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Seminar paper
Japanese research on the occupation of post-war Japan by British and Commonwealth forces: new developments and contemporary source problems
Mr CHIDA Takeshi

Kure City, in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, is known to many historians as the city where the Headquarters of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces was established following Japan’s surrender in the Second World War. Kure is better known in Japan for its history as an important military port and, in particular, as Japan’s premier naval shipbuilding dock - the place where the famous battleship Yamato was completed in 1941.

It was not widely known until quite recently in Japan however, that the US Occupation forces in the Chûgoku (Central Honshû) and Shikoku areas were actually replaced from February 1946 by British and Commonwealth forces. These forces, consisting of up to 37,000 troops from the Australian, New Zealand and Indian Armies, were headed by an Australian commander-in-chief. In terms of administration, they were an independent authority, though in strategic matters they were subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.

1. Discovering BCOF

My professional interest in BCOF’s role in the Occupation is comparatively recent and, indeed, had something of a chance beginning. I first became aware of the existence of BCOF in 1978, when I went to Tokyo to collect information connected with the Edited History of Hiroshima Prefecture that I was working on, and found a number of unsorted documents concerning the BCOF in the library attached to the Military History Department of the Defence Agency. At the time, although research on the Allied Occupation of Japan was flourishing, most of it was based on information obtained from public documents in institutions such as the American National Archives, which focused exclusively on the American Occupation forces. BCOF is hardly mentioned in these publications; and when they are mentioned, their significance in the Occupation is minimised.

From a contemporary standpoint, the documents I found in Tokyo in 1978 did not provide an adequate basis for substantial research on BCOF. Just to find documents that even mentioned the February 1946 changeover from American to British and Commonwealth forces in the Chûgoku and Shikoku region however, was in itself an exciting discovery, and I regarded the documents as extremely valuable. Although I was keen to write something about the occupation of Hiroshima that incorporated these documents, I had to shelve my ambitions for a while, as this particular topic had already been entrusted to another historian working on the Edited History.

When the Edited History of Hiroshima Prefecture (which only briefly mentions the existence of BCOF) was finally published in 1983, I was working at the Municipal History Compilation Office in Kure City. By then I was determined to attempt some deeper research on the BCOF role in the Occupation, using overseas resources, but first I had to complete my research on Kure City’s prewar and wartime history. Putting all my effort into this task, I managed to publish the 5th and 6th volumes of this history in 1987 and 1988 respectively, meaning that I was now free to pursue overseas sources relating to BCOF.

2. Sourcing BCOF materials overseas: achievements and problems

In 1988 and 1989 I visited Australia and New Zealand to survey and collect information on BCOF. Visiting the Australian War Memorial, the Australian Archives, the National Library of Australia, the National Library of New Zealand, the New Zealand National Archives and the Library attached to the New Zealand Department of Defence, I managed to find more material than I had hoped for, including documents, photographs, research publications, newspapers and films. Both of these trips were hard work for me, especially the 1988 journey, which was my first overseas research expedition. I often felt hampered by my sketchy knowledge of the topic, which was based primarily on a hasty reading of Major-General R. N. L. Hopkins’ essay, “History of the Australian Occupation in Japan.” [1] My poor command of English was also a hindrance in those early trips: on one occasion in Australia, having asked a taxi driver to take me to the National Archives, I found myself unceremoniously deposited in front of the National Gallery. While these incidents are funny in retrospect, it was thanks to the kind assistance of many people that through all these difficulties, I was able to pursue my objective and collect a great deal of valuable information on a topic I was initially unfamiliar with. [2]

In the two years following my trips, I concentrated on the translation and organisation of the materials I had collected, as well as collecting materials relating to BCOF which remain in Japan. In 1993 I published my first piece of writing on BCOF, entitled “British and Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan: the Policy of Appeasement.” In this paper, as well as giving a general overview of BCOF’s role and activities, I concentrated on a topic of particular interest to Japanese readers - the passing, application and eventual abandonment of the “fraternisation policy” by Occupation authorities. This law prohibited social relations between the occupying forces and local people - particularly, of course, local women. In completing this work I made use of a number of local prefectural and municipal archival sources, as well as Masako Endô’s 1989 work, War Bride: A Long Way to Australia. [3]

