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Even The Social Structure Was Changed By The War

Kenji Hashimoto
Professor of the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

People who listened to the Apple Song

The Apple Song (Ringo no Uta, lyrics by Hachiro Sato and music by Tadashi Manjome) was the first big hit song after the end of World War II. The song appeared in the movie Soyokaze (directed by Yasushi Sasaki) and was sung by Michiko Namiki, the actress in the leading role. It was the first movie produced by the studio Shochiku after the war. Having lost her parents, her brother, and her first love in the war, Namiki unexpectedly became a superstar because of this song.

This song is frequently mentioned in the memoirs and recollections of those who lived during and after World War II. People heard this song on the streets scarred by war, in the black markets swarming with shoppers, at workplaces still recovering from the postwar confusion, and on ships returning from overseas. Many people were far away from home when they heard the song.

Some war veterans were returning to their former workplaces, going back to their regular jobs. Others had lost their jobs and were looking for a way to earn a living. Those who returned from overseas had lost their jobs and property in the countries invaded by the Imperial Army and were trying to start their lives anew in the difficult postwar era. Many of those who remained in Japan had also lost their jobs and homes and had no choice but to depend on their parents and relatives in rural villages. Those without such help lived hand to mouth. Some earned their living by trading in the black market and others had to look around for the food sold there. In other words, people were constantly on the move.

Social mobility during and after World War II

In sociology, movement between social strata is called "social mobility." In a normal, stable society, people experience social mobility when they enter employment, are promoted, change their occupation, or retire from work. Social mobility is also caused by external factors such as accidents, disasters, bankruptcy, or being laid off, but such cases are relatively few.

However, during and after the war, an enormous number of people lost their social status and wandered around looking for their place in society. This was often caused by external factors, including the establishment of the wartime regime, the war itself, and the postwar confusion. They were forced to experience social mobility because of the war. For individuals, this process meant the rebuilding of their lives. For Japanese society as a whole, it was the process of postwar recovery. The microscopic process of rebuilding individual lives and the macroscopic process of social restoration were connected with each other.

In this article, the following approach is used to analyze social mobility. First, we categorize people into six classes or strata: capitalists (business owners and executives), the new middle class (professionals, managers, and white-collar employees), working class (manual laborers other than the middle class), self-employed business owners, farmers, and the military. During and after the war, many people moved between these six categories.

The following data shows social mobility during and after the war. A study known as the National Survey of Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM Survey) was begun in 1955, targeting males born between 1885 and 1935 to study their occupational and personal careers. This data enables us to trace the life histories of individuals in one-year intervals. Using this data, we calculated the percentages of people who newly joined each of these six strata (in-mobility rate) for each year to obtain the graph shown in Figure 1. The percentage of those who moved to each stratum is stacked up, so that the uppermost line represents the total percentage of all people who moved to a different stratum (total mobility rate) in that year.

The total mobility rate jumped in 1937, when the Second Sino-Japanese War began, and again in 1941 at the start of the Pacific War, peaked at 0.168 in 1945 and then rapidly declined afterwards. In other words, one out of every six males experienced some form of social class change in 1945. A breakdown of the data indicates that the percentage of people drafted into military rose suddenly in 1937, followed by a sudden rise of people moving into the working class between 1937 and 1938. These in-mobility rates remained at high levels until 1942. The increase in mobility into the working class represents the requisition and mobilization of labor for arms factories. However, the number of people drafted into the military spiked in 1943 and 1944, causing declines in the in-mobility rates of the working class and other strata. The in-mobility rate for self-employed business owners fell nearly to zero.

In 1945, as a result of war veterans returning to civilian life, in-mobility rates for the non-military strata jumped, especially for farmers, and the in-mobility rate for self-employed business owners also reached an unprecedented level. This was because those who had lost their positions and jobs because of the war returned to their hometowns or started new businesses in urban black markets and other places. The in-mobility rate for the working class is quite large, mostly caused by those who returned from the war to work in factories. In 1949, in-mobility rates fell back to the levels seen prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Figure 1: Annual in-mobility and its components (including mobility from schools, etc. to employment), 1936-1950
Source: Calculated from the 1955 SSM Survey data, for all age groups

War kills the weak

As we have seen, the war deprived many people of their jobs and status and forced them to move from one stratum to another. However, conditions varied depending on who the individuals were. The military draft rate itself differed between classes. The 1955 SSM Survey data shows that the overall percentage of those in the age group subject to the military draft who experienced military service was 27 percent. As of 1935, the enlistment percentages are 22 percent for the capitalist class, 21 percent for the new middle class, 34 percent for the working class, 19 percent for self-employed business owners and 22 percent for farmers. In other words, people in the working class were almost twice as likely to be drafted into the military as people from some other classes.

Clearly, the war had a particularly profound effect on the working class. They were most likely to experience disruptions in their occupational careers. Such disruptions naturally included termination of life itself. The 1965 SSM Survey included questions about siblings of the respondents, about differences in age between them and the respondents, their academic backgrounds, occupations, and ages at the time of their death, if they were deceased. Data from these questions enables us to calculate the mortality rates for the respective strata (Figure 2). The graph shows survival rates and mortality rates for the war period (1937-1945), which are closely tied to war impacts.

The survival rate of the working class is remarkably low (74.9%) compared to the other classes, with the mortality rate during the war (14.6%) far exceeding the rates of other classes. War always kills the weak—that is the lesson for us living in today's world.

Figure 2: Classes of respondents' siblings and their mortality rates
Source: Calculated from the 1965 SSM Survey data; the subjects are respondents who had siblings aged 45 to 64 years old as of 1965.

* This article is based on my book, published in April 2016, Hajimarino Sengo Nihon [Japan at the Beginning of the Postwar Era] (Kawade Shobo Shinsha).

Kenji Hashimoto
Professor of the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Born in 1959; graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1982; completed graduate courses at the University of Tokyo in 1988, received Ph.D. in Sociology from Musashi University; after appointments at Shizuoka University and Musashi University, assumed current position in 2013. His publications include the following: Kakusa no Sengoshi [Postwar History of Economic Disparities], Kaikyu Toshi [Class Citie]), Izakaya Horoyoi Kogengaku [Contemporary Studies of Japanese Bars], Izakaya no Sengoshi [Postwar History of Japanese Bars], Class Structure in Contemporary Japan (single author publications); Sakariba wa Yamiichi kara Umareta [Entertainment Places Were Born from Black Markets], Sengo Nihon Shakai no Tanjo [Birth of the Postwar Japanese Society] (co-authored).