** World War II Japan surrender food shortages

World War II Japan: Occupation Food Shortages (1945-48)

Figure 1.--The Japanese by the time they surrendred were beginning to starve. Japan was not self suffucent in food and the Allied naval blockade made imports impossible. The bombing camapign made it difficult to get what food was available into the cities. And if that was not all bad emough the 1945 harvest would prove disappointing. Both starvation and disease threatened the Japanese people. The United States donated food. Even so, food shortages and malnutrition remained a problem. This photograph ewas taken in Tokyo about a year after the surrendder (July 2, 1946). Food was more available than in the last months of the War. The woman is receiving her ration of 297 grams (a little over a quarter pond) of food per person/per day. While the American food deliveries were vital, the ration alocation was not enough for survival and a substantial blackmarket flourished.

Japan food production was severely affected by the War. Several factors affected food production and distribution to the urban population: weather, labor, fertilizer, transport, and fuel. The production of explosives reduced the supply of fertilizer. The drafting of men by the military reduced the labor supply available for farming. Women and students were mobilized for the war effort, but did not fully meet needs. Some farm workers were also transferred to the cities for factory work. Many farm workers moved to the cities for the better paying farm jobs. The labor shortages caused delays in planting and harvests, all causing lower harvests. Japan's principal food item was rice. A substantial part of rice consumption was imported. As the U.S. Navy began cutting off imports, the Japanese turned to other food items like sweet and white potatoes. Seafood was a major item in the Japanese diet. The fisheries catch declined sharply during the War. This was not only because fishing boats were sunk, but because almost all fishermen were men and many were conscripted. Japan imported virtually all of its oil. And as the U.S. Navy sank more and more tankers, all available petroleum had to be reserved for the military. The fisheries catch declined more than 50 percent. Despite all the problems, Japanese farmers managed to maintain food production, although crops shifted. Rice production did decline. The primary problem Japan faced was that the country was not self sufficient in food and the U.S. Navy blockade managed to reduce food imports by about 90 percent. While World war Ii histories often focus on German U-boats, it was the U.S. Navy's submarine force that carried out the only successful campaign during the War. This and the declining fish catch by the end of the War substantially reduced food supplies. The Japanese responded by cutting nonessential uses of rice. The use of rice for sake production was was cut by about 70 percent. The availability of rice for restaurants was also cut. Many restaurants closed. Sugar also became almost impossible to obtain. It was used to make alcohol as additive for aviation fuel. Vegetable and fruit supplies declined sharply during the last 2 years of the war. One source suggests that vegetable supplies fell by about 30%, fruits by over 40 percent. It should be noted that Japan was not a well fed people before the War and thus even small declines were devastating and by the end of the War the declines were no longer small. One author writes, "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.” [Chappell] The black market appeared during the War and was wide spread by the end of the War. Another major problem created by both the fuel shortage and the strategic bombing campaign was transport problems. The Japanese were having increasing problems getting food from the country side to the cities. Japanese propaganda during the War attempted to suppress the extent of the problem. One graphic indication of the extent of the problem is statistics kept in Japanese schools. The Ministry of Education required schools to record the weight and height of schoolchildren. After the War when this data was made public, urban schoolchildren were found to be shorter and weigh less than comparable rural children who had better access to food. And the disparity increased as the War continued. [Chappell] If all this was not bad enough, weather adversely affected the fall 1945 harvest. If Japan had not surrendered when it did, millions of Japanese people in the cities would have starved.


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Created: 3:47 AM 10/1/2013
Last updated: 6:43 PM 3/30/2016