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Waseda during the Occupied Era 1945–1952: Groping toward Rebirth—Looking Back on the History of Waseda in Occupied Japan

Kyohei Sagawa
Assistant, Waseda University Archives

Photo 1: Waseda University (School of Commerce Yearbook from AY 1949, 1950)

Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and agreed to unconditional surrender when the Asia-Pacific War officially ended on August 15, 1945. Afterwards, the country was occupied by the General Headquarters (GHQ), the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, until the enactment of the San Francisco Peace Treaty on April 28, 1952. How did Waseda University and its students see the defeat of their country as the result of the war, and take their first step forward in the face of extreme material shortages and the emergence of new thinking post-war?

The Waseda University Archives hosted an autumn special exhibition entitled Waseda during the Occupied Era 1945–1952: Groping toward Rebirth (finished on November 6, 2016). The following article looks back on the history of Waseda University during Occupied Japan based on the exhibition [Photo 1]:

I. Starting Over After the War—Reorganization and Reconceptualization

As Japanese society went into a mindset for total war across all dimensions after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Waseda University increasingly adapted itself to the country’s national policy and wartime regime. While its organization and curriculum were adjusted in favor of the war, some faculty members, including Sokichi Tsuda and Motokichi Kyoguchi, were purged for reasons such as being liberal or in opposition of the Emperor. The defeat, which came after this obedience to the wartime regime, caused Waseda University to question its philosophy again, and at the same time, forced it to change in line with the democratization policy of GHQ and CIE (Civil Information and Educational Section), as well as the subsequent educational revolution based on this policy.

Photo 2: Revision to the Waseda University Mission (May 2, 1949)

The University charter, called the Charter of the Waseda University Educational Corporation (Act of Endowment)—equivalent to the constitution of a country—was revised on May 15, 1946 and substantial changes were made to it, most notably the implementation of a system for electing the president (to replace the old system in which the president had been elected by mutual vote of the directors). This implies that the University began to reorganize itself at an early point in time without waiting for relevant laws to be established by administrative authorities, such as the School Education Act and Private Schools Act. Simultaneously, Waseda University started to review its philosophy, which had become feeble like never before following the war and Japan’s defeat. The Waseda University Mission (established in 1913) has three pillars, which are: to uphold the independence of learning, to promote the practical utilization of knowledge and to encourage good citizenship. As the result of enacting the Constitution of Japan and Basic Act on Education, this Mission was revised to delete the words "as faithful subjects of the constitutional empire" from the paragraph for "Encourage Good Citizenship" (May 2, 1949) [Photo 2]. Furthermore, enthusiasm to trace the University’s history back to the achievements of founder Shigenobu Okuma and reconfirm the original spirit and philosophy that had brought him to establish Waseda University also became a part of the movement.

Faculty members who had left the University to go to war or who had been purged returned to campus with the war ending and the democratization policy of the GHQ. One of them, Ikuo Oyama, who had been in the United States as a political refugee since 1932, was greeted with particular enthusiasm by students when he returned to Japan and resumed his post at the University. Meanwhile, some faculty members, including the former University President Tomio Nakano, left the University in accordance with the GHQ’s order that militarists and ultra-nationalists must be purged.

As reorganization and reconceptualization was taking place, preparations were made to reestablish Waseda under the new system based on the School Education Act (1947), resulting in the launch of the new Waseda University on April 21, 1949. Under the new system, the School of Education was established, building upon the Higher Normal School, and evening divisions were established for some schools, namely the School of Political Science and Economics, the School of Law, School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the School of Commerce and the School of Science and Engineering, to open its doors to more students, particularly working students.

II. Students Returning to Waseda—Student Lives in Occupied Japan

Photo 3: Numbers of students and those absent (as of December 1945). As many as 4,544 out of the 16,390 students were absent.

As the war dragged on endlessly, it gradually became impossible for Japanese students to concentrate on their academic studies. Many were forced to graduate early with shortened course hours or became deprived of their temporary exemption from the military draft as students (1943), resulting in the "departure of students for the frontlines," which compelled many Japanese students to discontinue their studies to go to war. Moreover, those remaining as students also faced rapidly mounting pressure and were mobilized to work at munitions factories, construction sites, and so on. In the end, all schools in Japan, except for elementary schools, were forced to suspend classes in April 1945, causing Waseda University to lose its functions as an educational institution until the day of Japan’s surrender.