In 1993 I published two other articles: one on intermarriage between BCOF personnel and Japanese women, and another on the diplomatic relations between the countries involved in the formation of BCOF. In 1994 I completed my fourth article, this time concerning the command and administrative structure of BCOF. Even at this time, references to BCOF in Japanese publications were quite rare, one of the few in Professor Eiji Takemae’s account in his 1992 work, A History of Postwar and Occupation Japan.[4] Despite the low level of academic interest in Japan regarding BCOF, however, I myself had amassed an enormous collection of information from overseas, as well as having access to further materials through my contacts in Australia and New Zealand. [5] In 1994, with a view to providing a complete explanation of the existence and operation of BCOF in the Kure area, I began my compilation of the second section of Volume 8 of the Kure City history, which was subsequently published in 1995. I have since re-edited this work into a new book with the title The British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan.[6] This work aims to expand Japanese knowledge of the history and significance of the British and Commonwealth Forces (including both BCOF and the British and Commonwealth Forces in Korea, or BCFK) beyond existing awareness of their role in the Occupation and the fraternisation policy. Accordingly, it provides a more comprehensive discussion of other issues related to BCOF during the Occupation, such as their formation, structural organisation, specific duties and activities, and their exchanges with Japanese nationals. I also cover the reorganisation and subsequent repatriation of BCOF personnel and their subsequent role in the Korean War.

A particular point of concern for me in my own research has been my over-dependence on Australian resources, especially concerning the diplomatic negotiations surrounding the establishment of BCOF. I have been eager to rectify this situation by gaining access to relevant British and US source materials. Professor Eiji Takemae has also addressed this issue in his 1998 paper on the diplomatic negotiations between Britain, Australia and the US over the establishment of BCOF. In addition, there is the National Library of Japan’s survey of existing Australian sources, as well as the Yamaguchi Prefectural Research Association’s work, The History of Yamaguchi prefecture, which will be published presently and which utilises source materials and testimonies gathered from New Zealand. These publications and other ongoing research projects demonstrate the increasing amount of Japanese research concerning BCOF.

3. Japanese source materials on BCOF

We can see how Japanese research on BCOF has proceeded over the past few decades, as well as some of the problems faced by Japanese researchers interested in this topic - particularly regarding the location of good source materials. In my own case, over 80 percent of the source materials for my research on BCOF have been collected from overseas locations, particularly in Australia. This means that less than 20 percent of my materials were sourced in Japan; moreover, almost none of these Japanese materials date from the important early years of the Occupation, particularly 1945 and 1946.

Fortunately however, as scarce as these Japanese materials are, there is a comparative wealth of them held currently at Kure City, which is where the regional Occupation Headquarters were initially established. Among the early documents from the Kure Municipal Office relating to the Occupation forces, documents dating from between 1945 to 1946 are gathered together under the title “Documents relating to Postwar Liaison.” This collection is almost entirely from the US Army, with only two items relating to BCOF. Documents from the early Occupation period that are comparatively well organised include a set of plans from 1947, “Water Supply to the Allied Military Forces” and a document from 1948, “Water Supply to the Australian Military Gaol.” In addition to these, there is some documentary evidence indicating the concern of Kure City officials with maintaining good relations between BCOF and local people, such as a document entitled “Expressions of Interest for the Establishment of the Kure International Friendship Society.”

Materials from the Kure Municipal Office greatly increase after 1951, the point at which Japan’s independence returned to the Occupation agenda. There are numerous documents relating to the United Nations Military Pact of June 1954, which covered arrangements for the British and Commonwealth Forces that remained in Japan under the command of the UN, following the restoration of Japanese independence. There are also some materials connected with post-independence labour contracts between these forces and Japanese civilians. In addition, there are many documents concerning issues such as post-independence requests for the return of Japanese facilities, unemployment problems following the removal of the occupying forces, friendly relations between civilians and the military forces and requests for compensation for incidents caused by members of the occupying military forces.

