By Ryann Connell, Mainichi, 21 January 2001

The nation's fascination for diddling with little balls began in the period from 1950 to 1954.

Pachinko, a pinball game promising prizes to those who maneuvered steel balls into a hole, first surfaced in Nagoya in the wake of World War II and, by 1951, had become a craze that swept the nation, remaining extraordinarily popular and profitable to this day.

Many Japanese welcomed pachinko—the change to chasing steel balls a welcome one from dodging steel shrapnel a they had been forced to do for much of the previous decades.

Major changes also affected the way the nation was run. Japan recovered its sovereignty from the Allied Occupation on April 28, 1952, making peace with 47 countries at the same time. But where the Americans started the Occupation purging people it deemed responsible for carrying out the nation's war effort, most of the militarists were back in the hallowed halls of power by the time the Allies shut up shop. With the onset of the Cold War, the Americans purged the leftists who had been widely hailed as heroes at the end of the war.

The months on either side of the end of the occupation saw many of the democratic reforms the Allies had introduced since the end of the war either watered-down or repealed as the nation set about becoming a bulwark of anti-communism. But even with the end of the Occupation, most occupying troops remained.

When the Cold War started to heat up in Korea, the nation's acclaimed pacifism, symbolized by the war-renouncing Constitution, fell by the wayside. It also led to the formation of a constitutionally dubious pseudo-military—the National Police Reserve, which first appeared in 1950, only to become the Self-Defense Forces four years later.

Though food remained scarce and living standards low in the early '50s, the nation was on the way to recovery, aided by masses of procurement orders for U.N. troops fighting the Korean War.

Names destined to become legendary in the nation's annals first began to appear in the early '50s. Rikidozan, an ethnic Korean rikishi turned wrestler, captivated the nation's hearts as he walloped bigger opponents. Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa brought the glory days of Japanese cinema as their works found widespread praise across the globe. Probably the biggest name to emerge on the nation's silver screen, however, was Godzilla, a prehistoric creature woken from its eons-long slumber by U.S. nuclear weapons testing.

Although the tests that roused Godzilla were fictional, the U.S. tests at Bikini Atoll in 1954 weren't. Fallout from those tests caused the radio operator of a Japanese fishing boat to die from radiation sickness and ruined the nation's tuna haul.

Personality of the period

Kazuko Higa: Queen of Anatahan

In an era studded with personalities, Higa stands out for symbolizing the perseverance and triumph over adversity that would be the hallmark of the nation's attempts to recover from the ravages of war. The only woman among 28 Japanese left stranded in the wake of the end of the war on Anatahan, an island in the Marianas, Higa managed to snare control of two pistols found on a crashed U.S. B-29 bomber. Seven men would die trying to woo the ÒQueenÓ of Anatahan. Finally, the remaining 20 former soldiers decided they would kill Higa. Instead, she fled to U.S. troops and was returned to Japan. In 1952, she opened a Ginza bar decked out to resemble the island she had Òruled.Ó Countless captivated bar owners across the nation also gave their establishments exotic names that recounted Higa's exploits. Higa, however, found running a bar wasn't as easy as dominating a colony, and she ended up becoming a stripper.