H-Diplo Article Review 1183: Roebuck on Hattori, “The Second Phase of War"

christopher ball Discussion

H-Diplo Article Review 1183

8 June 2023

Masako Hattori, “The Second Phase of War: Youth in U.S.-Occupied Japan,” Diplomatic History 46:5 (2022): 960-83. https://doi.org/10.1093/dh/dhac049


Editor: Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Thomas Maddux

Production Editor: Christopher Ball | Copy Editor: Bethany Keenan

Review by Kristin Roebuck, Cornell University

Few topics in Japanese history have been chronicled as thoroughly as the Allied occupation after World War II (1945–1952)—in multiple languages, first-person accounts, and scholarly disciplines, ranging from literature and cinema studies to sociology, history, gender studies, law, and political theory.[1] Yet Masako Hattori’s recent article proves that there are still fresh insights to be mined from this well-trod scholarly terrain. Hattori focuses on the reconfiguration of US-Japanese relations during the occupation as refracted through the idea of seinen, or ‘youths.’

Hattori reveals ‘youth’ as a category that both Japanese and American elites used as a way to mobilize people in their teens to mid-twenties for national and geopolitical projects important to the two world wars, postwar reconstruction, and the burgeoning Cold War. Hence Hattori foregrounds both convergence and continuity: convergence between US and Japanese articulations of ‘youth’ and seinen from World War I into World War II (961–68); and continuity in state projects to manage seinen after World War II (968–82). Although seinen and ‘youth’ were not identical categories, they were commensurate enough to allow motivated US and Japanese agents to collaborate in mobilizing and ‘guiding’ young people throughout the Allied occupation.

Hattori’s focus on continuity across the conventional historiographic dividing line of 1945 does not come at the expense of recognizing significant changes. While wartime Japanese elites wanted to make seinen patriotic, productive, pro-military, and pro-imperialist, American postwar elites wanted to make Japanese ‘youths’ peaceful, democratic, and pro-American. Yet the article signals the ironies and contradictions that undercut any narrative of a postwar break with Japan’s authoritarian past in favor of a democratic dawn. Describing ‘youth’ as an ‘apparatus’ used by U.S. authorities, Hattori writes that “it allowed them to reinforce the top-down social hierarchy that had been created by militarist Japan, making a small number of pro-US Japanese youth slide into American arms while leaving many other young Japanese… with little leverage” (982). Unsurprisingly, even as SCAP promulgated equality of the sexes, YOSA officers embraced gender stereotypes which led them to assign or accept separate and unequal roles for young Japanese women (977, 980-82). Rural youth also continued to be marginalized (977, 981). Trans-Pacific, Cold War egalitarianism had strict limits and perpetuated as many prewar hierarchies as it overturned.

In addition to exploring the bilateral construction of ‘youth’ as a top-down, managerial category, Hattori explores youth with brief but illuminating accounts from below. She focuses on the occupation-era experiences of three postwar ‘youths’ in particular: two men, Kanai Satoshi (960-61, 974-75, 982) and Yamada Taro [a pseudonym] (960, 977, 982); and one woman, whose name is either Saito or Sato Kayoko. (The spelling of Kayoko’s family name is unfortunately inconsistent throughout the article [960-61, 980-82].)

Hattori’s judicious attention to these three young Japanese allows her to elucidate ‘youth’ as a category not solely determined by Japanese and American political leaders. She shows how Kanai, Yamada, and Saito/Sato acted and spoke as self-aware ‘youths.’ They harnessed their own status as ‘youths’ to organize other ‘youths’ for desired ends: to secure American patronage, to travel abroad at a time very few Japanese could do so, to articulate their hopes and concerns as ‘youths’ to domestic and international audiences, and to maneuver upward through economic, sociopolitical, international, and gendered hierarchies.