After the war came to an end, students began returning to campus from their respective battle fields and places of work. However, the road leading back to Waseda was far from smooth for many of them; as many as 30% or more of the students were still absent when nearly half a year had passed since the end of the war [Photo 3]. Although classes at the University resumed almost immediately after the war on September 11, 1945, students had to endure poor learning conditions until the school buildings were reconstructed, as many buildings on campus had been severely damaged by air raids.

Photo 4: A page entitled "Duet between Light and Shade" (Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics I Yearbook 1952), showing students dancing (middle photo) and those working part-time (photos surrounding it)

On top of that, many of these students, some of whom had returned to the University while others had been admitted as new students, also faced financial difficulties caused by extreme material shortages and inflation. This was when the mutual aid association was established (the predecessor to the Cooperative Association, established in May 1946) and was managed independently by students themselves to purchase and provide food products, books and stationery, to offer part-time jobs to students, and so on. At the same time, many students enjoyed movies, theater and other forms of entertainment despite the hardships of life [Photo 4]. Extracurricular activities were also resurrected; sports clubs resumed their activities in November 1945, and the number of student clubs (circles) that had been formed and registered by March 1947 exceeded 100.

Another thing that garnered much attention from students at that time was how the University’s management team reformed Waseda in many different ways. The Student Union, which was established in May 1946, protested against tuition hikes, issued demands for further campus democratization, and carried out a campaign for Ikuo Oyama’s return to Japan, and to his post at Waseda. However, this was followed by a shift in the GHQ’s occupation policy, known as the “Reverse Course,” which led to the expansion of the “Red Purge,” a major sweep of communists from the office, resulting in student activists becoming more and more radicalized. At Waseda University, anti-Red Purge students and police clashed twice in 1950, resulting in many injuries and arrests (9.28 Incident and 10.17 Incident).

III. Reconstructing the Damaged Campus

Photo 5: Results of the Investigation into War Damage to Waseda University’s Facilities, Such As Destructions by Fire [An attached figure] (October 25, 1945). The colored sections were destroyed by fire/damaged.

The large-scale air raid during the night of May 25, 1945, targeted at uptown residential areas, caused huge damage to the University, leaving a great majority of its brick and wooden buildings, including Imperial Memorial Hall, First Senior High School and Okuma Kaikan, completely destroyed and 30% of the whole campus damaged. Nevertheless, the framework of the campus remained, thanks to the reinforced concrete construction that had been adopted for higher durability, as well as the desperate firefighting efforts that University staff members made during the night of the air raid [Photo 5].

As classes at the University resumed and students returned, campus reconstruction began as well. However, nothing more than providing first aid treatment could be carried out in the early days; it was only after 1949 that full-blown reconstruction finally started.

The enactment of the San Francisco Peace Treaty on April 28, 1952 brought an end to the GHQ’s occupation of Japan. That same year also marked the 70th anniversary of Waseda University, and the University hosted events on a grand scale to celebrate this anniversary. However, this was also the year that saw the May 8 Waseda University Incident, in which a police officer in plain clothes was caught entering the campus and held in captivity by students, resulting in clashes between them and police forces coming to rescue the officer and leaving a large number of students injured. Issues related to the autonomy and academic freedom of the University, represented by the protests against the Red Purge and the May 8 Waseda University Incident, did not end here and continued to occur throughout the years, in many different forms.

The exhibition Waseda during the Occupied Era 1945–1952: Groping towards Rebirth only covered a fraction of the turbulent Occupied Japan era. However, we are confident that it succeeded in showing many different aspects of student lives in those days through items contributed by graduates and their families. We hope that we are able to shed light on new aspects going forward by further enhancing our archives. However, given the fact that those who had spent their student lives under occupation are now over 80 years old, it is an increasingly pressing task for us to inherit their histories and memories. Although the exhibition is already over, I would be very pleased if this small piece of writing can be of any help in piquing interest in the Occupied Japan era.

*For more information on this exhibition, please refer to Journal of Waseda University Archives Vol. 48 (published in February 2017).

Kyohei Sagawa
Assistant, Waseda University Archives

After completing the doctoral program at Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Sagawa became an Assistant at the Waseda University Archives in April 2015, the post that he holds today. His field of specialization is modern Japanese history.