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Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952

Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 promises to be one of the most important, as well as the most frequently consulted sources, for historians working on interwar international history, particularly on areas which concern British interests on the ever-expanding Japanese Empire. Files from the war years 1941-1945 offer invaluable sources for research into how the British and Allied forces viewed Japanese movements. As British FO sources play an important role as a reference source, the digitization of this period of history will help to facilitate future research in this critical period of the twentieth century.”
Professor Naoko Shimazu, Yale-NUS College Singapore 

Nature and Scope
Key Themes, 1919-1952
Key Topics - Highlights


Through extensive runs of Foreign Office Files from the National Archives, UK, this collection documents Anglo-Japanese diplomatic relations during an era of rapid Japanese progression and expansion.

Capturing Japan’s ascent to the rank of a global superpower through diplomatic dispatches, correspondence, maps, summaries of events and other diverse material, Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 unites formerly restricted Japan-centric documents from the rich FO 371 and FO 262 series, with the addition of FO 371 Western and American Department, and Far Eastern sub papers.

Files leave little room for doubt about the main concerns spanning the three decades. Throughout the 1920s tensions with China are prominent, as are trade negotiations and the devastating impact of the Tokyo earthquake. Into the 1930s, the files discuss the repercussions of Japan’s aggressive foreign policy, particularly in relation to Manchuria, and the threat to British, American and Dutch interests in the Far East. By 1941, documents tell the story of two nations in the grips of a devastating global conflict.

Nature and Scope

Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 is split into three sections:

  • Japan, 1931-1945: Japanese Imperialism and the War in the Pacific
  • Japan, 1946-1952: Occupation of Japan (coming 2018)
  • Japan, 1919-1930: Japan and Great Power Status (coming 2019) 

The complete collection contains files from FO 262 and FO 317. From FO 262 titles are drawn from Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Embassy and Consulates, Japan: General Correspondence, whilst Japan-specific FO 371 files come from Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence from 1906-1966, Far Eastern General Subseries files and Western and American Department Papers.

Covering the Far East from 1919 through to 1952, this is the perfect companion collection to Foreign Office Files for China.

Selection Criteria:

The files in Foreign Office Files for Japan have been selected in collaboration with specialist editorial board members, who have been instrumental in defining the scope and content of the resource. The resource begins in 1919, the year of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles when Anglo-Japanese relations were at a high following collaboration in the First World War. At this time the majority of the documents take on a printed format, a huge advantage for a resource such as Archives Direct which relies upon automated indexing drawn from optical character recognition data.

From 1919-1937 the resource contains a full run of FO 262 Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Embassy and Consulates, Japan: General Correspondence, to concentrate on providing files that are not already available online. Past 1937, FO 371 Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence Japan-specific files, enhanced by a selection of FO 371 Far Eastern General sub-series, and Western and American Department Papers, provide a rounded view of the developing situation in East Asia, and the collaboration between the Allies in the Pacific.

Signing off in 1952 as American occupational forces withdraw from Japan, the files in this resource have been chosen to provide insight into three and a half tumultuous decades of Anglo-Japanese relations.


Foreign Office files contain:

  • Memoranda
  • Reports
  • Minute sheets
  • Correspondence
  • Maps
  • Newspaper cuttings
  • Printed leaflets, extracts from books, booklets etc.

Start exploring the documents using Archives Direct's advanced searching tools, described in the video below. 



Key Themes, 1919-1952:

The files in this resource reveal the shifting nature of Anglo-Japanese relations in the first half of the twentieth century. Below can be found a collection of key themes which shaped the relationships between both nations:

The ‘Great Kanto Earthquake’ of 1923 – Considered the worst recorded natural disaster to hit Japan at the time, the earthquake struck Tokyo and the port of Yokohama; the symbolic gateway to the west. The resulting tsunami and sweeping fires contributed to an estimated death toll of 140,000, traumatising the nation and contributing to an increase in feelings of nationalism. Many saw the devastation as a chance to rebuild the city, and Japanese values. Post-quake, there was a surge in unrest, violence and anti-Korean sentiment, fuelled by false reports of Koreans taking advantage of the chaos to commit crime.

Trade and Economy – Great Britain, along with the United States, were both primary trading partners for the Japanese Empire and therefore took great interest in the strength and stability of the country’s economy. During the First World War, Japan’s economy had boomed, buoyed by increased industrial output to meet supply both domestically and internationally. Exports such as textiles surged and Japan became a creditor nation. Japan did not, however, escape the world economic depression unscathed, with a sharp rise in unemployment leading to widespread dissatisfaction and political unrest. As the Empire expanded, acquiring further control of natural resources, so did the economy and as tensions over Japanese imperialism rose, trade was used as a key leverage tool, with the United States eventually freezing Japanese assets.

Sino-Japanese Relations and Manchuria – In 1931, Japanese troops in China staged the ‘Mukden Incident’, planting a bomb close to a Japanese-owned railway line and providing the pretext for a Japanese invasion of north-eastern China. The Kwantung Army, acting without orders from the Imperial General Headquarters, moved to capture almost every city along the South Manchurian Railway. Despite initial shock from Tokyo, the Japanese government sent more troops, annexing Manchuria and declaring it an independent state. It also became a base from which troops could advance on the rest of China. The international community reacted with outrage and the League of Nations refused to acknowledge Manchuria as an independent nation. This resulted in Japan’s dramatic exit from the League. The conflict escalated and in 1937, the second Sino-Japanese war broke out with the Marco-Polo Bridge incident and the Battle of Nanking.

