U.S. Archives a Trove of War Records

The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), August 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

U.S. Archives a Trove of War Records


With the number of people who experienced World War II dwindling 73 years after its end, Japanese local governments have been seeking wartime records from large collections in the United States.

However, these efforts have exposed a need to train domestic specialists who can organize and preserve official records.

"The moment I saw color photographs, a war that had felt far away suddenly seemed real to me," Kazuhiko Nakamoto, a specialist at the Okinawa Prefectural Archives, said as he showed bundles of photographs of the Battle of Okinawa.

Nakamoto, 53, spent nine years from 1997 at the U.S. National Archives in the state of Maryland gathering materials on the battle and the U.S. occupation of Okinawa.

He made duplicates of photographic film, photographed records on microfilm, made copies of documents, and used other means to eventually bring home a trove that included 4 million pages of documents, 20,000 photographs and 3,500 aerial photographs.

Color photographs and images taken by the U.S. military landing in Okinawa in 1945 show cannons firing and other wartime scenes. Yet they also show that the sky and sea were just as blue then as they are now.

Clear records needed for future

The Okinawa Prefectural Archives opened in 1995, a half century after the end of the war. Almost no Japanese records remain that describe the Battle of Okinawa.

Nakamoto, who had been a high school English teacher, responded to an ad seeking people to go overseas and gather materials.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration was founded in 1934 and stores more than 12.5 billion pages of diplomatic records, wartime documents and other materials.

What surprised Nakamoto was how thorough the U.S. government was about document management.

"There's a deep-rooted awareness of keeping clear records so things like the procedures by which policies were decided can be verified in the future," he recalled.

Handwritten notes, rough drafts and other such records are preserved in their original forms.

As a child, Nakamoto heard from his mother about the ferocious bombardments carried out by the U.S. military during the Battle of Okinawa.

But seeing films of the attacks and reading materials on mass suicides by residents gave him a clearer image of the war, he said.

He is currently engaged in creating a database of the materials he gathered, putting together exhibitions and other work.

"U.S. records look at things from the side of the occupier, but multiple viewpoints are needed to approach the true history. …

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