100 Stunning Photos of Postwar Tokyo that Show Everyday Life (1945-1949)

Tokyo in the immediate aftermath of World War II was a city transformed, a stark contrast to the bustling metropolis it once was. The devastation from the bombings was immense, leaving scars that would take decades to heal. Yet, amidst the ruins, people of Tokyo embarked on a journey of rebuilding and recovery.

Scars of War

In 1945, Tokyo was a city in ruins. The devastating air raids had reduced vast swathes of the city to rubble, leaving countless homes and businesses destroyed. The landscape was dotted with burnt-out buildings, twisted metal, and debris. The iconic landmarks that once defined the city’s skyline were now mere skeletons of their former selves. The physical scars of war were a constant reminder of the trauma and suffering endured by the people of Tokyo..

People emerged from shelters and makeshift homes to begin the arduous task of rebuilding their lives. The streets were filled with the sounds of hammers and saws as people salvaged what they could from the wreckage. Food was scarce, and necessities like water and electricity were often unavailable. Yet, the people of Tokyo persevered, drawing strength from their collective spirit and determination to overcome adversity.

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Black Markets and Bartering

The official economy was in shambles, but a thriving black market emerged to meet the needs of the people. Bartering became a common way of exchanging goods and services. People traded food, clothing, and other essentials, creating a makeshift economy that helped sustain the city during this difficult time. The black markets also provided a source of income for many, who sold salvaged goods or offered their skills and services.

Occupation and Reconstruction

With the end of the war, Japan came under Allied occupation. The U.S. military established a presence in Tokyo, overseeing the demilitarization and democratization of the country. While the occupation brought its own challenges, it also provided much-needed resources and assistance for reconstruction. The U.S. government implemented programs to help rebuild infrastructure, provide food aid, and restore basic services.

Education was a priority in postwar Tokyo. Schools were rebuilt, and education reforms were implemented. These changes aimed to promote democracy and critical thinking. As a result, a new generation of educated and innovative individuals emerged. Universities and technical schools trained engineers, scientists, and business leaders who would drive Japan’s future growth.

The process of rebuilding Tokyo was slow and arduous. The city’s infrastructure was in ruins, and resources were scarce. However, the people of Tokyo were determined to create a better future for themselves and their children. Small businesses began to reopen, offering essential goods and services. Schools and hospitals gradually resumed operations, providing education and healthcare to the community. Public transportation systems were slowly restored, connecting neighborhoods, and facilitating movement within the city.

#15 Classic beauty, the writing may say ‘Maria’, 1940s.

#24 Massive crowds of people on the streets of Ginza near the Nichigeki Theatre, 1940s.

#26 NYK Building (right), and Tokyo Kaijo Building (left), 1940s.

#36 An American dance hall in downtown Tokyo with Japanese girls, 1940s.

#42 The Meiji Seimei Kan Life Insurance Building on Hibiya Dori in Marunouchi, 1940s.

#45 The soldiers are passing in front of the Dai-Ichi Building, 1940s.

#51 Japanese Emperor Hirohito peers from a window of his special railway car in Tokyo, 1945.

#52 Hundreds of Japanese jam the Ueno railway station in Northeast Tokyo, 1945.

#53 Hikosaku Sakamoto, a 63-year-old Japanese farmer, who doubles as a long distance runner and weight-lifter once each year to advertise the shrine festival in his hometown, Shirakawa, Japan, removes his straw sandals after running 125 miles from Shirakawa to Tokyo, 1946.

#54 Iva Toguri D’Aquino is interviewed by American journalists in Yokohama, Japan shortly before she is held in detention. She is known as Tokyo Rose, a radio personality whose program “Zero Hour” broadcast Japanese propaganda to the Allied troops during World War II, 1945.

#55 The American flag, first to fly over Tokyo since the Japanese surrender, is raised over the Nippon News building in downtown Tokyo by Lt. Bud Stapleton of Syracuse, New York, 1945.

#56 Spectators and correspondents from all over the world watch the formal Japanese surrender ceremony marking the end of World War II on the deck of the USS Missouri, in Tokyo Bay, 1945.

#57 A general view of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East meeting in Tokyo, 1947. The Allies began the trial of 28 Japanese civilian and military leaders for war crimes in 1946.

#58 Show girls from the Mikado theater in Tokyo pose on the side of a swimming pool at a new American air base at Yokota, Japan, 1946.

#59 Machine tools and parts for machinery are being made with metal melted down from scrap salvaged from the wreckage of former war plants. Girl employees check salvaged material at a warehouse in Tokyo, 1946.

#60 A general view of Palace Heights looking towards downtown Tokyo, 1946.

#61 Three dancing girls at the Imperial Theater in Tokyo model new 1946 style Japanese bathing suits, known as “Democratic suits,” 1946.

#62 A Japanese woman carries her son on her back as she marks her ballot in Tokyo, 1946.

#63 Usheeko Sato, a resident of Tokyo, Japan writes on the snow-covered rear window of an automobile, 1946.

#64 A Japanese man in costume beats the drum as he leads a musical parade of men and women who are walking advertisements featuring placards for restaurants through the streets of Tokyo, 1947.

#66 Japanese children, visiting a Tokyo department store, try out toy jeeps bearing the slogan, “Kilroy was here,” 1947.

