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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 in 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

 

 

 

Introduction
Nature and Scope
Key Themes, 1919-1952
Documents on Key Topics:
Section One: 1931-1945: Japanese Imperialism and the War in the Pacific
Section Two: 1946-1952: Occupation of Japan 
Section Three: 1919-1930: Japan and Great Power Status (coming 2019)

 

 

 

 

Introduction

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
  • 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.

 Principal Roads Japan, 1946.  © documents are reproduced by permission of The National Archives London, UK

Where to start? A guide to documents on some key topics:

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

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

“In the first place we very much doubt whether it is true that Japan would not dare to flout the united view of Great Britain and the United States of America as regards to the Manchuria question. We in this Embassy are inclined to believe that they would certainly dare to flout it unless they were convinced that the two countries would go to war against Japan. Even in this extreme eventuality, we could not be sure of Japan yielding” FO 262/1802

 

Early Twentieth-Century Anglo-Japanese Alliances and Disarmament

"His Excellency, when referring to the unfortunate possibility of no general naval agreement materialising, said that if there was a political understanding between the three big powers in the Pacific, the actual size of fleets or type of ships would be matters of secondary importance. Once it was admitted that war between any of these countries was not a problem to be considered – and he himself did not in fact consider that it was today a problem – we could then begin seriously to discuss naval disarmament." FO 262/1925

 

Finance, Economy and Trade Embargos

“I consider this an example of how effective the emergency restrictions are have been proving. Apart from exchange control, these restrictions have been in force since October 1937 and have been applied more strictly in the last few months. Further and more drastic restriction can and no doubt will be imposed if they are deemed necessary. I conclude therefore that [the] Japanese economy can undergo the strain of war for many months yet before it can properly be said that there is any probability of a critical situation arising such as might seriously impede the execution of war in China” FO 371/22183

 

China, Formosa and Korea and the Peking-Mukden Railway

"There seems little doubt that China is actuated by more than altruistic feelings in desiring the independence of Korea, and that she would welcome the creation of a buffer state between Japan and the north China mainland … the Chinese are now exercised as to how it may be possible to create a regime in Korea sufficiently subordinate and at the same time sufficiently powerful, to serve as a defence of the Gulf of Chihli." FO 371/41801

 

Relations between Japan and America

“The news of the Japanese action was received by the public in Washington with stupefaction, but with no notable signs of excitement. An interested and orderly crowd gathered outside the Japanese Embassy and watched a very conspicuous destruction of secret papers and archives. Later the centre of interest shifted to the White House, where members of the Cabinet and Congressional leaders of both parties … arrived late at night to confer with the President” FO 371/31807

 

Relations between Japan and Russia; the Soviet-Japanese War

“On April 8th [Japanese] Foreign Office spokesman issued to foreign press correspondents entitled “Facts concerning Soviet outrages”. Publication of this together with recent protests at Moscow suggests that public is being prepared for a campaign against the Soviet Union. Soviet ambassador recently stated that Germans and Italians had instigated Japanese to create the impression that Russo-Japanese war was imminent.” FO 371/22188

 

The Growth of Communism in the Far East

“A press ban covering reports of a series of wholesale arrests of alleged communist agitators, which has been in force since the 5th December 1936, was removed on the 30th May. It was then announced that more than 1,300 communists had been arrested throughout Japan during the period of the ban.” FO 262/1975

 

Labour and Industrial Relations in Japan

"On 10th September the authorities of the military arsenal at Osaka took advantage of a lecture on aerial defence, at which all the operatives were assembled to advised them to sever their connection with their labour unions "in the interests of military discipline"" FO 262/1937

 

Japanese Activities in the Dutch East Indies

"The trend of events now seems to point more strongly to the probability that Japanese activities in the Netherlands East Indies form part of a wider plan for southward expansion, Australia being the real objective" FO_371_22190

