* war and social upheaval: World War II Japan home front food








World War II: Japanese Home Front--Food

World War II Japanese food supplies
Figure 1.--Japan is a heavily populated island and because of the mountenous terraine, limited agricultural land. As a result, the population was depndent on imported rice and other food supplies. Because of reverses in the War, especially the American submariners destroying the Japanese merchant (maru) fleet, imports became increasingly difficult. Aerial mine laying was anothr fctor. This substantially reduced imports. The war time conscription of men reduced the agicultural labor force. As a result, the Japanese at the time of the surrender were living on rations at just srvival levels. Factory workers report being pleased to find a noodle or two in the soup they were given. And the American stategic air campaign was demokishing the country's transportation network, meaning that it was becoming difficult to get food into the cities. And if all of this was not bad enough, farmers encounterd crop failures on an inprecedented level in 1945. The Japanese committed a horrifying list of attrocities during the War, one of the ones narrowly averted was starving their own people. The Emperor, cabinet and military commandrs were fully aware of this. This was exactly what they were planning to do. And there was a precedent for this. Japanese garisons throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia were ordered to become self-sufficent, meaning in many cases to starve to death. Here we see a Jaanese mother with her two vildren just after the surrender (September 12, 1945). Had the Japanese not surrendered, civilians like this all over the country would have starved in a terribl famine during winter 1945-46. This would have been one of several famines the Japanese caused in the China and other areas they occupied in which millions perished.

One can help but wonder why a country with wood and paper cities would go to war after whitnessing much more substabtial European cities going up in flames, but this as hardly Japan's only weakness. Another was food security. The country was not self-suffient in food production and a substantial section of the population teetered in the brink of malnutrition in the best of times. On paper, Japan may have seemed in better shape than Britain which imported about half its food needs. Of course Japan did not have a staunch ally, determined to ensure that the population would not starve. Japan only imported about one-fifth. But it was a very important one-fifth. Important imports included salt, sugar, soy beans, and rice. And Japan did not have the ability to adjust food production as the British were able to do. Japan went to war to secure an empire with resource rich colonies. They suceeded in seizing that empire, bur were only able to bring limited quanties of those resources back to the Home Islands. As soon as the American submarine campaign began to achieve some success (1943), food imports began to fall, significantly impairing the domestic food situation. And the sutuation was further imperiled when the fish catch began to decline with the loss of boats and shortages of fuel and raw materials like sisal. Fish was the principal protein import in the Japanese diet. And if this was not bad enough, as the Japanese begn bringing back soldiers from China to defend the Home Islands, this created further stress on the domestic food supply, epecially the rice supply. And there was no way of expanding production by cultivating more land. Virtually all the arable land was already under cultivation. Paddies already climbed up cliffs. And there was no way of mechanizing the often small fields. In fact yield declined as inputs like fertilizer became difficult to obtain an healthy young men were either drafted or went to the cities where decent salaries were availbke in factories. In the final 2 years of the war, women and school children comprised the rural work force. More than a million school children ended their studies and were sent into the countryside to perform agricultural labor. The Government set up 15,000 communl kitchens and 30,000 nurseries so the women could concentrate their energies on agicultural labor. [Collingham, p. 231.] There was a poor harvest in 1945 which combined with the destruction of the Japanese merchant marine meant that there were growing food shortages. Rationing reduced rice and other food purchases to 1,500 calories--subsistence levels. But as the war continued into 1945 even that amount was often not available. The stategic bombing camopaign had by mid-1945 destroyed Japan's transportation system. Had Japan not surrendered (August 1945), civilians would have starved in the millions during the Winter of 1945-46.

