If you’ve read John Dower’s beyond brilliant Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WW11, you would have encountered images similar to below. You can find a critical review of Dower’s book – albeit one which ignores his path breaking analysis of the transformations within Japanese popular culture (movies, style, cabaret, pulp novels and magazines HERE – and HERE is a good synopsis on prostitution based on Dower’s work. The latter is the most interesting blog I’ve come across for ages, and look forward to having a good flick thru. Recommended, if only for its historic b/w photos.
One of the main settings in Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace.
And, the ironic image of Pan Pan
Post WW11 Ground Zero.
Many horsemen of the apocalypse stalked the land. Epidemic diseases. Psychological trauma. Widespread starvation. Wholesale corruption by govt officials and industrialists. Millions of now despised ex-soldiers and former colonists returned to the mother country with zero prospects. Women selling their bodies for a couple of rice balls (“That is when I sank into the despised profession of being a ‘a woman of the night'”[Mizoguchi]). And, as in all Hobbesian societies, the blackmarket ruled what was left of a devastated economy.
Some 20,000 of what were termed Blue Sky markets sprang up across Japan to meet every social need. Not surprisingly, all this offered great advancement opportunities for Yakuza gangs, who now found themselves clashing with previously ‘untouchable’ communities of Koreans, Formosans and Chinese in black-market turf wars.
You can read a chapter of The Yakuza by David Kaplan @ Alec Dubro (University of California Press, 3003), by hitting up UCAP and opening the PDF file right side. It is well worth the effort, as they stress the deep continuities in Japanese society, the symbiotic relationship between militarism, big business and yakuza mob activities on the domestic front. Post WW11, Yakuza gangs functioned as de facto instruments of government, being involved in running markets, fire brigades, unions, real estate, building construction, tax collection departments, the ubiquitous entertainment industry, etc. Which is to say that gang criminality was completely institutionalised.
2013 updates on recent accommodations between the Yakuza, the police and the political sphere can be read HERE and HERE. While both reads uncover nothing that is not common knowledge, they do provide excellent overviews.
(And on a lighter note, the HQ of the Yamaguchi-gumi family was/is situated next to the Australian Embassy. The Oz Ambassador lodged a complaint with the Tokyo govt in the 90s. Apparently, while gazing out of his master of the universe office, he would see the guards patrolling the grounds routinely pissing on shrubs and fences. A quiet message was sent and the ambassador’s dignity was restored.)
SCAP’s (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) – ie Macarthur and the Americans – social engineering designed to demilitarise, democratise, empower workers and women etc produced quite limited, superficial results. Harry Emerson Wildes (Typhoon in Tokyo 1954), a political adviser to SCAP, who also had a hand in drafting the new Japanese Constitution, resigned in 1946 claiming that the new political parties were little more than hooligan gangs. Finally, a surprising fact is that Macarthur made sure that the Army of Occupation (Shinchu Gun) for the most part consisted of newly minted troops fresh from the US, rather than veterans of the Pacific campaign, thus removing the hate and payback factor.
The end result of the above ploy by Macarthur led to massive fraternisation between the Victors and local communities, which is to say that the prostitution business expanded exponentially. And if Blue Sky markets constituted capitalism in its rawest form, corruption among the Occupation forces also became the norm. As Robert Whiting writes in Tokyo Underworld:
“…., the soldiers stationed in Japan each month remitted to the United States a sum that exceeded their total payroll. When the Bank of Japan entrusted the United States Army with 800,000 carats of diamonds, the diamonds simply vanished. When the Tokyo police force handed over its guns to the Americans, the entire armoury somehow disappeared”.
You can read a tremendous chapter of Whiting’s book HERE, which vividly illustrates the points above.
The black market was probably the most important institution in any Japanese city or town. A loci of all the power relationships then existing in Japanese society, and a site where demand met supply in their most brutal form.
Not surprisingly, the black market – Shimbasi in this case – features prominently in Tokyo Ground Zero by David Peace (Faber @ Faber 2007). A police procedural with plotlines and characters which incorporate most of the themes mentioned above, even though it involves unravelling the activities of the serial killer Kodaira Yoshio, who honed his murderous skills with the Japanese army in Manchuria.
The Guardian provides a good account of Peace’s writing technique, which I found plain annoying. The last thing the literary world needs now is more of the James Ellroy noir style. Nonetheless, gripping plot and behind the scene machinations right up these with anything found in Ellroy’s LA Quartet.
Finishing Part Three. Blue Sky Markets: Cinema.