Japanese Imperialism – Following expansion into China in 1931, Japanese territory continued to grow across the Far East. Reliant on United States-controlled resources such as rubber, iron and oil for economic growth, Japan set its sights on resource-rich territories across the Far East to endeavour to become self-sufficient and independent. This strained relations between Japan and Great Britain as British colonial holdings, as well as those of their Dutch allies, came under threat of Japanese invasion. In 1940, with the fall of France and Holland to Nazi control, and Great Britain encircled by enemy air force, European colonies in South East Asia lay unprotected and an attractive proposition for Japanese expansion.

The War in the Pacific – Anglo-Japanese relations hit rock bottom as war broke out in the Pacific. Deteriorating relations between the United States came to a head with the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Japan simultaneously attacked British territories in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. As the war progressed, Japan captured Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong and Singapore, and many British prisoners of war died in Japanese captivity. In January 1942, Japanese forces moved into northern areas of the Dutch East Indies. Burma was next and in February, the British were forced to surrender Singapore, their major military base in South East Asia. This resulted in the largest surrender of British-led forces to date and was considered by Winston Churchill the “worst disaster” in British military history.

The Occupation of Japan – On 26 July 1945, the Potsdam Declaration was issued by Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Chiang Kai-Shek demanding unconditional surrender from Japan. The declaration called for the revival of democratic tendencies, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and respect for fundamental human rights. Following the official surrender of the Japanese on 14 August 1945, Allied Forces, headed by Supreme Allied Commander General McArthur, occupied Japan. Implementing President Truman’s ‘US Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan’, they had three main objectives: Eliminate the war potential held by Japan, build a diplomatic society and revive the economy. In 1951, the Treaty of San Francisco brought a formal end to wartime hostilities, allowing Great Britain and Japan to begin rebuilding their relationship.

Section One: Japan, 1931-1945: Japanese Imperialism and the War in the Pacific

Key Topics:

The 1930s were tumultuous for Japan, both domestically and internationally. Section one begins in 1931, as Japan invades Manchuria. This incident, and continued Japanese activities in the region, would lead to their dramatic withdrawal from the League of Nations and further alienation from the western powers they had allied with during the First World War. The files in this section document the cascading decline in relations, through war in the Pacific, up until Japanese surrender on board the US Missouri in 1945.

The majority of documents in this section are sourced from FO 371, with a smaller number from FO 262.

Key files on principal subjects include:

Manchuria, developments in Manchuria and the Manchukuo Administration, the South Manchuria Railway and the Lytton Commission Report:

  • FO 262/1774    Japan and China: Japanese Claim to Manchuria, etc., 1931
  • FO 262/1799    Manchuria: Proposed New State of, and General Situation, 1932
  • FO 262/1977    Manchuria: "Open Door"
  • FO 262/1802    Lytton Commission Report
  • FO 262/1818    Railways: Manchuria (including South Manchuria Railway)
  • FO 262/1782    South Manchuria Railway


Early twentieth-century Anglo-Japanese alliances and disarmament:


Finance, economy and trade embargos:


China, Formosa and Korea and the Peking-Mukden Railway:


Relations between Japan and America:


Relations between Japan and Russia; the Soviet-Japanese War:


The growth of Communism in the Far East:


Labour and industrial relations in Japan:


Japanese activities in the Dutch East Indies:

  • FO 371/22190    Japan's Southward Expansion
  • FO 371/27834, FO 371/27835   Japanese Negotiations with Netherlands East Indies
  • FO 371/24716    Netherlands East Indies: Possibility of Japanese Action in the Event of Invasion of the Netherlands
  • FO 371/31758    General: Japanese Intelligence Service in Dutch East Indies
  • FO 371/31812    Japanese Air Raids on Netherlands East Indies
  • FO 371/28056    Declaration of War on Japan by Netherlands East Indies


 The League of Nations:


 War in the Pacific:

  • FO 371/46477    Togo's Statement on German Peace in Europe
  • FO 371/27988    War Preparation Against Japan
  • FO 371/35957    Events Leading Up to War with Japan
  • FO 371/28006    Evacuation of British Subjects and Japanese
  • FO 371/31739    General: Exchange of British, Allied and Japanese Diplomats
  • FO 371/31822    Japanese Forces in the Philippines
  • FO 371/46470    Decorations for Persons Who have Escaped from Japanese Internment Camps
  • FO 371/31757    Broadcast Message from Mr Churchill to Japanese Occupied Territories
  • FO 371/22193    Operations Against the Japanese in the Pacific Area
  • FO 371/31810    Situation in Burma as Japanese Prepare Offensive
  • FO 371/27902    British Propaganda in Japan
  • FO 371/46502    Allied Control Machinery for Japan
  • FO 371/41804    Japan and the War: Peace Feelers
  • FO 371/41794    Future of Japan: Treatment After Defeat
  • FO 371/35956    Post-war Independence of Korea
  • FO 371/46539    Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Directives to Japanese Government
  • FO 371/35952    Political and Military Situation in Japan, 1943.