This paper addresses the question of continuity in the long-term development of the Japanese tax system, focussing on fiscal reform in the 1930s in order to assess the impact of war on policy making. Specifically, it tracks the response of bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry to the challenge of how to reconcile economic growth with tax increases and redistribution of the burden. The views of ministerial officials are investigated on the basis of classified documents issued by the Tax Bureau, which previous research has only partially examined. The analysis points out that, rather than looking at war as an opportunity to push through a structural reform, bureaucrats continued to follow policy guidelines that were rooted in the developmentalist strategy established in the Meiji period. This conclusion helps to explain the resurgence of some key prewar features of taxation in the contemporary system, despite wartime reorganisation and attempts at further reform during the American occupation.