#67 Barbara McBride teaches Russian-style Korobotchka dance to her Japanese students at the YWCA in Tokyo, 1946.

#68 Eight girls and four men met with matrimony as the object at the Myogetsu-En, behind the Ueno Art Museum in Tokyo, 1947.

#69 Gangsters, “Japanese style,” at ceremony inducting the new ‘“boss’” as head man of all the different factions in Tokyo, 1946.

#70 Gen. Hideki Tojo, former Japanese premier, lies semi-conscious in a chair after he shot himself, 1945.

#71 The girls offer up prayers a few minutes before they took their first vow in their first step towards sisterhood, at the altar in Tokyo, 1946.

#72 Russian soldier with tommy gun stands guard outside the Russian Embassy as the members of the “Repatriation Association of Japan” await an answer to present their case to this head of the mission in person, in Tokyo, 1949.

#73 A group of Japanese scientist under the leadership of Dr. Yoshio Nishina is working on the continuous measurement of cosmic ray intensity, measuring the mass of the meson, one of the elementary particles of atomic nucleus. Assistant checks over the Geiger-Muller counter at laboratory in Tokyo, 1949.

#74 One of 20 dolls donated by Japanese manufactures for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in Japan, 1949.

#75 The Virginia reel, a favorite American folk dance, is something new for the Japanese, dancing in Hibiya Park, Tokyo, 1949.

#76 A mother and daughter meet after ten years of separation at Tokyo station, 1949.

#77 A new Japanese typewriter invented by Kotaro Kataoka, an employee of the Tokyo Electric Company, was demonstrated by a school student in Tokyo, 1949.

#78 In traditional costume, bird fishermen demonstrate to a Tokyo crowd how to make the birds give up their catch of fish, 1949.

#79 Family members greet each other as a small group of the first batch of repatriates from Russian held territory who arrived back in Japan aboard the Takasago Maru arrived at Shinagawa station a few miles from Tokyo, 1949.

#80 These excited young men are taking part in a festival in the Konda district of the city of Tokyo, 1949.

#81 These fans are watching a pre-game practice session of ball players in Tokyo, 1949.

#82 As the baseball season opened in Japan, a penguin-costumed attendant presents flowers to the manager of one of the eight teams in the league in Tokyo, 1949.

#83 Visitors to the television demonstration at the studios of the Japanese Broadcasting Company wait for the show to appear on the screen of one on the receivers, in Tokyo, 1949.

#84 It’s lunchtime for ladies attending the Communist-sponsored International Women’s Day rally in Tokyo, 1949.

#85 Kyuichi Tokuda, Secretary General of the Communist Party in Tokyo, gestures as he thanks the huge crowd which gathered outside the Asahi newspaper office in Tokyo, 1949.

#86 Japanese tattoo artist Ginjiro Susuki, 72, exhibits some of his tattoo designs at the Hard Skin Club convention of tattooed men and women held in Tokyo, 1948.

#87 At the “Hard Skin Club” convention of tattooed men and women in Tokyo, a little boy examines a design on his father’s leg, 1948.

#88 Baby Misuko, held by her mother Umeko, waves goodbye to papa-san as he goes to work on his bicycle, from their home in Tokyo, 1948.

#89 Arthur MacArthur, son of Allied Supreme Commander in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, salutes a military parade past the Imperial Palace Plaza in Tokyo, 1948.

#90 Students at the Peers’’ School in Tokyo are mystified as Jacob Tropp of Brooklyn, New York, amateur magician, makes a 50 cent piece, wrapped in tissue paper, disappear in a burst of flame, 1948.

#91 Shown are some of the signs displayed by Toshiyo Oda, a Tokyo contractor who has been running a one man campaign, “MacArthur For President,” to attract attention to himself and his organization from the Allied personnel in Tokyo, 1948.

#92 Whale meat is piled on the wharves as the Banshu-Maru is unloaded after its return from the Antarctic in Tokyo, 1948.

#93 During the first weeks of the New Year, Japanese girls flock to the beauty parlors to have their hair made up in traditional Japanese style. One hopeful getting her hair done shows her coiffure almost finished at the shop on the Ginza in Tokyo, 1948.

#94 Adding a new twist to the “man on the street broadcast,” a regular feature of JOAK, announcers went out and cornered the youth of Tokyo to get their views and what they expect of Japan in the future, 1948.

#95 The brainchild of a former kamikaze pilot, this midget auto gets its power from a 30-volt battery. It is shown passing the main intersection of the Ginza Street in Tokyo, 1947.

#96 Using aluminum which had been earmarked for the production of Japanese war planes, Japanese ski manufacturers have been allocated the material to turn out sporting articles, skis and parts riding the slopes instead of the clouds. Looking over the first shipment in Tokyo, 1947.

#97 View inside the vaults in the Bank of Japan in Tokyo, 1947, as new yen is stored in boxes until called into circulation by the government.

#98 Tokyo citizens turn out to watch the bulletin boards announcing the election results for the candidates for the diet in front of the Asahi Newspaper office in Tokyo, 1947.

#99 The Potato Race is underway as the contestants, employees of the Imperial household, race toward the finish line in Tokyo, 1947.

#100 Although given preliminary instructions the girls are a bit vague about the proper making of a bed. Mrs. Anderson, with the help of an interpreter attached to the liaison section for the housing development, demonstrates the American way of bed making in Tokyo, 1947.

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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