Featuring materials from the University of Maryland's renowned Gordon W. Prange Collection of publications issued during the Allied occupation of Japan, a new exhibit opening on October 19, Crossing the Divide, focuses on residents of communities built for U.S. military and civilians following the end of World War II. After Japan surrendered unconditionally to the United States and Allied Powers in August 1945, thousands of service members moved to Japan to oversee its rehabilitation.
These U.S. transplants created self-contained communities, or “Little America” enclaves, where they enjoyed an American middle-class lifestyle in contrast to the poverty of the war-torn city.
“Crossing the Divide” explores how Japanese people participated in building an American Dream for the occupying military personnel and how through this experience the Japanese began to rebuild their lives and construct a new nation.
Japanese architects, designers, and engineers, for example, helped shape the communities by creating single-family households that fused Western and Eastern design sensibilities. These households, in turn, provided opportunities for young Japanese women to learn Western ways, often as domestic maids.
“Lots of women’s magazines published reports of these domestic maids and what they learned,” says Yukako Tatsumi, curator of the Prange collection and librarian for East Asian Studies. “How to cook, how to make the bed, how to make a table setting. That kind of modern expertise is something Japanese women longed for.”
Complex dynamics developed in the household relationships, Tatsumi says, but at their foundation was a desire of the women to learn English and household-management skills, and to earn income or materials goods to help support their families. “Japanese young women, highly educated, had the opportunity to gain firsthand experience of modern American household life,” Tatsumi says.
“This exhibit highlights the relevance of the Prange Collection beyond just those interested in Japan Studies,” says Tatsumi. “By showing the American influence, we’re showing the relevance to local audiences.”
The Gordon W. Prange Collection is the most comprehensive archive of publications issued in Japan during the first four years of the Allied Occupation (1945-1949).
Since the early 1990s, the UMD Libraries have partnered with the National Diet Library of Japan to preserve and provide access to the materials in the collection, which fill a gap in the Diet Library’s historical record. Digitization of the 71,000 books in the collection began in 2005.