  • 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

"Japan has always been one of the great pillars of the League, From the very outset she has been a member. She has taken the greatest interest in all its proceeding, She has, I believe, although this is a smaller matter, the largest society in support of the League of Nations of any member of the leaugue, except possibly the country I have the honour to represent." FO 262/1774

 

War in the Pacific

"Your Excellency, I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that, as from today, a state of war exists between Great Britain and Japan. I avail myself of this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurance of my highest consideration. (sgd.) Shigenori Togo, Minister for Foreign Affairs" FO 371/31811

 

       

 

Section Two: Japan 1946-1952: Occupation of Japan

From 1946-1952 Japan was occupied by Allied Powers. The files for this period offer a British perspective on the creation of a democratic state in Japan and the enforcement of a new constitution. They include key British communications and reports covering topics such as war crime trials, reparations, and Japan’s economic recovery. They conclude in 1952, the year the Treaty of San Francisco normalised Anglo-Japanese relations and the first post-war British Ambassador to Japan, Esler Dening, was appointed.

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

Files on key subjects include:

Disarmament

“The Governments of the United Kingdom, China, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States have declared their intention to effect the total disarmament and demilitarization of Japan … Nothing shall prevent the completion of this process. It remains to ensure that the total disarmament and demilitarization of Japan will be enforced as long as the peace and security of the world may require” FO 371/54281

  • FO 371/69907 Demilitarization of Japan. Prohibition of military activity in Japan and disposition of military equipment 1948
  • FO 371/54004 Disarmament of Japanese forces in South East Asia Command
  • FO 371/54280-FO 371/54282 Disarmament and demilitarisation of Japan and disposal of Japanese naval and merchant fleets

War Crime Trials

“In April of this year it became clear that there was considerable friction between the members of the War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo, largely as a result of the attitude of the President, Sir William Webb, whose influence on other members was such that they would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict on the lines of the Nuremberg Judgement” FO 371/63820

 

The Japanese Economy

“No mention can now be made of the Japanese economy without immediate reference to the Economic Stabilisation Plan introduced last December. The Supreme Commander himself was moved at the time to grumble that Washington had wished a council of perfection on him. It was certainly crystal clear that the plan was doomed to failure at the outset were its implementation entrusted to the economic organisation at the Supreme Commander's disposal... " FO 371/76218/49

  • FO 371/54336 Economic reconstruction problems in Japan, Korea and the Philippines
  • FO 371/63638-FO 371/63669 Japanese economic affairs; food situation in Japan
  • FO 371/63706-FO 371/63720 Weekly summaries of information on Japanese reparations deliveries
  • FO 371/83846-FO 371/83849 Reports on economic conditions in Japan
  • FO 371/92665-FO 371/92676 Claims against the Japanese Government for compensation for former Far Eastern prisoners-of-war; proposed use of Japanese assets as compensation; claims for wartime damage and loss of property caused by the Japanese; incorporation of claim arrangements in the Japanese Peace Treaty

 

Trade and Industry

“The Japanese Government should abrogate all laws and other regulations which prevent or have the effect of preventing (1) the free organization of trade unions for the purposes of improving wages, hours and working conditions and the rendering of mutual assistance; and (2) the performance of other legitimate activities directed to these ends.” FO 371/54308

  • FO 371/69878, FO 371/69879 Japanese whaling and pearl fishing
  • FO 371/69921 Japanese petroleum industry. Use of Japanese tankers in the Persian Gulf.
  • FO 371/76203-FO 371/76209 Labour conditions in Japan. Monthly reports by the labour adviser, Tokyo
  • FO 371/83851 Development of trade in Japan; Japanese imports to be handled by private traders; Japanese iron and steel industry; subsidies for the fiscal year ending March 1951; dissolution of monopolistic Mitsui Bussan Kaisha and Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha 1950
  • FO 371/83859 Trade between Japan and the Sterling area 1950
  • FO 371/83881 Uruguay ready to issue import licences for Japanese goods to the value of Japanese purchases from Uruguay
  • FO 371/83882 Indonesian trade with Japan
  • FO 371/83883 Korea-Japan Trade Arrangements, signed in Tokyo 8 June 1950
  • FO 371/83884 Pakistan-Japan trade agreement; in force from 1 July 1949 to 30 June 1950; new trade agreement signed September 1950
  • FO 371/83885 Trade between South Africa and Japan; trade between Ceylon and Japan
  • FO 371/83898-FO 371/83899 Japanese textile industry; threat to Lancashire cotton industry; joint Anglo-American textile mission to Japan
  • FO 371/84000-FO 371/84007 Japanese shipbuilding industry; removal of restrictions; meetings of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee
  • FO 371/84050-FO 371/84052 Trade Unionism and labour conditions in Japan; corrective employment for prisoners in Japan
  • FO 371/92658-FO 371/92660 Japanese Whaling and Fisheries Industry; Japan's food needs and the necessity of conservation measures

