Press code for Japan: To understand the fake and tortured Japanese public discourse

On September 21, 1945, soon after the defeated Japan signed the surrender terms on September 2, 1945 on the battleship Missouri,  the General Headquarters (GHQ) has issued a ten point press code. The stated purpose sounded reasonable as follows:

In accordance with the Supreme Allied Commander’s objective of establishing freedom of the press in Japan, a Press Code for Japan has been issued. This PRESS CODE, rather than being one of restrictions of the press, is one which is designed to educate the press of the Japanese in the responsibilities and meaning of a free press. Emphasis is placed on the truth of news and the elimination of propaganda. This Press Code will cover, in addition, all publications printed in Japan.

Press Code for Japan (from Prange Collection)
The ten-point press code, however, shows that the freedom of press was secondary to the authority and the needs of the Allied Occupation Powers. In practice, nothing that suggested they were the true power behind the scenes was allowed, let alone criticism.  Propaganda meant whatever inconvenient for them. 

  1. News must adhere strictly to the truth. 
  2. Nothing should be printed which might, directly or by indirectly, disturb the public tranquility. 
  3. There shall be no false or destructive criticism of the Allied Powers. 
  4. There shall be no destructive criticism of the Allied Occupation and nothing which might invite mistrust or resentment of those troops. 
  5. There shall be no mention or discussion of Allied troops movements unless such movements have been officially released. 
  6. News stories must be factually written and completely devoid of editorial opinion. 
  7. News stories shall not be colored to conform with any propaganda line. 
  8. Minor details of a news story must not be over-emphasized to stress or develop any propaganda line. 
  9. No news story shall be distorted by the omission of pertinent facts or details. 
  10. In the make-up of the newspaper no news story shall be given undue prominence for the purpose of establishing or developing any propaganda line.

The actual subject matters the censors deleted or suppressed spanned over the 30 categories listed below:
A page from War Guilt and Postwar Japanese Education by  Naoko Kato 2002

I have not seen the English source document for it, but it was first mentioned by Haru Matsukata Reischauer who worked for American news organizations in the post war Japan in her 1986 book, "Samurai and Silk: A Japanese and American Heritage", and the list was published by Etō Jun in his 1989 book, Tozasareta gengo kūkan (Contained Realm of Discourse). That was about 10 years after I left Japan, and I was not aware of the books at the time. Looking back, however, it became all clear to me why all the public discourse, either in the political arena or in the media sounded so fake and tortured that I could hardly understand or bear to listen. That is continuing even today.

It is sad and frustrating to see the same fake and tortured public discourse even today. The occupation ended over 60 years ago, but the Japanese media, education, and political systems as well as the players within them are still operating largely under the constraints established by the War Guilt Information Program, I must say. It is maintained by external as well as internal forces. It's a world of communists, spies, traitors, propaganda and misguided public, some of which is examined in War Guilt and Postwar Japanese Education by Naoko Kato 2002. But I will not get into that here.

The censorship actually was started on September 10, and "Memorandum on Freedom of Speech" was issued before the above press code was issued. On the following day, September 11, so called war criminals were arrested including Prime Minister Tojo, according to the "Chronological table 1    September 1, 1939 - October 25, 1945" by National Diet Library. Immediately preceding the above ten-point press code issuance on September 21, Asahi News was suspended for two days as a punishment for two "anti-American" articles it published. One was calling attention to the American war crimes of Atomic bombing, mass murder of civilians, sinking hospital ships, use of poison gas, etc. and the other was questioning American version of the Japanese military activities in Philippines.

According to Michio Sekino's research on the paper trail of the War Guilt Information Program, the occupation forces were afraid of severe backlash against the military tribunals as well as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even more problematic were the atrocious treatments of Japanese civilians as well as the military outside the Japanese mainland, especially in Manchuria, China, Russia, and Korea. Many of the topics they were trying to suppress were relating to their wrong doings in violation of various international laws and the surrender terms, not to mention the fundamental human rights and decency. The list reflects their awareness of their own wrong doings. They did not want to take any chance of public discourse explode over what they did or were doing. They wanted to project an image of benevolent victor.


  1. A page from War Guilt and Postwar Japanese Education by Naoko Kato 2002:こんな内容の学士卒論を書いた人がいたことに尊敬します。勇敢な方です。

  2. Master of Arts とありますから、修士論文ですね。

  3. そうでした。Mastersなので修士論文ですね。他の興味にある方にもリンクを回してよろしいでしょうか?貴方のサイトに昨日出会い、私がいま興味を持っている事がわかりやすくまとめてあり、勉強になりました。カリフォルニアのGAHTのサイトもご覧ください。慰安婦問題で激しい戦いをしています。米国最高裁までアピールしました。

  4. 世界中の人々に知ってもらいたいことを英語で書いていますので、多くの人の目に留まるようご協力していただければ幸いです。慰安婦問題の訴訟のことはチャンネル桜を見て知っていました。ご苦労様でした。