If we shift our gaze towards Tokyo, some documents created by the Kure District Demobilisation Bureau relating to the BCOF presence remain at the Defence Research Centre. Similar documents created by the Postwar Central Liaison Agency can also be seen at the Diplomatic Resources Depository. While these documents comprise the few items relating to BCOF which remain in Japan and are accordingly very precious, they do not provide very much information. More seriously, the information they do provide can be far from accurate and, in some cases, downright wrong. For example, information produced by the Kure District Demobilisation Bureau on 3 January 1946 is extremely vague about the dates on which the changeover from US to British and Commonwealth forces took place, and is totally wrong in its predictions about the actual areas to be occupied by BCOF, stating that the occupied areas will be Hiroshima and Shimane, with headquarters at Etajima or Hiroshima (instead of at Kure, as was actually the case). Similar information relating to labour relations and the post-war labour movement can be found at the Occupation Worker’s Cooperative, while some fragmented information is available in other areas that were also directly occupied, such as Fukuyama, Okayama and Tottori.

Within the range of available printed materials, I have examined the most popular newspapers of the period in question; these include the Chugoku Shimbun, the Chugoku Daily, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Mainichi Shimbun. Although the majority of articles relating to the early Occupation period are unfortunately very thin owing to the influence of the Press Code[7] during this period, even here, snippets of information about the activities of the British and Commonwealth Forces occasionally come to light. This sort of information is probably most suitable for those with a particular interest in the exchanges between Japanese civilians and the forces or the situation of the labour movement. Even more detailed information could probably be obtained if we could gain access to the collection of newspapers at the University of Maryland’s Prange Repository.

Among published Japanese materials, there are, first of all, the prefectural histories, municipal histories and police records. There are also some publications issued by local and government institutions, such as the History of the Defence Agency and the Kure Water Board history. Publications on specific Occupation issues include the three-volume History of the Occupation Labour Cooperative, as well as Masako Endô’s already mentioned War Bride and Yasunari Kawauchi’s Give us Love and Freedom,[8] both of which look at intermarriage between Japanese civilian women and BCOF soldiers. Apart from these, there are also individual items, such as the seven-volume record of negotiations for the return of UN military facilities kept by Kiyoto Motoyama, who worked for the supply depot providing goods to BCOF. As mentioned previously, some documents and photographs concerning the labour movements by Japanese employees of BCOF also remain. Finally, although it is debatable whether or not such material could properly be called “Japanese,” about 150 notes and memos written by BCOF soldiers, most of them British, have been preserved in the Kure Municipal History Compilation Office.

Accordingly, while much of it is fragmented in nature and scant in content, some information relating to BCOF activities remains in Japan. Most of it is from the post-1951 period, when Japan’s approaching independence had become a major issue. During the Occupation, a number of factors were at work to limit the creation of historical records, in particular the inhibitions imposed upon direct expression by the Press Code. We should also remember that most Japanese people were too consumed by the arduous daily struggle to survive during this period to pay much attention to preserving historically important information. Above all, however, I believe that it was only when Japanese people were faced with the immediate reality of independence that they were able to think seriously once more about their own future as a nation.

4. Researching BCOF: some preliminary conclusions

After just over a decade of research into BCOF, I have come to believe that an appreciation of the post-war role of BCOF is essential to understanding the history of Occupation policy in Japan and the immediate postwar history of central Japan and Shikoku. Beyond this however, the history of BCOF is also an important example of overall post-war diplomatic trends in the Asia-Pacific region. The relationship between BCOF and the Allied Powers, whereby the armies of various countries were unified in BCOF under an independent administrative unit (although under the command of SCAP in policy matters), has significance beyond the Occupation itself, in that this relationship was eventually succeeded by the relationship between SCAP and BCFK during the Korean War. This relationship remains significant I suggest, particularly during the current period, as interest quickens in the organisation and structure of UN Peacekeeping Operations.

