Occupation witnesses

Accounts by SCAP officials and foreign journalists

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 February 2009
Last updated 28 February 2009

GHQ/SCAP officials Crawford F. Sams | William Sebald
Foreign journalists Japan Diary (Gayn 1948) | Kakemono (Tracy 1950 | Broken Blossoms (Clifton 1951)

GHQ/SCAP officials



Crawford F. Sams



William Sebald






Japan Diary (Mark Gayn, 1948)

Mark Gayn (1909-1981) was one of the better traveled and more widely experienced journalists to witness and report on the Occupation of Japan -- and certainly the most controversial. Born Mark Ginsbourg on the border of Manchuria and Mongolia, he was raised as a Russian in Harbin, then trained at a Soviet institute in preparation for his employment at a library in Vladivostok.

Gayn had thus been pickled in the vats of Northeast, Central, and East Asia life and politics by the time he migrated to the United States. During the 1930s he graduated from Pamona College in California and Columbia University in New York, and became a reporter on Asian affairs for Chinese, Japanese, and American news agencies, newspapers, and magazines.

In 1944 Gayn became a US citizen, and on 6 June 1945 he was arrested when the FBI raided the office of Amerasia, a leftist magazine, and the homes of some of its editors, contributors, and contacts, including Gayn. Though suspected of spying, he was not indicted, and by December he was landing at Atsugi in Japan, on the heels of Douglas MacArthur, to begin a three-year stint in region as a correspondent for The Washington Post, for which he had written as a free lancer since 1934.

Gayn's proletarian leanings, tempored by his personal quest for freedom and democracy, positioned him to see the postwar occupations of Japan and Korea, and contemporary developments in China including what until then had been Taiwan and Manchoukuo, with a critical eye that saw through the impressions created by official rhetoric.

The following cycle of publications is worth reading by way of appraising Gayn's views of Asia generally and Japan particularly, and gauging whether his reportage on the Occupation was a guise for his rumored activities as a US-Soviet double agent.

Mark J. Gayn
The Fight for the Pacific
London: The Bodley Head, 1941
Reprinted 1941 xii, 378 pages, end paper maps, hardcover
"To the Reader" dated 31 March 1941 (vii-ix) "Acknowledgments" (xi-xii)

Mark J. Gayn
The Fight for the Pacific
Revised Edition New York: William Morrow & Company, [May] 1941
Second printing, February 1942 vi, 368 pages, end paper maps, hardcover

"Acknowledgments" undated (vii-viii) About the author (pages 358-360)

Mark J. Gayn
Journey from the East: An Autobiography
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1944
426, xiii (index) pages, hardcover

Mark Gayn and John Caldwell
American Agent New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1947
220 pages, hardcover

Mark Gayn
Japan Diary
New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948
x, 517 pages, hardcover
Later reissued by Charles E. Tuttle, 1981


The preface to Japan Diary, datelined Greece, 1 July 1948, ends with a dedication to Sally, his wife, to whom he wrote most of the diary-like reports on which the book is based.

A sad back story to this dedication is told by an undated note that accompanied a Christmas card taped to the inside of the back cover of a copy of the book for sale by Live Oak Booksellers in Seattle, Washington (AbeBooks.com, retrieved 2 February 2009).

The card, according to the bookdealer's blurb, contains a note to the woman whose name appears on the bookplate pasted inside the front cover. The note remarks that Sally Gayn had died just two weeks before the book's publication.

The writer of the note comments on the difficuty she had contacting Gayn, in Turkey at the time, with the news of his wife's death. And she goes on to say, "I had the most pathetic letter from him. He is heart broken. Sally had sent him a review copy & had seen the blurb on the jacket & was so pleased about it."


The dated entires in Japan Diary are divided into three sections.

"Season of Promise" covers 5 December 1945 through 27 May 1946. Season of Performance takes us from 28 May to 14 October 1946. Sally joined Gayn in Japan in June 1946 and they traveled about the country together.

