Japanese Martial Arts and the Korean War.

Dr. Benjamin Hazard, a historian and highly experienced martial artist in Kendo, Iaido, Kyudo and Naginata, wrote about, and told me on several occasions that GHQ approved the teaching of martial arts in Japan as a political move to help win the hearts and minds of Japanese citizens after the Korean War.  The modern ZNKR was formed around 1958 I believe.

At dawn on Sunday 25 June 1950 all hell broke out on the Korean peninsula.  [As the Wikipedia entry for the Korean War states:

“One facet of the changing attitude toward Korea and whether to get involved was Japan. Especially after the fall of China to the Communists, "...Japan itself increasingly appeared as the major East Asian prize to be protected". U.S. East Asian experts saw Japan as the critical counterweight to the Soviet Union and China in the region. While there was no United States policy that dealt with South Korea directly as a national interest, its proximity to Japan pushed South Korea to the fore. "The recognition that the security of Japan required a non-hostile Korea led directly to President Truman's decision to intervene... The essential point... is that the American response to the North Korean attack stemmed from considerations of US policy toward Japan." The United States was working to shore up Japan which was its protectorate.”

The US needed the port of Yokohama (and still does today).  So, as one of several moves to bolster relations with the Japanese people the martial arts instruction ban was lifted.

What most Americans don’t know is that the effort went both ways.  As Japan was strategic to the US, the US government needed the American soldiers to be polite to the Japanese.  So how to accomplish this?  Make a training film!  The US Army had a big film division and in 1957 made this adorable training/tourist travel film for American soldiers.  Although the film was rather accurate as a tourist travel film and undoubtedly was intended as a soldier training film, I believe a recruiting pitch was tacked onto the end for the TV broadcast.

The best thing about this film is that it was actually filmed around 1957 in Japan.  You don’t have to watch the whole thing, but I did and here are some of the highlights:

0:00 – The opening has a most unfortunate image of a nuclear artillery shell being tested (it worked).  But remember, as the announcer is saying in a booming voice, the US military is ready to defend America with the latest weapons anywhere in the world.  I’m guessing this was a standard opening that was stuck on the front of many films.

0:25  - “Today, the latest weapons…”  Wow, most of those soldiers have fixed bayonets!

1:59 – Look at the women and the baby.  I think some officers must have been transferring to Japan with their wives.  And by the way, for a ship under sail in the Pacific Ocean I must say that ship is remarkably stable.  The US Navy really knows how to keep ships steady when underway. ;)

2:48 – The film doesn’t say Americans have stereotypical images, instead this delicate subject is told through the eyes of Worrying Willy and Paradise Pete.  If you only watch one piece of this film, this is the piece to watch.  Be careful, you do NOT want to be drinking anything when Paradise Pete comes on!

5:16 - A wonderful American made convertible is the real star of this film.  Note that strangely, for a  GI training film, it would have been nice to tell the soldiers which side of the road to drive on in Japan!

6:30 – “Those signs may be just a lot of chicken tracks to you but to the Japanese they mean a lot.”  Please tell me the narrator didn’t just say that.

6:48 – Notice the Japanese citizen saluting the American soldiers in the car.  That right there tells you this is filmed toward the end of the occupation and not the beginning.

6:53 – Hopalong Kawamoto.  In another unfortunate image, a Japanese boy in a western cowboy hat draws a gun and points it at the camera/soldiers.  I have no doubt this was a COMPLETELY staged scene by the film makers.  And I think the soldier looking for something familiar out of the car is Worrying Willie.  You know, the guy walking down the street earlier with his hand on his .45 holster.  The Japanese boy looks damn serious because he is turning into the sun (notice the shadow from his hat).  And he tracks that camera with the gun just like he was told to.  The reaction shot shows the soldier looking back with a half smile.  Yeah, right.

7:07 – This scene about Japanese farmers is one of several, highly accurate, descriptions of 1957 Japan.  Remember, the Japanese are hard workers, they have advanced industry, so we should respect them.  For 1957 that is actually an enlightened thought.

8:30 – I love this scene where the GIs give a helping hand to the stranded Japanese trucker.  Everyone is just so damn friendly in Japan.

9:32 – This is the first close up shot showing a typical, western hair style on a Japanese woman.  These shots occur several times in the film and the hairstyles are very pretty.

10:56 – A sailor tries sushi for the first time.  It does not end well.

11:45 – My favorite hairstyle of the whole film!

14:51 – This visit to an Osaka factory is where the narrator states the bottom line here.  It is in the US strategic interest that all those hard working Japanese produce diesel engines and other material for the US instead of someone else.  This is why I like this film.  It is not trying to be sneaky or hidden.  It is making a very clear explanation as to why US soldiers are still in Japan.  Something US servicemen must be wondering about as they get shipped out.

15:38 – This is where the film explicitly says, more protection for Japan means more protection for the US.  This was a tricky piece for the film makers.  Even though the Korean War was the most recent war it is called “The Forgotten War” in America.  Soldiers going off to Japan probably had WWII on their mind instead of the Korean war.

16:15 – Hiroshima.  The film speaks openly of the atomic explosion and shows a Japanese peace memorial.  The Japanese are not going the way of the past says the film.

18:18 – Yabusame is an ancient Japanese “sport” that has been “revived”!  Woo hoo!  The wording here is very important.  Yabusame is a “sport” just like kendo and kyudo were referred to as “sports” when they were arguing for the ban on martial arts to be lifted.  Kendo in particular had to jump through hoops:  no that guy isn’t trying to cut his opponents head like a melon, no no no, he is trying to score a point in a tournament!

18:49 – And floats full of pretty girls!  I wanna go to Japan!

20:18 – Japanese office workers work hard.  And by implication, that is a good thing for the US.

21:45 – Everyone goes shopping for souvenirs in Ginza.  You have to wonder if the Ginza Store Association had a hand in this film.

22:25 – You just HAVE to smile at this portrayal of the Ginza night scene.  Interestingly, I think the kabuki act chosen is Shibaraku, a specialty of the Danjuro family.  That could well mean a famous member of the Danjuro family is performing in that segment.  I’m assuming the chorus line was picked out by the American film crew.

23:16 – This is a really interesting scene.  Totally staged.  It shows the GI’s asking a Japanese policeman for directions.  The visuals are just hilarious, but listen to the narration: “not only helps relations between Japanese and Americans”.  I strongly suspect this film was actually used as a training film for troops and they were being told NOT TO SHOUT!

25:00 – Hilarious.  Remember servicemen, you’re here to train, train, train.  Not chase pretty Japanese girls.  No matter how much you want to.  You have to wonder what wives thought when this was broadcast on American TV with their husbands stationed in Japan.  Really honey, I’m training, training, training.  I wonder if Paradise Pete is married?

25:12 – Note the black soldier in the unit.  Racial quotas were still in use in 1957 but the Korean War clearly showed that integrated units were superior to segregated units in battle.  Slowly but surely, segregation in the US armed services was on the way out.

Enjoy the film!

Now imagine the following is read in the same announcer’s voice as the above film:








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