Destitution reigned in Japan at the end of World War II. The major cities were fields of rubble. Nearly 10 percent of the population had been killed or injured in the war, and some 9 million people were homeless. Food and resources were nearly gone, with steel production at one-tenth of what it had been a year earlier and food sharply rationed by the government. Almost everyone was buying even basics on the black market, and Yamaguchi Yoshitada, a conscience-bound judge who ate only what the regulations allowed, died of starvation. Inflation had begun soaring too; in the first year after hostilities ceased, prices rose 539 percent! Survival seemed questionable, recovery perhaps impossible. However, only a generation later, in 1969, Japan had become the world's third-largest economy, worthy of the label [superstate] by Western economists. It was as if the Meiji era had occurred once again: a desperate state had overcome all predictions of doom, utilizing native astuteness and Western assistance to become an economic giant with a global shadow. How did it happen? And with what effects?
The first seven years after the war were, on one hand, among the most humiliating in Japanese history and, on the other, the most impressive. The humiliation came from occupation by a foreign power. For the first time ever, Japan was run by outsiders, primarily the Americans who dominated the Allied Occupation government. They were hard years, as inflation persisted, the economy continued to sputter, and people wondered whether good times ever would return. But they also proved Japan to be one of the world's most adept countries at transcending crises. To a degree that surprised almost everyone,