AFTER EMPIRE COMES HOME: Economic experiences of Japanese civilian repatriates to Hiroshima, 1945-1956

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28 Mar 2015

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The economic impact of large influxes of population is a complex topic that has been much debated. Research by Sumiyo Nishizaki, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2015 annual conference, contributes to those debates by examining one of the most significant, but least researched, examples of post-war migration – the repatriation of more than six million (including three million civilians and demobilised soldiers each) to Japan after World War II.

One pervasive image of Japanese civilian repatriates is that of the immigrant farmer of Manchuria who settled as a part of Japan’s Manchurian policies and had difficult repatriation experiences under the hostility of local people. But many returned from other regions as well, including Korea and Sakhalin, and repatriates consisted not only of farmers but also colonial government officials, employees of public and private corporations, small business owners, teachers, and priests, amongst others.

This study specifically focuses on approximately 110,000 civilian repatriates living in Hiroshima prefecture in 1956 and their occupational changes during this time of economic transition.

The findings in this research indicate that in Hiroshima approximately 59% of repatriates’ job placement was supported by the above mentioned three factors: family farming or reclamation (9%), the government’s employment policies (such as hiring at government offices and transfer of foreign medical and educational licenses) (23%), and repatriates’ transferable experiences and skills in the private sector (27%), which included white collar workers, welders, electric technicians, shipbuilders and carpenters who were in construction, manufacturing, transport and utility sectors.

Another 41%, however, had to find employment in new sectors or ended up being day labourers or unemployed. These people, perhaps usually less-skilled or less-connected, found employment in various sectors, but the largest number of people (48%) entered retail and services where entry barriers were usually low, or construction businesses which flourished in the reconstruction and economic growth after the mid-1950s.

Hiroshima prefecture’s industrial production dramatically started to grow in 1951 in the economic boom partly brought by American military procurement orders during the Korean War.

The employment of repatriates was not necessarily determined by market forces, and much of their skills and expertise might not have been allocated in the most efficient manner in the post-war economy. It can be argued that this type of relatively smooth transition helped to bring political and economic stability, which became a foundation of Japan’s rapid recovery and subsequent economic growth after the mid-1950s, but the inefficient allocation of workers and redundant labour in agriculture and the public sector including government corporations, and small businesses in construction, retail and services, created less productive sectors.

Although this is beyond the scope of this study, the presence of these unproductive sectors led to the emergence of post-war interest groups that have sought political protection by the Japanese government throughout the post-war period.


After empire comes home: Economic experiences of Japanese civilian repatriates to Hiroshima, 1945-1956

This title is taken from Dr Lori Watt's groundbreaking work, When Empire Comes Home: Repatriation and Reintegration in Postwar Japan (Harvard East Asian Monographs). The author is grateful to Dr Watt for her consent for the use of a phrase from her book title.

Sumiyo Nishizaki, London School of Economics


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