The image of the black market as a historical marker, forged in the crucible of defeat, is powerfully persuasive, but also misleading.
This perspective also highlights the fact that the black market was not merely the end product of socio-economic chaos.
collected stories, I also argue that the black market was not just a world of hardship but also one of protest and opportunity, a world driven by conflict and self-interest where sacrifice "for the sake of our nation" (waga kuni no tame ni) seemed as scarce as white rice became in the latter years of the war.
Finally, as one of the defining structures of crisis, the black market represents a world decidedly un-Japanese, at least according to perceptions of Japan on this side of the Pacific.
Enriching some, impoverishing many, and compelling most, the black market was the very antithesis of Japan's allegedly "beautiful customs" of harmony and selflessness.
The black market emerged from the ill-fated attempts of successive Japanese governments to mobilize the nation for all-out war against China following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937.
In reality, the black market expanded with each new layer of control, gradually becoming a structure where protest against wartime sacrifice intertwined with nutritional necessity.
Likely just the tip of the iceberg, these figures demonstrate that, well before Pearl Harbor, black market activity had become something of a national pastime.
Through a clever reinvention of tradition, buyers would purchase a good or service at the official price and then give a gift or small payment of cash to the seller, which effectively raised the price of the item in question to its black market level.
It is ironic that in the face of union busting, labour conscription, freezing employment, economic police, and all manner of controls and regulations, labour still maintained a degree of autonomy by selling its services on the black market to the highest bidder.
As Thomas Havens has astutely pointed out, the only "law" that forced men to don civilian uniforms or women to wear monpe was the "law of supply and demand," the very same one that drove the development of the black market.
The black market was clear evidence of this by becoming the stage upon which increasing numbers of Japanese performed, not for selfless devotion to the war effort or to the state, but from a pragmatic need to survive and, at times, to profit from or protest a world of scarcity, incompetence, corruption, and hardship.