Japanese Agriculture

Japan was Asia's only indutrialized country. This meant that food had to be imported to feed the growiung population of industrial workers in Japan's expanding industrial cities. Even before Japan began to industrialize, food was a problem. Japan is a very mountaneous country. Japan is a series of highly mountaneous islands. There is a large population with limitd areas of land suitabke for agriculture. Food was one reason the Japanese began to expamd their empire after World War I. Only about 10-15 percent of the labd area is suitable for agriculture, a very small proportion. The prortion in China, for example, is about 50 percent. The need for food was a major attraction drawing Japan into China. Japan was not self sufficent in food and needed to import rice and other food stuffs. Japan's focus was on indistrialization. Very little attention was given to modernizing agriculture. Japan before the World War II made some limited efforts to raise agricultural production by improving methods, but the miltarists who dominated the govrnment refused to considr a land reform that would have transfered land tenure from landlords to the peasantry. [Collingham] (The pressure of the War would eventually force land reform on Japan, but it was not until after the War and American occupation that the peasantry began reaping any benefits.) In fact the posibilities of increasing domestic food production were limited.

Decesions for War

Japan made a number of decissions for war. Several were taken by military commanders in the field and then cofirmed by the Governent in Tokyo. There were, however, two basic decisions. The first was war with China (1931-37) and than with the United States and Britain (1941). China did not have the industrial capacity to strile back. America did. One can't help but wonder why a country with wood and paper cities would go to war after whitnessing much more substabtial European cities going up in flames. The Japanese military assumed that the United States did not have the military capacity to strike back and would not pursue a lengthy, vostly military campaign. Japan's wood and paper cities were hardly their only weakness. Another was food security. The country was not self-suffient in food production and a substantial section of the population teetered in the brink of malnutrition in the best of times. On paper, Japan may have seemed in better shape than Britain which imported about half its food needs. Of course Japan did not have a staunch ally, determined to ensure that the population would not starve. Japan only imported about one-fifth. But it was a very important one-fifth. Important imports included salt, sugar, soy beans, and rice. And Japan did not have the ability to adjust food production as the British were able to do.

Food Production and Availability

A range of factors affect food production. Weather is of course an important one of them. Weather of course played its role regardless of Japanese agression and war policies. Many other aspexts of Japan's decesion for war did affect agriculture and food production. Major impacts included the the labor force, supply of fertilizers, fuel, and other supplies. The most seriou impact at fiest resulting from the war in China was two fold: first military conscription and second the draw of the factories and cities. Conscription was by government fiat. The migration to the cities was voluntary driven by the higer factory pay and more comfortable living conditions of the city. These two factors seriously reduced the food producing agricultural and fisheries workforce. And as the war progressed more and more men from rural areas were conscripted into the military or drawn into the war plants. The War thus added to the loss of workers to the factiries and cities. This not only reduced the size of the workforce, but took away a lot of knowldgeable, experienced workers. The decline of the rural work force meant that the labor was just not there for important steps. In addition there were delays in planting and harvesting. And not doing both at the proper time reduced yields. The Government's response was to require people to work longer hours. This was easier to do in the factories and on farms. Another step was emply women and children. Women gradually took the place of men, but they were not as experienced in farm work or had the physical strength that is also needed. As the War continued, women and eventually students would also replace men both in the fields and in the factories. The main food item for the Japanese was rice and this was the great bulk of the harvest before the War. As the war progressed, howeer, the rice harvest declined and increasingg amounts were diverted to the growing military. Rice for civilians was first supplemented and eventually replaced with sweet and white potatoes. Barley also became important. The Gvernment took several steps. The Government did what it could to reduce 'nonessential' uses of rice. The allocation of rice for sake production was cut back by some 70 percent. The provision of rice and food supplies to restaurants was cut bsharply. Most restaurants had to close. Allocations to factory cafeterials were expanded. ended up being closed. Sugar production was targeted for an increase so it could be used to make alcohol which was an additive for aviation fuel. Expanding the work force succeded in maintainng the overall output, but shiting production from rice which was more labor intensive to potatoes and other less labor intensive crops. Vegetable and fruit aailability declined sharply during the final 2 years of the war. Vegetables supplies declined by avout 30 percent and fruits by nearly 45 percent. The impact was graphically noted by the Ministry of Education which kept statistics compared the weight and height of schoolchildren. The MOE reports that that city school children shorter and weighed less than rural children and the diparity worseed as the war continued (1941-45). [MOE] One assessment of the food situation reorts that �The diet of the average Japanese, which contained little margin of safety even before the war, deteriorated appreciably with respect to both quantity and quality.� [Johnston] The food problem that developed in Japan at the end of the War was primarily due to two problems. First the fisheries catch declined drastically. The catch declined by half. Fisheries were affected by many of the same problems affecting agriculture, but fuel shortages in particulrly limited fishery operaions. An this was far more serious in Japan than most other countries because fish was the primary source of protein in the Japanese diet. The second problem was import declined. Japan was not self-sufficent in food. Imports were a vital part of the food supply. This was primarily the result of the Pacific War. The Ameican submarine campaign caught off import from the SRZ. Impors from China, Korea, and Manchuria continued because the enclosed wars of East China Sea and Sea of Japan were dangerous for the American submarines, but aerial mine laying began to seriously reduce shipments. As a result imports in 1945 were only 10 percent of pre-War levels. These two factors meant disaster for the Japanese people. [Johnston] This initseld would have caused a disaster had the War not ended in 1945. The Japanese were already on starbation ratiinsat the beginning of 1945. Two further problems developed in 1945. First the Ameican strategic nombing campaign tore the heart out of the country's tranportation system. Thus the Japanese encountered increasing difficulties getting food into the cities. Second a frther disaster occurred--the 1945 harvest failed. Had not the Japanese surrendered, millions of people would have starved. It would have been the worst famine in Japnese history.

