In 1944, 70 years ago, Japan was under the rule of Emperor Hirohito. He reigned as emperor over a country at war with the Allied nations. What’s now known as simply “Japan,” or “Nihon,” was then called “The Empire of Japan” (大日本帝国 ), whose purpose was to become a new world power and win World War II. Hirohito, posthumously known as “Shouwa,” maintained a position of head of state during the War. He eventually requested all Japanese to honorably commit suicide rather than become a prisoner of war.
In 2014, the country of Japan’s emperor is Akihito. Japan today is the world’s second largest developed economy, and is no longer at war with any country. Akihito, who will be posthumously named Emperor Heisei, is restricted in his political power in the modern-day Japanese diplomatic structure. However, he recently made a trip to Saipan to mourn and respect the losses of Japanese, Korean, American, and locals during the Battle of Saipan in 1944.
In 1944, anime was in its humble beginnings. Fuku-chan was the most popular manga, daily published in the Japanese newspapers. This well-loved comic was made into an anime film this year, encouraging patriotism during World War II.
In 2014, anime is known as one of the most popular forms of film and television. Today, it consists of over 430 production studios, including the infamous Studio Ghibli. Video games, clothing, toys, and more are now produced as advertising tools for this multi-billion dollar industry. Its unique style has developed over the years into something distinctly “Japanese,” and is recognized around the world.
In 1944, the Toukai region suffered a devastating 8.1 magnitude earthquake. 1,233 lives were lost and 2,135 others were injured. A 10-meter high tsunami was triggered that was felt as far as Alaska and Hawaii.
In 2014, Japan is recovering from another devastating earthquake and tsunami. The Tohoku earthquake was a magnitude 9.0, causing a 40.5-meter high tidal wave. Almost 16,000 people died, with another 6,100 injured and 2,601 people still missing. Today, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have offered humanitarian aid and helped rebuild this devastated area.
In 1944, the Empire of Japan’s military introduced kamikaze, who were fighter pilots commanded to destroy the enemy via a suicidal air attack. This wartime practice would last another year, causing 2,525 kamikaze pilot causalities, and killing an additional 4,900 enemy sailors.
In 2014, Japan’s military is known as the Japan Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Force. They were established with this new title and primary purpose of self-defense after World War II. Today, Prime Minister Abe is the commander-in-chief. Some of the policies of Japan’s national defense include avoiding becoming a world-threat, a nuclear weapons development ban, and upholding terms of agreement with the United States.
In 1944, the Empire of Japan was coming off of a 2 year high of ruling over 7,400,000 square kilometers (2,857,000 sq mi) of land and people. It was part of the major Axis powers, alongside Italy and Germany. 3 years prior, on December 7th 1941, they attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor. 2,403 Americans were killed, with another 1,178 wounded, pushing America into World War II. One year later in 1945, the United States would bomb the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 129,000 people and leaving behind lasting effects of radiation.
In 2014, Japan is known as one of the United States’ closest allies. Today, over 50,000 American servicemen and women live and work in Japan, alongside 40,000 American family members and 5,500 civilians workers. The two countries’ militaries work alongside each other daily in exercises, drills, and maintenance. Yearly they celebrate Friendship Day, festivals, and other special ceremonies promoting the countries alliance.
When I ask most of my American friends and family what they think of when they hear “Japan,” their image of the country is usually that of 1944 Japan. They imagine the country that attacked the U.S., and the country that was in turn, bombed. They wonder about Japan’s idea of America, and always ask if it’s “awkward” making Japanese friends because of our nations brutal wartime past.
However, when I ask my Japanese friends or students if they think about the World War II history of our two countries, they look at me strange. Usually, the responses are mixed between confusion and explaining that America is more to them than only a past enemy. Today, the bond between the two countries seems to be stronger than before, despite the past.
Japan isn’t quite the same country as it was 70 years ago. It has developed, grown, and become the peaceful country that it is known as today. Despite its wartime past, Japan provides a great example of how change for the better can still occur in countries of this world today.