"Korea" is covered from 15 October to 8 November 1946. Sally accompanied him on this trip. The Korean chapter ends with reports from Japan dated 14 November to 15 December, and a 21 December 1946 report from Shanghai.

"Season of Reckoning", the last part, contains only two reports. The first is from Tokyo and is dated 3 May 1947, the day the new Constitution came into force. The book ends with a somewhat longer reported from New York, dated 3 May a year later.

Prospects for reform and democracy

Gayn is thoroughly skeptical of the prospects for reform and democracy in Japan and Korea. There is, to be sure, a streak of cynicism in his commentary, of the sort that can be found in the reportage of most seasoned journalists. But arguably he was personally more acquainted than any other writer at the time with the political, economic, and social conditions that underlay the turbulence of Greater East Asia, and had a clearer vision of probable outcomes.

Gayn speaks of "Korea" in the singular while fully aware that it is anything but a singularity. Writing before the establishment of the "two Koreas" consisting of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), he concludes his remarks on Korea with these two observations, made one year apart (page 491).

Japan Diary

Season of Reckoning

May 3, 1947, Tokyo

[ First graphs omitted. ]

Korea is still two worlds, warring on each other. And in this conflict, we are still allied with the enemies of reform and freedom. "What can we do," says Seoul in self-defense, "with the red menace right across the 38th?" As if injustice is the answer to injustice, or as if democracy can be created, or defended, by denying civil liberties.

May 3, 1948, New York

This is the third spring of peace. Yet it is a restless and frightened season. Violence and passion have become the substance of politics, and each new day brings a new crisis.

In Japan, too, it is a time of stress. Security and not reform, reconstruction and not democracy have become the goals of our policy. We may long cling to a military foothold on Japanese soil. We may long retain an organ of supervision in Tokyo. But corrective Occupation is near its end.

[ Remaining graphs omitted. ]

Even taking into account his personal background -- in particular his proletarian sympathies -- Gayn's overview of contemporary US policy, and his conviction that it was failing, fully accord with hindsight understandings of what transpired in East Asia over the next few years and even half century.

Note, moreover, that 1948 marked a major watershed in the Allied Occupation of Japan as GHQ/SCAP policy -- essentially American -- shifted from reforming Japan to enlisting Japan's support in containing the spread of communism in East Asia.

Japanese edition

Imoto Takeo's translation of Japan Diary as Nippon nikki (ニッポン日記) came out in two volumes in [March?] 1951. This edition was ranked the third best-selling book of 1952 by Shuppan Nyuusu Sha, the clearing house for publishing industry statistics. Since then it has been issued in several new formats and continues to be a staple seller in Japan, decades after it has gone out of print in the United States.

As such, Nippon nikki is one of a number of translations of publications -- by foreign journalists, diplomats, and others who witnessed the times -- which continue to be read in Japan, where World War II in Asia, and its prelude and aftermath, remain practically "current events" in media at the time of this writing in the first decade of the 21st century.

Such publications are -- to borrow Karel van Wolferen's phrasing -- very much part of the "undigested past" that keeps a few Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and other Asians, most born after the war, awake at night.

<Mark Gayn>
井本威夫 (訳)
Imoto Takeo (translation)
Nippon nikki
<Japan Diary 1945-1948>
Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1951
上下 (two volumes)
Volume 1: 5, 212 pages, softcover, 200 yen
2nd printing, 20 November (1st 5 November) 1945
Volume 2: 5, 245 pages, softcover, 220 yen
2nd printing, 10 December (1st 30 November) 1945
Reissued in 1962 as Volume 12 of "Chikuma library" (筑摩叢書 Chikuma sōsho), 359 pages.
Reissued in 1998 in "Chikuma arts and literature library" (ちくま学芸文庫 Chikuma gakugei bunko) paperback edition with commentary by Nakano Yoshio (中野好夫).