On a more anecdotal level, Australia’s successful negotiations with Britain for a central role in BCOF organisation is a particularly intriguing example of “Anglo-Saxon” bargaining techniques. I have also been personally impressed in the course of my research by the interchange between BCOF soldiers and the Japanese people that developed once they had transcended the distance between them created by the relationship of occupier to occupied. Given that this relationship emerged from the blood of their wartime encounter, it was probably based at first upon confusion and alienation, if not hatred and hostility. Yet a closer inspection of personal interaction reveals not only the emergence of mutual trust and respect at a general level, but numerous cases of individual transformation and the growth of deep affections. There were even couples who overcame the significant obstacle posed by the fraternisation policy to marry, thus opening up the path towards future international exchange. While the adoption of the fraternisation policy was unfortunate and perhaps ill-advised, the individual courage of the young people who challenged it by following their affections was critical in opening it up to debate and eventually reform. Theirs is a particularly moving story and a primary source of my own respect and admiration for Australian people.

A final point I would like to make concerns the extent to which all Japanese research into BCOF, including my own work, has depended upon the availability of overseas historical material, especially that in Australia. While the current backwardness of Japanese archival systems is a point of considerable regret to me, it makes me all the more grateful for the assistance and encouragement I have received from my friends and colleagues in Australia. The task of surveying and collecting BCOF-related materials which remain in Japan must continue, and I believe that the correct approach is to continue researching BCOF using material sourced from the former occupying countries, while incorporating that obtained from Japanese sources. In this respect, the current AJRP project at the Australian War Memorial, involving the survey, collection and classification of BCOF-related materials, is of great significance. While the continuation of this work may give rise to variations in technical terminology and occasional differences of opinion, I believe that we can all learn from the meeting of our peoples over half a century ago, deepen our friendship and achieve outstanding results.

Translated by Meredith Patton, Steve Bullard and Akemi Inoue, for the Australia-Japan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial, March 1999.

About the author

CHIDA Takeshi is a lecturer at Hiroshima International University in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, where he teaches and researches post-war Japanese history, specialising in the Occupation and early post-Occupation period. In December 1998 Professor CHIDA was a Visiting Fellow to the Australia-Japan Research Project, where he presented a seminar based on this essay. The Australia-Japan Research Project gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Japan Foundation in bringing Professor CHIDA to the Australian War Memorial.


[1] Hopkins, R. N. L. “History of the Australian Occupation in Japan, 1946-1950,” in Journal and proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Volume 40 Part II, 1954.

[2] I am indebted in particular Ms Fumika Clifford, from the National Library of Australia and Dr David Sissens, to whom she introduced me, whose advice and support have been invaluable to my research. I have also been substantially aided by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Australian and New Zealand Embassies in Tokyo, and the Japanese Embassies in Canberra and Tokyo. Finally, special thanks are due to Mr and Mrs Sheppard, Mr. Northey, Mr and Mrs Omundsen, Mr and Mrs Cornell, and Ms Ikuko Sakai, for their kind friendship and assistance.

[3] ENDÔ, Masako. Cherî Pâka no Atsui Fuyu. Toyko: Shinchôsha, 1989.

[4] TAKEMAE, Eiji. Sengo Senryôshi: Tai Nichi Kanri Seisaku no Zenyô. Zushi: Sôshisha, 1980.

[5] I was fortunate to have the assistance of Dr Jeff Grey, of the Australian Defence Force Academy, as well as junior colleagues, including Ms Keiko Tamura, Ms Caroline Parker and Mr O. Simmonson. Additional materials were sourced in England through the kind auspices of Professor I. Nish, University of London, and Mr W. Aldridge. Following his acceptance of a lectureship at Hiroshima Shûdô University, I have also been fortunate to have the assistance of Dr David Sissens whenever I ran into trouble reading and interpreting my materials.

[6] CHIDA, Takeshi, Eirenpô Gun no Nihon Shinchû to Tenkai. Tokyo, Ochanomizu Shobô, 1997.

[7] The Occupation Press Code imposed strict censorship over Japanese media coverage of wartime and Occupation issues; in theory, every report on such issues had to pass the inspection of GHQ.

[8] KAWAUCHI Yasunari, Kakute Ai to Jyû Wo. Tokyo, Miyazaki Seihon/Myôgi Shuppansha, 1952.

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