Archives on the Allied Occupation of Japan


A review of the Gordon W. Prange Collection, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, United States of America.

The Gordon W. Prange Collection at the University of Maryland in College Park is a rich source of material from the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–1952). It consists of virtually every book, magazine, and pamphlet that was published, censored, or suppressed by the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) under the aegis of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). Occupation policy was influenced by competing political factions and subject to change over time, but one of the most consistent aims of the occupiers was to instill freedom of expression in the Japanese populace. Ironically, the main strategy for encouraging freedom of expression was to vigorously censor Japanese print and other media in efforts to guard against lingering ultra-nationalism. CCD archivists collected tens of thousands of documents over the course of the Occupation, marking manuscripts and galley proofs with directions to delete or revise specific content or—in rare cases—to suppress documents in their entirety. The Collection is therefore a rich source for understanding Occupation-era Japan, the ways that Occupation policy was made manifest in censorship practices, the types of materials that were deemed too dangerous for publication, and the ways that Japanese nationals acquiesced to (and resisted) Occupation directives.

I was attracted to the Prange Collection because my dissertation, “Japan’s Preoccupation with Religious Freedom,” navigates between two scholarly narratives that have their origins in the Occupation period. On the one hand, the dissertation challenges the view—commonly held during the Occupation and often seen in scholarship since—that the guarantee of religious freedom granted in the Meiji Constitution was merely a ruse designed to provide the illusion of religious freedom to the international community while denying genuine freedom to the Japanese people. On the other hand, the dissertation also challenges the view favored by some Japanese scholars that a unique “Japanese-style relationship between religion and the state” has characterized religious freedom in modern Japan. While the dissertation as a whole addresses these issues throughout the time that the Meiji Constitution was in effect (1890–1947), the last chapters focus particularly on the ways that Occupation policy promoted a variety of religious freedom considered perennial, universal, and a foundational component for the flourishing of democracy. The Prange Collection offered several crucial documents (books, journals, and pamphlets) that will support my argument that this vision of religious freedom was a historically new product forged in the transnational conflicts of World War II; the irony of promoting freedom of expression through censorship matched the irony of promoting religious freedom through policies that privileged certain types of religiosity. Japanese religious interest groups embraced or resisted the conception of religious freedom implemented by the postwar regime according to their parochial interests, but in no way can we say—during the Occupation or earlier—that a single “Japanese” interpretation of religious freedom was operative.

I was fortunate enough to receive one of the “Twentieth Century Japan Research Awards” offered annually by the university to use the collection. I highly recommend applying for this funding (the competition occurs in the fall and is announced through listservs like H-Japan). The application process is straightforward, requiring a short description of the proposed research project and, for PhD candidates, a letter from the principal advisor overseeing the research. If you successfully apply for one of the awards, you will need to pay for your expenses out of pocket and then submit receipts for reimbursement. The wheels of the UMD bureaucracy seem to turn rather slowly, so it may take a couple of months before you are reimbursed. I used the award to spend two weeks in College Park, focusing my attention on the Prange Collection but also conducting several days’ research at the local branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which I hope to discuss in a separate installment of Fresh From the Archives.

The Prange Collection is housed at 4200 Hornbake Library North, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-7011. Be sure to use the north entrance of Hornbake Library, as the south entrance will lead you into a confusing warren of administrative offices. If possible, write to the staff at least a month in advance so that they can balance your visit with those of other researchers; you will also need some time to prepare your material request forms. On your first visit to the Prange Collection you will be invited to watch a short introductory video; the staff will also provide a tour of the stacks (otherwise closed to researchers) and familiarize you with the types of materials that are available. A separate introduction to the Prange Collection microfiche and microfilm holdings, which are housed in McKeldin Library, is advisable. When you are using the Prange Collection at Hornbake you will need to plan your visit around the half-hour lunch break at midday; the Collection is otherwise open from 9:00 to 5:00. During most of the summer McKeldin Library is open until 10:00 p.m., so it is possible to spend all day at the Prange Collection, take a dinner break, and then go to McKeldin to use the microforms. I pulled off this feat of endurance a few times but I do not recommend it.

