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GHQ photographer’s color shots offer rare insights on postwar Japan

Chunichi Shimbun

The National Diet Library in Tokyo caught attention this autumn when it published color photos taken immediately after the end of World War II by a staffer at the General Headquarters (GHQ).

The images, taken by the staffer at the central secretariat of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers who was stationed in Japan after the war, are among very few color photos of Japan that remain from that period.

Experts believe the photographs are “important materials that show how (Japan) began rebuilding itself after the war.”

Scenes they depict include food shortages, with one photo showing the inner moat of Nagoya Castle being used for farming. In another photo, a row of movie posters shows the type of entertainment available to the public after the end of the war.

According to the National Diet Library the vivid photos were taken by Robert V. Mosier, who was stationed in Japan between 1946 and 1947. He took 304 photos of the people and scenery in Aichi Prefecture, Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and other places, according to the library.

Boards advertising movies are seen in Nagoya a year or two after World War II ended.
Boards advertising movies are seen in Nagoya a year or two after World War II ended. | NATIONAL DIET LIBRARY

After Mosier passed away his niece contacted a local library in the United States to see how much the photos were worth, and was advised that the photos should be preserved in Japan. In 2008, she brought the photos to the National Diet Library.

The library then digitized the photos before publishing them online in September. There are at least 60 taken in Aichi, including images of the streets around Nagoya Station and a tram running on Otsu-dori in the snow.

There is also a photo of Tonan Sumi Yagura, which is one of three structures located in the corners of Nagoya Castle that were used as watchtowers and warehouses for emergency food.

The inner moat in front of the watchtower, which escaped the airstrikes that hit the city in 1945, is seen being farmed in the photos.

Mosier also took photos of the Aichi Prefectural Government Office and other buildings not damaged by the airstrikes.

Photos taken outside of Aichi include those of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, which bears scars from the atomic bomb, and the National Diet Building in Tokyo.

“I’ve never seen these kinds of photos before,” said Hideaki Sugiura, 67, a researcher from Nagoya City Museum who is familiar with documentary photography.

“It is a chance for us to learn how the people rebuilt the burnt ruins after the airstrikes, which seemed hopeless at the time.”

To view the full collection of photos, go to the website of the National Diet Library and search using the keywords “Robert V. Mosier.”

The National Diet Library website can be found at www.ndl.go.jp/en/.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 12.

A picture taken in 1946 or 1947 shows the inner moat of Nagoya Castle being used for farming, one sign of acute food shortages in the immediate postwar years.
A picture taken in 1946 or 1947 shows the inner moat of Nagoya Castle being used for farming, one sign of acute food shortages in the immediate postwar years. | NATIONAL DIET LIBRARY