In the past, scholars have examined the policies of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) toward Japanese schoolchildren in detailed studies of education reform. SCAP’s Civil Information and Education Section (CIE), which was broadly responsible for overseeing education and media in occupied Japan, worked with—and sometimes against—the Ministry of Education to demilitarize and de-imperialize Japan’s curriculum, to integrate boys’ and girls’ schools, and to foster a new generation of peace-minded, pro-American Japanese.[2] Hattori builds on this scholarship while fruitfully shifting focus from children to ‘youths.’ The significance of the ‘youth’ group is that they were generally past school age, in an era when most Japanese proceeded directly from grammar school to the labor pool (961). Hattori details how CIE established Youth Organizations and Student Activities (YOSA) and employed YOSA officers to oversee extracurricular activities and, more importantly, reach out to the 80% of fifteen- to twenty-five-year-old Japanese who were not attending school (972).

In SCAP’s Japan, as in prewar and wartime Japan, such ‘youths’ were targeted to ensure that their graduation from state-dominated educational institutions did not result in their graduation from state oversight, socialization, and ideological guidance. Hattori shows how CIE worked to revitalize and redirect seinendan (youth groups) toward American purposes (968-78). This portion of Hattori’s essay reads like a fascinating and important epilogue to Sayaka Chatani’s recent monograph on wartime youth mobilization in seinendan and allied institutions throughout imperial Japan.[3] As Chatani explains, seinendan originated as village youth associations centuries before the modern era. From the Meiji era (1868–1912) onward, elites, bent on constructing a highly centralized nation-empire, seized on, regulated, and propagated seinendan in order to organize, educate, and indoctrinate youth throughout Japan and its colonies. However, seinendan were never unilateral mechanisms for top-down control. Even at the height of authoritarian wartime mobilization, seinendan also functioned as platforms for grassroots activism, community-building, and upward social mobility for young people otherwise consigned to the outskirts of Japanese civilization—rural subalterns in places such as Okinawa, Taiwan, and Korea.

Hattori picks up the story of seinendan where Chatani left off. Chatani called for deeper historical attention to inhabitants of rural regions—the large majority of Japanese during the war and early postwar era—and to their sense of self and agency in an “urban-centric” modern world. Historians tend to live in, research, and write about cities, but that inclination can blind us to key historiographic issues and to the lived reality of the vast majority of humankind.[4] Hattori’s primary goal is not to answer Chatani’s call to attend to the world outside cities, but she successfully articulates several insights about the urban-rural divide among ‘youth’ during the occupation. For instance, Hattori notes that one of her informants, a young rural woman who had already finished school, never laid eyes on an American during the occupation (977). Dense, interpersonal contacts between occupying forces and Japanese feature prominently in many accounts centered in metropolitan centers such as Tokyo and Yokohama and base towns such as Tachikawa.[5] Hattori helpfully reminds us that the occupation was a distant, impersonal, and abstract force for many Japanese. For the most part, in the early postwar era, Americans remained strangers to people in rural Japan.

One of Hattori’s points is that CIE and YOSA officials did not attend to all ‘youths’ equally. They devoted particular care to cultivating a cadre of urban, politically engaged high school graduates and college students, because these elite ‘youths’ were envisioned as the future leaders of Japan (975). For both Japanese and US officials, “seinen carried future-oriented connotations” (966). In short, state plans to shape the future depended on shaping youths in the present. As US Secretary of State James Burns made clear in September 1945, the “spiritual disarmament” of Japan was one of SCAP’s primary responsibilities (961). US officials in Washington and Tokyo believed that the future of Japan, hope of lasting peace in the Pacific, and US strategic ambitions all hinged on the successful re-education of the Japanese. As Hattori shows, these officials imagined ‘youths’ as an important and distinct subset of Japan’s population: one fraught with both peril and potential.