The website for the collection is very helpful and generally well organized; it has been updated since my visit in June 2012 and seems to be even more user-friendly now (August 2012). However, it is important to know at the outset that there are several different finding aids and catalogs to be used for accessing different types of material. These include the online catalog of the UMD library, an online database of periodicals that were published during the Occupation, and a PDF guide to censored books and pamphlets (the guide is a bit unwieldy as it crams far too much text into each page, but it was ultimately invaluable for finding those documents that CCD deemed too dangerous to send to print). There are also print finding aids available in McKeldin Library in the reference section of the East Asia Collection. One benefit to these aids is that they organize the Collection holdings by topic rather than title and may help you find things that you would otherwise miss using a keyword search online. I found it difficult to search for visual materials with the finding aids available, but when I told the staff about my interests they pointed me to some suitable images.

The Prange Collection holdings are found on the fourth floor of Hornbake Library. To enter the archive you must ring a doorbell and wait for a staff member to open the door. Since you cannot browse the stacks, you need to know ahead of time what you would like to view. To search for books and pamphlets in the collection, go to the “classic catalog” option from the main library search page and then opt to narrow your search to the Prange Collection. Once you have found something you would like to view, add the appropriate information to a Material Request Form (available here) and email this form to  prangebunko[at] so that the staff can prepare your materials. The staff will pull the appropriate material from the collection and have it waiting for you on the day of your appointment. They ask for at least three days’ notice to collect the materials, although they graciously honored my last-minute (i.e., overnight) requests. There seems to be no limit as to the number of items one can request, but realistically you probably will not need more than can fit on a single Material Request Form for any full day of research. The staff also magnanimously allowed me to peruse books in the stacks that had not yet been catalogued, although it was clear that this was hardly standard operating procedure because a staff member was required to assist (observe) me the whole time I was in the stacks.

The work environment for researchers is one large table in a room that is generally very quiet, and you may view up to three of your requested items at a time. Staff members keep conversations and phone calls to a minimum, although occasionally the technicians responsible for digitizing and preserving the books in the collection pop into the room to quietly clarify something about best practices with the curator or manager. I found the staff professional, warm, and immensely helpful.

The staff will generally allow you to take as many photos as you wish, so you will absolutely want to have a digital camera for your visit. I recommend bringing a spare memory card (I swapped one out and loaded pictures on my computer while continuing to take photos on the other) and a spare camera battery. I did without a tripod, but it would have helped immensely to have one. Many of the books are stiff and fragile, meaning that you will need to carefully weight the pages before taking your photos. The staff provided me with cotton gloves, small beanbags and a heavier paperweight for the more unwieldy books. If you are using the microfilm or microfiche collections, you will want a USB memory stick with considerable capacity. If at all possible, I recommend leaving several gigabytes of space free on your laptop; taking thousands of high-definition photos takes up lots of space. My strategy was to photograph as many documents as possible and then organize the files later, but collating the photos, exporting them into PDF files, and optimizing the files to save valuable hard drive space takes considerable time. No doubt there are more efficient ways to collect material, but with limited time I opted to gather first and sort and read later. As you photograph the material, you are required to record what you have photographed on a Duplication Work Order Form (sample here). Keep a copy for your records, as this will be the best way you have to organize your materials later. The staff will also duplicate materials for a fee, but the link to the fee schedule on the collection website seems to be broken.

Some materials in the Prange Collection have been digitized. During my visit in June 2012, books that fell under the “Political Institutions and Public Administration” heading in the Library of Congress system (JQ) had been digitized, but “Religions and Mythology” books (BL) had not. For reasons that remain somewhat obscure to me, researchers are not allowed to directly download the digital files to flash drives. Instead, I had to take photographs of the documents as they were displayed on a computer screen. I was highly skeptical about the quality of photos taken under such circumstances, but the photos are surprisingly clear and the text is legible.