Southern Resource Zone

Japan's military Strike North Faction had dominated strategic thinking before worl War II. But as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939) and a humiliating defeat inflicted by the Soviet Red Army on the borders of Manchulo (1939), the Strike South Faction began to dominate military thinking. Japan went to war to secure an empire with resource rich colonies--the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ). The Japanese decided to use the European War to their advantage. The goal was the resource-rich Southern Resoirce Zone (SRZ). For the Japabese, the SRZ seemed the answer to their problems that has arisen as a result of thwir war in China. France and the Netherlands were occupied by the Germans. And the British Royal Navy was fully occupied in the North Atlantic. Thus their colonies were ripe for the picking. The only thing standing in Jaspan's way was the American Philippines Islnds and Pacofic Fleet. Food was not the only goal. Oil was by far the most important, but food was one of the many objectives. They suceeded in seizing that empire, bur were only able to bring limited quanties of those resources back to the Home Islands.

American Submarine Campaign

With the American battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had to plan operations with the ships he had until American shipyards could begin to deliver new ships to the Pacific Fleet. And submrines were among the ships he had. Unfortunately, the submariners quickly found that there torpedoes were faulty. This was the result of inadequate budgets during the inter-War era. The American submarine campaign was hampered by by poor strategic and tactical concepts and ineffective torpedoes in 1942. The American submarines by 1943, however, began to significantly affect the delivery of raw materials to Japan. The American submarines targeted the Japanese merchant marine (maru) fleet. While the big fleet carriers got the headlines. The American submarines sunk over 50 percent of all vessels destroyed during the War. The Japanese merchant marine was almost completely destroying, cutting the country's war industries off from supplies and bringing the country close to starvation by 1945. The American submarines did to Japan what the German u-boats tried to do to Britain. Surprisingly the Japanese submarine fleet had little impact on the Pacific campaign. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese began the War with the effective Type 93 Long-Lance Torpedo. The Japanese Navy never used their submarines to interdict American supply vessels. Rather they were used to target fighting ships with only limited success because of their tactical deployment. The Japanese used theor submarines as scouts and to targer warships. As the American offensive moved toward the Home Islands, the Japanese used their submarines to supply bypassed island garisons, some of which were near starvation. They were also used to supply bypassed islasnd bases where garrisons were close to starvation. They also managed to get some secret German military technology to Japan late in the war (1944). As soon as the American submarine campaign began to achieve some success (1943), food shipments from the SRZ became virtually imposible. And the strains of the War impaired the domestic food situation. Sestroying the marus and tankers not only cut off food imports, but oil and other mterial. The growing oil shortages not only rediced supplies for military purposes, but adversely affected ecnomic activity inclusing food production.