Hattori’s article is a fruitful addition to the growing field of the history of childhood and youth in modern Japan.[6] More narrowly, Hattori adds to recent studies that foreground children and youth as nodes of grassroots activism, affect, and elite power plays in early-postwar US-Japanese relations. For example, scholars have probed late 1940s to 1950s controversies over interracial children, child labor and trafficking, sexuality and prostitution, as well as the US-led shift toward co-education of male and female students, and Japanese allegations of US influence deranging the minds and morals of Japanese women and children.[7] Attempts to ‘save’ Japanese children from baleful US influences formed a major current of postwar Japanese political activism, particularly among liberals and leftists dedicated to dethroning US allies in Tokyo and pushing the US military out of Japan.[8] 

Unfortunately, Hattori makes only passing reference to contemporary Japanese criticism of American influence on Japanese youth (972). That the article does not engage with scholarship or primary sources on early postwar Japanese hostility and resistance to US influence on Japanese youth is a missed opportunity. Granted, the most scathing Japanese critiques had to wait for US occupation of the mainland to end in April 1952.[9] This turning point is the very moment at which Hattori’s study wraps up, which helps explain why, in this account, controversy and resistance vis-à-vis American influence is almost entirely eclipsed by sunny cooperation. A contributing factor is Hattori’s reliance primarily on CIE sources, which tend to capture more positive encounters and success stories rather than the voices of cynics, critics, protestors, and provocateurs. That American efforts at ‘guiding’ Japanese youths were not entirely consensual or successful is indicated only at the very end of the article, when massive demonstrations against the United States, organized largely by urban college students in Japan, at the occupation’s end in 1952 and again in 1960 are noted (982).[10]

Hattori’s article opens with the wartime conscription of Japanese youth Yamada Taro (960) and ends with Japanese youths protesting against the United States (982). She does not use the term “transwar,” but she could have. Hattori’s analysis of Japanese and American policies toward ‘youth’ exemplifies what Reto Hofmann and Max Ward have called “‘transwar’ as an analytical category.”[11] They adopt the term from Japanese national history, but suggest using ‘transwar’ against the narrow framework of the nation-state to grasp mid-twentieth-century Asia and the Pacific as a dynamic, interdependent whole. They urge us to “rethink the relationship between the Japanese Empire and American Cold War hegemony in Asia” and to pay “closer attention to the complex processes by which prewar or colonial ideologies, practices, and institutions were reconfigured both for wartime mobilization in the 1930s and 1940s and again in the formation of nation-states and Cold War realignments in the 1950s and 1960s.”[12] This is precisely the kind of work Hattori is doing when she explicates how US officials took over Japan’s imperialistic and militaristic seinendan and repurposed them—or tried to—for American ends.

Like Hofmann and Ward, Takashi Fujitani posits the “transwar” not merely as a period, but as a method for grasping Asia-Pacific history, including American history. Takashi explains that “transwar as method allows us to see 1945 as a junction for exchanges among the empires that had been at war with each other, who recomposed themselves into a new formation that marginalized those who had been subordinated throughout the course of the twentieth century.”[13] As Hoffman, Ward, and Futani’s works were published in 2022, they do not appear among the article’s citations. Nonetheless, Hattori’s work deftly illuminates such ‘exchanges among empires,’ American and Japanese, in the process exploring how inequalities between rural and urban, and male and female, ‘youth’ persisted, even amid rapid postwar change.

We can hope that scholars in a broad range of fields will continue to produce high-quality transwar and transnational research, some of which should also forge across the urban/rural divide. If published examples to date are any indication, future studies in this vein will prove invaluable.


Kristin Roebuck is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Cornell University. She earned her PhD in East Asian History at Columbia University in 2015. Her first book, Japan Reborn: Race, Sex and Foreign Relations from World War to Cold War, is under contract with Columbia University Press. Recent publications include “Science without Borders? War, Empire, and the Contested Science of ‘Race Mixing’ in Japan, East Asia, and the West,” in Who Is the Asianist: The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies, eds. Will Bridges, Nitasha Tamar Sharma, and Marvin D. Sterling (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Association for Asian Studies, 2022), 109-124; and “Remember Girl Zero: Asia-Pacific Patriliny and Female Slavery,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 81.1&2 (June–Dec. 2021): 223-61.


