My favourite finds as a bookseller are often journals, commonplace books, and scrapbooks that offer a window onto the past as it was experienced by ordinary people. One of our most recent acquisitions of this type is a remarkable photo album and scrapbook compiled in Occupied Japan by Marguerite Barker (below), an American employee of the Far East Asian Services during and after the Second World War.
Barker grew up in Iowa and worked as a clerk and stenographer just before the Second World War began. When the US entered the war she joined the Air Force and worked in Washington D.C. and Pasadena, and then in Guam with the Far East Air Forces. Barker was stationed at the Tokyo headquarters of FEAF in 1949, and she remained there until the end of 1952, when she returned to the United States and lived in San Francisco.
It seems unlikely that Barker had opportunities for international travel prior to the war, so like many other serving men and women she must have relished the opportunity to visit a distant part of the world. Certainly she was a very engaged traveler and photographer, and her scrapbook is a wonderful record of her experience of Occupied Japan. It includes original photographs of Tokyo street scenes, women and children in kimonos, day-to-day activities in small towns and rural villages, well-known tourist sites, and even the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The album is sympathetically bound in Japanese style silk, and was probably itself a souvenir purchased in Japan.
The scrapbook includes photos of Tokyo and the people who lived in and around the city. Below, the Tokyo PX store in the K. Hattori building, an important landmark of the Ginza shopping district.
There is a fantastic series of photos depicting children in traditional dress, probably taken during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Barker traveled extensively through Japan, and saved numerous photographs and postcards. She visited the temples at Kyoto, the famous deer of Nara Park, the smoking Mt. Aso (Japan’s largest active volcano), and the iconic floating Torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine.
There are six large, engaging photos of cormorant fishers at work, including night shots, which may be professional photos made for tourists. A full page (containing two photographs by Barker and six that are probably professional photos) is devoted to the Ama, the famous female pearl divers, probably on the Izu Peninsula. There are a number of photographs of a fishing village, probably taken by Barker in the same area. She also visited the ruins of Nagasaki, taking photos of the plaque marking ground zero, and probably Hiroshima, as she has included photos of the skeletal “Atomic Bomb Dome”, the remains of the Hiroshima Commercial Exhibition building which is now a peace memorial.
There are also cards and other types of printed ephemera:
Barker also visited Thailand, and ten pages of the album include photos from that trip, including the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as well as many images of Bangkok street life. The final four pages contain photographs from a visit with family in the Midwest in 1952 or early 1953.
Overall this is a fascinating and evocative album documenting the life of an American woman in Occupied Japan.