"New Japan Diary"

In 1982, two years after his death, NHK Books brought out a volume called "New Japan Diary: The posthumous writings of a journalist" translated by Kuga Toyoo.

久我豊雄 (翻訳)
Kuga Toyoo (translation)
Shin Nippon nikki: Aru jaanarisuto no ikō
[New Japan Diary: A journalist's posthumous writings]
Tokyo: Nippon Hōsō Shuppan Kyōkai, 1982
353ページ (353 pages)

[ To be continued. ]

Gayn_1944_journey_from_east_cover Gayn_1944_journey_from_east_back

The inscription on the front fly of this edition reads: "To Mom - / with all my love - Glenna / Christmas, 1944." There are vertical pencil lines alongside some graphs on several pages, from start to finish. How many others read this book from cover to cover?

Blurb on front of jacket

The deeply moving story of one man's journey in the troubled lands beyond the seas.

Blurb on front flap of jacket

Barim is a tiny Chinese settlement not far from the Mongolian border. This was Mark Gayn's birthplace. His current editorial office is in New York City. Between these two symbolic points Gayn's life journey is charted. He is an American, and he talks, thinks, and writes like one. But he was born and raised in the Far East and he traveled through the heartlands of Asia and Russia at their hours of crisis. His autobiography is at once an intensely personal story and the story of the events he witnessed -- wars, revolutions, mutinies, and famines. It is also the story of the men he encountered -- from dope-peddlers and Red Army soldiers to figures such as Chiang Kai-sheck and Tojo. And finally, as his long journey turns toward America, it becomes the story of a point of view, of a faith hammered out of experience.

     Gayn's story is history in the making, as he saw and reported it. Trhough his experiences we obtain a fresh understanding of the events that have shaken Asia and Russia. But, above all, Journey from the East is the deeply moving story -- with all the suspense and emotional power of a novel -- of one man's journey in the troubled lands beyond the sea.

Promotional messages on back flap of jacket

[ Appeal to "Pledge Your Support / Buy War Savings Bonds and Stamps" because "It will cost money to win the war." ]

[ Appeal to mail send book, after reading, to "some man the service who needs good reading" by mailing book to U.S.O. Library or to a military address at Fort Sam Houston. ]

Blurb on back of jacket


Wars, mutinies, revolutions, famines -- such was the diet upon which Mark Gayn, born in 1909 at Barim, China, was brought up. His first memory is that of a Chinese punitive expedition returning from the mountains with outlaw heads swinging on bamboo poles. During his twenty-five years in China, Japan, and Russia he witnessed or reported two international wars, two major revolutions, five civil wars, and innumerable bandit attacks.

     He was educated in Chinese, Soviet, and English public schools. Later he received his A.B. degree, Magna Cum Laude, from Pomona College, California, and a B.Sc. from the Columbia School of Journalism. he is a Phi Beta Kappa and was at one time named for a Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship.

     Mr. Gayne began his career as a journalist in 1928 when he joined the staff of an English-language paper in Shanghai. This association was cut short when the editor was assassinated by political rivals. After an interlude in this country Mr. Gayn returned to the Orient in 1934 as the Far Eastern correspondent for the Washington Post. For the three succeeding years he also served as editor of the Domei News Agency, a post which he resigned when Japan invaded China in 1937, to become city editor on the China Press, Asia's leading American newspaper. There he carried on such a campaign against enemy intrigue that his office was machine-gunned by puppet gunmen.

     As correspondent for the Washington Post (1934-40) Mr. Gayne covered the Japanese seizure of North China, the military uprising in Tokyo, the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek, the Sino-Japaneses War, and the Japanese occupation of Indo-China.


Mr. Gayn, whose earlier book, The Flight for the Pacific, was published in 1941, is at present a foreign-news editor for Time.


Kakemono (Tracy 1950)



Broken Blossoms (Clifton 1951)