Fishing Fleet

The food sutuation was further imperiled when the fish catch began to decline with the loss of boats and shortages of fuel and raw materials like sisal. Fish is much more important than meat-rating Americans might readily recognize. Fish was the principal protein item in the Japanese diet. Thus any reduction is the fish supply significantly impacted the food supply and nitrition. And the fishing indudstry began to decline with the Japanese invasion of China. Some 1.1 million people were employed in the fishing indistry (including aquaculture) (1936. Tis proved to be the industry's peak. Japan invaded China (1937) and there was an immediate impact on employment which of course directly affected fish production. By 1945, employment was down to 0.7 million, only about half of which was full-time employment. [SCAP, p. 30.] The number of fishing boats also declined from 354,000 (1940) to 279,000 (1945). Most were small unmotorized boats proucing only small quantuties of fish. Most were not even motorized. Of greatest importance was the decline in the larger more productive boats (20 t or larger). Many of these boats were seized by the Navy to serve as picket boats or other military uses. These boats declined from 3,300 (1940) to only 2,400 (1943). After the Doolittle Raid (1942), the Nacy wanted more picket boats. I was one of these fishing picket boats that had encoubtered the Enterprise task force carrying the Dolittle Raiders (April 1942). They ordered 280 picket boats, built as trawlers, but to Navy specifications. This was the No.1 class auxiliary patrol boat. Only 27 such boats werw actually completed because of conflicting priorities. The Japanese data was the number of registered, not necesarily operating boats. The number of damage boats was substantial in 1945 as aesult of the bombing and ant major repairs were impossible. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) that the fisheries catch declined 50 percent during the war. The loss od workers and supplies were all important, but the majoe factor was the dclining availavility of fuel oil for the large more productive boats. The MAF estimated that the fleet required 569,000 kiloliters of fuel, based on 1931-36 operations. With the war in China, military requirements increased. Even before the United embargoed oil (1941), allocations to the fishing flkeet plumeted. The quanity allocated was only 70 percent of the quanity needed (1939). And after the American oil embargo was only 35 percent of the requirement (1941). And the quantity became desperate in the last two years of the war. With U.S. submarines desroying tankers, the Imperial Navu could not even base much of its fleet in the Home Islands. With such shortages, little was available to the fishing fleet--only about 5 percent of the estimate requirement. In such circumstances, it was the small non-mototized boas that lsnded most of the catch (about 80 percet) of the much reduced catch. Other supplies such as hemp for making net also impaired operations.[Johnston, pp. 129-31.].

1945 Situation

All of these various problems had reached such a stage in 1945 that Japanese civilins were receiving such limited rations that they were on the brink of starvation. And if this was not bad enough, the Japanese began bringing back soldiers from China to defend the Home Islands. The bulk of these men went Kyushu where the American invasion was expected. This created further stress on the domestic food supply, epecially the rice supply. While they were in China, they could be fed by seizing food from the Chinese. Once back home, their food had to be obtained by divering it from domestic supplies. And there was no way of expanding production by cultivating more land. Virtually all the arable land was already under cultivation. Paddies already climbed up cliffs. And there was no way of mechanizing the often small fields. In fact yield declined as inputs like fertilizer became difficult to obtain an healthy young men were either drafted or went to the cities where decent salaries were availbke in factories. In the final 2 years of the war, women and school children comprised the rural work force. More than a million school children ended their studies and were sent into the countryside to perform agricultural labor. The Government set up 15,000 communl kitchens and 30,000 nurseries so the women could concentrate their energies on agicultural labor. [Collingham, p. 231.] There was a poor harvest in 1945 which combined with the destruction of the Japanese merchant marine meant that there were growing food shortages. Rationing reduced rice and other food purchases to 1,500 calories--subsistence levels. But as the war continued into 1945 even that amount was often not available. The stategic bombing camopaign had by mid-1945 destroyed Japan's transportation system. Had Japan not surrendered (August 1945), Japanese civilians would have starved in large numbers during the Winter of 1945-46.

Sources

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (The Penguin Press: New York, 2012), 634p.

Johnston, Bruce F. Japanese Food Management in World War II (Stanford University Press: 1953), 283p.

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF)

Ministry of Education (MOE).

SCAP. Natural Resources Section. Japanese Fisheries Production, 1908-46 Report 95. (Tokyo: 1947).






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Created: 11:18 PM 3/25/2013
Last updated: 12:40 PM 7/29/2016