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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 August 26 - September 1  > Ex-Imperial Library clerk reflects on library's war cooperation
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2020 August 26 - September 1 [PEACE]

Ex-Imperial Library clerk reflects on library's war cooperation

August 31, 2020
Wartime public libraries had been forced to cooperate in war by consenting to thought control actions by the special secret police and keeping the books looted from other Asian countries.

Yamazaki Gen, 91, started to work at the former Imperial Library in Tokyo's Ueno at the age of 14. His job was loaning out books to users and preparing for the evacuation of books in order to save them from U.S. air raids.

At that time, all users had to write their names and addresses, and list what books they are looking for in the library register. The Special Higher Police came to the library every week and carefully checked users' profiles. Just by looking at the book titles, political police officers judged the users' ideological perspective.

The Imperial Library had a room locked where more than 100,000 books and materials the Japanese Army seized from other Asian countries, including China, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, were secretly stored in. All library workers were not allowed to enter the room.

Yamazaki recollected, "Many of them were about local topographies and histories written in local languages," adding, "It was probably for the purpose of obtaining local information in preparation for getting local resources as war objectives."

After the war, the Allied General Headquarters (GHQ) ordered the return of those books. The books from Southeast Asian nations, however, were returned to their colonial powers such as the Netherlands and England.

Yamazaki as a librarian stayed with the National Diet Library until 1991. He recalled, "Postwar librarians wanted to contribute to peace and democracy through culture and learning." He said he hopes that the postwar generations will learn more about the history of war and will create a history of peace.

Past related article:
> 400K books saved from war damage [May 27, 2014]
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