while outlying possessions were divided between the Allied Powers.

The occupation lasted for 6 years and 8 months and ended on September 8, 1951, when 51 countries signed the Peace Accords of San Francisco. After the Treaty came into effect on April 28, 1952, Japan became an independent sovereign nation, and in 1956 it joined the United Nations.

The United States mobilized 350,000 troops to occupy Japan to ensure compliance with their terms of surrender. American soldiers liberated prisoners, fired all military officials, disarmed and disbanded the Japanese Army, forcing over 7 million Japanese soldiers to retire and return to their families.

In addition, the Japanese Navy was also abolished, while all ammunition, weapons and all military equipment were destroyed. The military industry shifted to manufacturing consumer goods.

At MacArthur’s insistence, Emperor Hirohito would remain on the imperial throne.

His decision to allow the Emperor to keep his throne was a controversial one. It was met with strong resistance from Allied political and military leaders who pushed for Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal. While Hirohito himself claimed full responsibility for the Pacific War, MacArthur considered the Emperor as the symbol of Japan – one of stability and harmony – and argued that the idea would be unpopular with the Japanese people.

MacArthur and the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, at their first meeting, September 1945. (Public Domain)

Without the presence of its emperor, the General thought that the nation would fall into chaos, as it would be subject to division due to factional fights, resulting in political instability. In that climate, he theorized that Japanese soldiers would launch a guerrilla fight against the occupying troops. McArthur’s decision was inspired, as Japanese people had a long tradition of strict obedience to the Emperor’s words, and they did not take any action against their occupants.

MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito met 11 times in total, and the Emperor accepted the policies of the Japanese government introduced under his guidance. On January 1, 1946, Hirohito read the Universal Declaration of Humanity (Ningen-sengen) on the radio. For the first time in history, the Emperor announced that he was an ordinary person, renouncing the concept of being a living god, which meant he also renounced his supremacy over the nation. This declaration made MacArthur the most powerful leader in Japan.

MacArthur in 1945, with a corncob pipe. (


Simultaneously with the radical eradication of Japanese militarism, MacArthur launched a comprehensive democratic reform of Japan in terms of politics, economy, and education, starting with the amendment of the Constitution.

MacArthur pushed for an amendment of the Meiji Constitution, which was enacted in 1889, to democratize the country. In February 1946, the Diet submitted a first draft Constitution, but it was not accepted by the General. He created a Council of 25 Americans and asked them to draft of the new Constitution before the meeting of the Allies (February 26, 1946), so that foreign countries would not be able to intervene in Japanese politics.

The new constitution drafted by Americans demonstrates the United States’ viewpoint of freedom, democracy, and isolationism. The Emperor was stripped of his position of supreme sovereignty, which was transferred to the people, and only served as “a symbol of the State and the unity of the people.” The radical reform of the Emperor’s power wiped out feudal authoritarianism and brought down the spiritual pillars of Japanese nationalism.

General Douglas MacArthur and aide, July 1942. (

Most importantly, Article Nine was implemented. The article stated: “War, as a sovereign right of nation is abolished. Japan renounces it as an instrumentality for settling its disputes and even for preserving its own security. No Japanese Army, Navy, or Air Force will ever be authorized and no rights of belligerency will ever be conferred upon any Japanese force.”

The constitution also guaranteed fundamental human fights, giving the Japanese people the right to freedom of speech and assembly. It also enfranchised women, giving them the right to vote.

On April 10, 1946, Japan held its first general election and elected its first Government and its first modern prime minister – Shigeru Yoshida. Emperor Hirohito and the vast majority of Japanese people supported the new Constitution. On 3 November 1946, the Emperor presented the Constitution before Parliament, which began to implement it from 3 March – marking the victory of political reform.

Economic growth
and reforms

While he was democratizing the country, MacArthur also carried out bold economic reforms. He implemented land reforms and redistribution of ownership within the agricultural system, which not only improved the economy but the welfare of farmers as well.

It is considered the most successful model of land reform in the world, and the General himself said that this was the greatest achievement of his political career. Landowners were forced to sell to the state at a set price all the land they did not plow. The state then sold the land to farmers who didn’t own land, giving priority to those who were farming the land. This reform was conducted very drastically and thoroughly, completely removing landlords, which means eliminated all basis of the previous feudal regime.

Additionally, he also reorganized trade unions and broadened their power, giving the workers the right to strike, and restructured financial-industrial capital groups.

Regarding education, MacArthur instructed the removal of militarist ideology from the school system and banned the propagation of Shinto and Taoist education. The new education system conditioned students to readily accept democratic, liberal, and egalitarian ideals rather than worshiping the Emperor.

Douglas MacArthur (rear), Jean MacArthur, and son Arthur MacArthur IV in 1950. (Public Domain)

McArthur’s relationship
with the Japanese

MacArthur instructed American soldiers to respect the local people – which included taking their shoes off before entering a house, respecting cultural norms, and helping underprivileged children.

That is how Japanese people’s attitude toward American soldiers changed from fear to respect. Within six short months of landing on Japanese soil, the local population posed no threat to American soldiers, who were able to move around the country disarmed and had no need to defend themselves.

When the Korean War broke out, MacArthur was able to safely withdraw most of the troops occupying Japan and sent them to Korean, where they fought under his command against North Korea.

MacArthur did not travel much in Japan, and rarely had contact with Japanese people, only meeting with a few senior Japanese officials, but a large number of Japanese people were still fascinated by him. Most citizens treated him with the same respect as they would treat their emperor, considering him as the savior of Japan.

They gave him countless presents, offered him land, and sent him thousands of letters. Altogether, MacArthur has received about half a million letters from the Japanese population. Many expressed their gratitude toward his generous policies.

A Statue of General Douglas MacArthur, designed by Walker Hancock, stands outside the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk Virginia. (Shutterstock)

The letters were so many that they inspired Japanese writer Sodei Rinjiro to write a book called “Dear General MacArthur: Letters from the Japanese during the American occupation” published in 2001. Sodei has read more than 10 thousand letters and used 120 in his book.,/

Even though the “Gaijin Shogun” (Foreign General) had almost complete control over the country, the Japanese people liked him. They thought he was liberating them from war, poverty, from the oppression of the authoritarian Japanese political regime, as well as from the despair and starvation.

In 1949, MacArthur made a sweeping change in the SCAP power structure that greatly increased the power of Japan’s native rulers, and the occupation began to draw to a close. He handed over power to the Japanese government but remained in Japan until relieved by President Harry S. Truman on April 11, 1951.

Hundreds of thousand of Japanese were seen standing on the side road to see him off. (Youtube screenshot)

On the way from his residence to the Atsugi airport, hundreds of thousands of Japanese were seen surrounding the building to see him off. They accompanied him with resounding voices exclaiming: Marshal!

His wisdom and political savvy, coupled with his tolerance, have touched the hearts of millions of Japanese people. He helped Japan to transit to a new era of development – in 10 years, Japan became the second most powerful economy in the world, boasting a stable and advanced society.

Due to his honorable contributions, MacArthur has been honored by the Japanese as one of the most popular 12 Japanese celebrities of Japan. His policies and respectfulness have contributed to creating modern Japan as we know it.

(The cover photo from Public Domain)