A remarkable photo album and scrapbook compiled in Occupied Japan and Thailand by a Far East Air Forces clerk, the historical record of a young American woman’s adventures in a world newly opened to her.
The compiler, Margaret Barker, graduated in Des Moines, 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 in 1949, where she remained until the end of 1952, when she returned to the United States and lived in San Francisco, where she worked at the Hamilton Air Force Base.
Barker was clearly an engaged traveler, and this album is a superb record of Occupied Japan. It includes original photographs of the Army Hall in downtown Toyko where she worked, urban street scenes, women and children in traditional dress, day-to-day activities in small towns and rural villages, well-known tourist sites, friends and Air Force coworkers, trips and leisure activities, and the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Two pages contain Barker’s photographs of the Cherry Blossom festival, with a fabulous series depicting schoolchildren and their teachers in kimonos under a blossoming tree. Another series comprises six attractive and carefully staged photos of young women in traditional dress. Barker saved numerous photographs and postcards from trips around Japan, having 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 shots made for tourists. A full page (containing two photographs by Barker and six that are probably professional photos sold to tourists) 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.
Ten pages hold photos from Barker’s trip to Thailand with a group of FEAF employees, beginning with photos of Barker and a man (who appears frequently in the album and was probably her boyfriend Ed), in front of a plane at an airfield. There are numerous views of temples, including the famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and many images of Bangkok street life. Among the ephemera are two newspaper clippings about the trip, one with a photo of Barker showing off a piece of souvenir jewellery to a fellow FEAF employee who had also been on the trip. The final four pages contain photographs from a visit with family in the Midwest in 1952 or early 1953.
Among the charming ephemera are postcards and greeting cards, cocktail napkins, engravings, business cards, and wedding invitations, and there is also a heartfelt telegram sent from Ed, then in San Francisco, on Valentine’s Day, “Love to my Valentine. You are more than ever in my thoughts at this time. I wish we together on this special occasion”. The album's themes are attractively reflected in its binding of Japanese-style silk. Overall a fascinating and evocative album documenting the life of an American woman in Occupied Japan.
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