[1] See for example Irene González-López, “Marketing the Panpan in Japanese Popular Culture: Youth, Sexuality, and Power,” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal 54 (2018): 29-51; Chaihark Hahm and Sung Ho Kim, Making We the People: Democratic Constitutional Founding in Postwar Japan and South Korea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Keisen Jogakuen Daigaku Heiwa Bunka Kenkyūjo, ed., Senryō to sei: seisaku, jittai, hyōshō [Occupation and sex: policy, reality, and representation] (Tokyo: Inpakuto shuppankai, 2007); Michael Molasky, The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory (New York: Routledge, 1999); Beate Rosenzweig, Erziehung zur Demokratie? Amerikanische Besatzungs- und Schulreformpolitik in Deutschland und Japan [Education for democracy? American occupation and school reform politics in Germany and Japan] (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1998); and Tamotsu Shibutani, The Derelicts of Company K: A Sociological Study of Demoralization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

[2] See Julia C. Bullock, Coeds Ruining the Nation: Women, Education, and Social Change in Postwar Japanese Media (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019); Toshio Nishi, Unconditional Democracy: Education and Politics in Occupied Japan (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2004); Rosenzweig, Erziehung zur Demokratie; and Tsuchiya Yuka, Shinbei Nihon no kōchiku: Amerika no tainichi jōhō, kyōiku seisaku to Nihon senryō [Constructing a Pro-U.S. Japan: U.S. Information and Education Policy and the Occupation of Japan] (Tokyo: Akashi shoten, 2009).

[3] Sayaka Chatani, Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018).

[4] Chatani, Nation-Empire, 11-12.

[5] Chazono Toshimi, Mō hitotsu no senryō: sekkusu to iu contakuto zōn kara [Another occupation: from the contact zone of sex] (Tokyo: Inpakuto shuppankai, 2018); John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: Norton, 1999); Keisen Jogakuen, Senryō to sei; Sarah C. Kovner, Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); Mark J. McLelland, Love, Sex, and Democracy in Japan during the American Occupation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[6] Sabine Frühstück, Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017); Mark A. Jones, Children as Treasures: Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2010); Gregory Pflugfelder, “The Nation-State, the Age/Gender System, and the Reconstitution of Erotic Desire in Nineteenth-Century Japan,” Journal of Asian Studies 71.4 (2012): 963-974; and Takahashi Yasuyuki et al, Tayō na kodomo no kindai: kasegu, morawareru, shōhisuru nenshōshatachi [Multiple children’s modernities: young people who labor, are fostered, and spend] (Tokyo: Seikyūsha, 2021).

[7] Bullock, Coeds; Fujino Yutaka, Sengo Nihon no jinshin baibai [Human trafficking in postwar Japan] (Tokyo: Ōtsuki shoten, 2012); Irene González-López, “Marketing the Panpan,”; Hiromu Nagahara, Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017), 153-188; and Kristin Roebuck, “Orphans by Design: ‘Mixed-Blood’ Children, Child Welfare, and Racial Nationalism in Postwar Japan,” Japanese Studies 36 (2016): 191-212.

[8] See for example Nagahara, Tokyo Boogie-Woogie, 153-188; and Roebuck, “Orphans by Design,” Japanese Studies 36 (2016): 191-212.

[9] See, for example, Nishida Minoru, Kichi no onna [Base women] (Tokyo: Kawade shobō, 1953); and Shimizu Ikutarō et al, Kichi no ko: kono jijitsu o dō kangaetara yoi ka [Base children: how should we think about this reality?] (Tokyo: Kōbunsha, 1953).

[10] On these protests, and postwar leftist student activism more broadly, see Nick Kapur, Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise after Anpo (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018); and Chelsea Szendi Schieder, Coed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021).

[11] Reto Hofmann and Max Ward, “Introduction: The Long Transwar in Asia,” in Reto Hofmann and Max Ward, eds., Transwar Asia: Ideology, Practices, and Institutions, 1920–1960 (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022), 1.

[12] Hofmann and Ward, “Introduction,” 2, 4-5, 7.

[13] Takashi Fujitani, “Afterword: Transwar as Method,” Transwar Asia, 201.