Large areas of Northeast Asia experienced drought in 1939. Agricultural production in Korea decreased significantly, but the drought did not cause famine in Japan despite its dependence on rice imports from Korea. The paper analyses the impact of the 1939 drought on the markets for rice and electricity in Japan. The authorities were ill-prepared for such a disaster but willing to use it for the purpose of covering for other problems. The drought thus accelerated the move of Japan's economic system towards a managed economy. A lower total rainfall in Japan in 1940 did not generate similar problems, suggesting that the broader political, economic, and social context is crucial to the identification of short-term climatic fluctuations as crises. Copyright 2010 The Author. Journal compilation Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd and the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand 2010.