Souvenir Medals of the Occupation
by David L. Burrows
Prior to the end of the war with Japan, the Allied Powers issued the Potsdam Declaration that called for Japan’s unconditional surrender. By August 1945, bombing had destroyed 50% of urban Japan and over two million Japanese citizens had been killed. With the dropping of two atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war in Manchuria, Emperor Hirohito on August 9, 1945, decided to accept the provisions of the surrender. By August 15, 1945, the war was over. Between 1945 and 1952, General Douglas MacArthur’s U.S. occupying forces led enacted widespread military, political, economic and social reforms.
As early as September 1945, MacArthur had taken charge of the Supreme Command of Allied Powers and began to rebuild Japan. After the formal surrender on on the battleship Missouri, on September 2, 1945, MacArthur flew into Yokohama and established his headquarters in the Hotel Grand.
The Occupation of Japan would require U.S. troops to help rebuild the devastated nation. The Eighth Army in Yokohama and the 6th Army in Kyoto would supply 460,000 troops led directly by MacArthur. Even though there was no armed resistance after Japanese surrender, the U.S. presence in Japan included troops, Civilian personnel, teachers, lawyers, engineers and missionaries which lasted almost two decades. By 1948, however, most occupying troops were sent home.
MEDALS FOR OCCUPATION
During this period of Occupation of Japan, occupying Army and Air force personnel who served 30 consecutive days in Japan between September 3, 1945, and April 27, 1952, would receive the Army of Occupation Medal. The design for the Navy and Marine Occupation Japan Medal was similar to the Army and Air Force’s medals but used a different obverse and different Navy and Marine reverses. Interestingly, the clasps on each variety of Occupation medals were similar to the clasps used by the Army and Navy on WWI Victory medals.
While the Military Occupation of Japan Medals are well- known to collectors, lesser known are the many souvenir medals brought home by both military personnel and civilians who served during the Occupation. The first medals appear to have been made by the Japanese. These had a definite Japanese motif showing a pagoda and Mt. Fuji with an inscription on the reverse, “In Memory of Landing in Japan 1945.” A later version in 1945 shows Mt. Fuji with a large American Flag and traditional Japanese cherry blossoms. The same version has appeared with a 1946 date.
During this early first phase of the Occupation an interesting version appeared showing a Dragon over clouds in an oval shape. The reverse had the familiar slogan, “In Memory of Landing in Japan 1945.”
By 1946, the most common souvenir medal was a 37mm bronze or silver medal with the image of the Ernie Pyle Theater in Tokyo crowned with a large “Victory.” Formerly known as the Takarazuko Gekijo building, The Ernie Pyle Theater became the Eighth Army Headquarters. The U.S. Army Special Services provided live shows, musical programs, and movies to occupying forces at the theater.
The reverse was similar to other Occupation medals, showing Mt. Fuji through the clouds and “Memories of Landing in Japan 1946.”These circular examples have been seen with dates 1946, 1947, and 1948, as well as undated.
Beginning in 1947, the Ernie Pyle Theater design was produced in a hexagonal shape. It still incorporated the same elements of the obverse and reverse of the circular version.
The design also appeared in a smaller, souvenir version with a 30mm scalloped edge, though it has no date on the reverse. A second, scalloped design has the “Victory” inscription, but the scene depicts a building and bridge. This version was also undated.
Another Occupation medal appeared during the 1945-1952 era in the form of a 35mm x 30mm shield with “Victory” above the “Headquarters of the U.S. Army Forces Pacific.” The reverse on featured an outline of the Japanese Islands and the inscription, “To Memory of Landing in Japan.”
The Occupation of Japan allows collectors to acquire an interesting range of medals, perhaps with more still to be discovered. The U.S. Occupation of Japan affected every aspect of Japanese life allowing for reforms that helped the nation’s economy grow. Without the U.S. Occupation, Japan may have not developed into a reliable democracy and become a strong US partner. While nobody knows how many American Servicemen and women have passed through Japan since 1945 or during the Korean and Vietnam wars, but it probably is in the millions. Today, there are still 46,483 U.S. military men and women stationed in Japan.