I initially assumed that the issue with downloading the digitized material involved copyright, but there are no such stipulations about making digital copies of the journals and newspapers available on microforms in McKeldin Library. Note that microfiche holdings (mostly newspapers and magazines) are available in a cabinet in the East Asia Collection (fourth floor), but microfilm reels such as the Charles Kades Papers (a collection holding every postwar constitutional draft, English and Japanese) and Justin Williams Papers (a collection specializing in postwar Japanese legislation) are held downstairs in the microforms section, straight back from the main entrance of the library on the first floor. Before you can access any of these microfilm or microfiche materials, you need to stop at the circulation desk on the first floor and show a government-issued photo ID to get a visitor’s password so that you can log on and use a microform computer-scanner station. Your password is good for several days, but you will need to periodically renew it during longer research trips.

To perform a search of the magazine and newspaper collection before your visit, you need to sign up for an account at the aforementioned online database of Occupation-era periodicals. The interface is only in Japanese, but it is very straightforward and easy to use. In addition to general keyword searches, one can also narrow searches based on whether the article or journal was ever subject to censorship (deletion, suppression, indication of a violation, or markup as a potential source of military intelligence). The microfiche collections are also available at the National Diet Library of Japan and at Harvard, Yale, UCLA, UPenn, the University of Michigan, Nichibunken, and Kumamoto Gakuen University, so if you are solely interested in Occupation-era newspapers and magazines you may be able to spare yourself a trip to Maryland in favor of viewing the materials someplace closer to you. At UMD, there is no charge for making digital copies of the magazine or newspaper content on microfiche. Although there is a computer with a microfilm scanner in the East Asian Library right next to the cabinets holding the magazine microfiche, I found that scanner clunky and the computer temperamental; I later realized that several of the scans I made on that machine were illegible. While the staff apparently prefers to have researchers work upstairs in the East Asia Collection, I highly recommend taking your microforms downstairs to the first floor to use the more user-friendly machines there. Taking the stairs periodically to get new materials also breaks up long days of sitting and scanning.

The Prange Collection website recommends two nearby hotels for researchers. On a graduate student budget, I stayed at the nearby Quality Inn (a misnomer). The fifteen minute walk to the libraries is not bad, but the hotel itself was overpriced and shabby. It did offer free Wi-Fi and a decent range of cable options for relaxing after long days of research. I generally skipped the complimentary continental breakfast because it seemed impossible to eat anything without creating a barge’s worth of styrofoam waste, but I did charge up on watery coffee every day for my walk to campus (be sure to finish it before you enter Hornbake, where no food or beverages are allowed).

A trip to College Park is not a prime opportunity for culinary tourism. There is an uninspired food court in the student center just a short walk away from both libraries; a walk of about ten minutes to Highway 1 will give you a few more options but is not worth it if you are pressed for time. Immediately adjacent to Quality Inn, Plato’s Diner offers above-average diner food and below-average service; the chain restaurants on Highway 1 (Applebee’s, Chipotle) are the same as anywhere. I had a couple of mediocre sandwiches from a shop at the corner of campus closest to the hotel, an amazing but probably atherosclerosis-inducing burger from Five Guys, and some passable Vietnamese food from a place about two blocks from the hotel. Fortunately, the attractiveness of the campus makes up for the insipid cuisine, with a uniform aesthetic of red brick buildings fronted with white or marble columns. The main mall in front of McKeldin library is a wonderful place to have a coffee and people-watch during study breaks, especially if you can nab a spot on one of the benches lining the long fountain that cascades down the massive lawn.

Finally, although the Prange Collection is terrific for projects dealing specifically with the Occupation, its holdings can be used for a number of other research questions that involve twentieth-century Japan more generally. If your project does involve the Occupation it is crucial to visit NARA as well. The military records available at NARA supplement the Prange holdings, and there are hundreds of dissertations’ and books’ worth of research material in the combined collections.

Jolyon Baraka Thomas
PhD Candidate, Religion
Princeton University


Image: University of Maryland McKeldin Library. Photograph by bgervais, Wikimedia Commons.

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