 

Occupational Forces

“The three main political tasks in Japan since the surrender have been demilitarization, for obvious reasons, decentralization, to overcome totalitarianism, and finally democratisation. At the same time it has been necessary to resuscitate Japanese economy as soon as possible in order that she should pay her way and become a useful member of world society.” FO 371/76210

 

Liberalisation and the New Constitution

“The revised Constitution is the basis upon which the complete restoration of Japan shall be realized, and the nation, each person in his own place, should act in harmony with its phenomenal principles and in conformity with its spirit” FO 371/63698

  • FO 371/63694-FO 371/63703 Information-memoranda regarding the review of the Japanese Constitution and other proposed legislation
  • FO 371/69818-FO 371/69827 Political situation in Japan. Revised Constitution. Right to strike. Labour troubles
  • FO 371/63698 Information-memoranda regarding the review of the Japanese Constitution and other proposed legislation

 

Japanese Post–War Political Parties

“The general elections – the first to be held after the independence of Japan and as such the most important for the future of Japan – lie less than a month ahead. Various Political parties, from Prime Minister Yoshida’s Liberal Party down to the Opposition minorities, are getting prepared for the October 1st elections with their respective slogans and policy planks.” FO 371/99391

  • FO 371/99390 Japanese politics; party programmes for the general election
  • FO 371/99391 Report on legislation achievements of the outgoing Japanese Diet; Crisis facing the new Government of Prime Minister Yoshida
  • FO 371/99392-FO 371/99393 Japanese Communist Party

Peace Treaty

“We still believe that the early conclusion of a Treaty of peace, as a result of which Japan might develop naturally into an associate of the Western Democracies, is a matter of urgency. There are already signs that the Japanese are becoming resentful that there seems no prospect of a Treaty of Peace for many years to come, though the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation have already been complied with, and, not surprisingly, Japanese nationalism is again becoming articulate.” FO 371/76210

  • FO 371/92529-FO 371/92600 Japanese Peace Treaty
  • FO 371/76210 United States occupation policy in Japan
  • FO 371/99414 Messages and broadcasts by heads of state of signatory countries on the day of entry into force of the Japanese Peace Treaty, 28 April 1952
  • FO 371/99486-FO 371/99493 Distribution to selected benevolent organisations of proceeds of Japanese assets in the UK disposed of under Article 14 of the Peace Treaty; claims for compensation for ex-POWs of the Japanese; protests from British ex-POWs and sympathisers at the inadequacy of the settlements 1952
  • FO 262/2066 Anglo-American policy of the Japanese Peace Treaty
  • FO 262/2072 Japanese Peace Treaty; Anglo-American policy
  • FO 371/63749 Soviet tactics with regard to Japan and the proposed Peace Treaty
  • FO 371/63766-FO 371/63784 Japanese Peace Settlement; Canberra Conference, August 1947

 

Re-establishing Diplomatic Ties

“There need be no unnecessary impediment places in the way of the Japanese Government establishing an Overseas Agency in London as soon as they are ready to do so. The announcements that His Majesty’s Government had accepted the establishment of such an agency caused considerable pleasure in official circles.” FO 371/92684