Exhibit :: Disasters and Rebuilding in Japan: Perspectives and Testimonies from the Tri-Co Collection 


DescriptionBound paper


InstitutionFriends Historical Library
of Swarthmore College
R65/037, Box 5

NotesElkinton Family Papers

Works Cited

Tokyo Girls' School Scrapbook

Frank Mondelli, Swarthmore College, Class of 2014

Despite significant recovery in the postwar period, the aerial bombings of the capital city in the spring of 1945 left massive damage in their wake, leading to a lack of public facilities and societal infrastructure. This unassuming and beautiful scrapbook came from Tokyo to the Pennsylvania Quakers, two years after Japan's surrender in World War II. The school this scrapbook illustrates was among the many destroyed in the war, and the American occupation did not prove a useful resource in getting the school back up and running due to the prioritization of other facilities. Having been a Quaker school since its founding in the late 19th century, in 1946 the Japanese educators worked with the Society of Friends in Pennsylvania to refund and rebuild the institution. This scrapbook was created after the first year of schooling and features the personal voices of many of the elementary and middle-school aged students. Aside from letters, the scrapbook features paintings of the burnt-out school grounds with corresponding photographs next to them, making for a fascinating comparison of the children's artworks and the reality of the wartime destruction.

The scrapbook shows a variety of Japanese people involved in the school, but since it is likely a gift from the Japanese educators to the Quakers in the United States, there is little written or shown about American Quakers themselves. The only exception is Gilbert Bowles, who is featured prominently in the scrapbook and shown in photographs interacting with teachers and students. Born in 1869, Bowles moved to Japan in 1900 to spread Quaker relief and missionary work and was an important figure as a cultural go-between for the American Quakers and the Japanese populace. Although it is unclear what his role in the school was by 1947, he appears to be a position of authority, placed in the center in group photographs and shown consulted by Japanese teachers in others. In the list of names associated with the school, Bowles is the only non-Japanese name, with the rest belonging to students and teachers who contributed to the letters included next to some of the photographs and pictures. The letters describe many of the school functions and go into special detail pertaining to Quaker traditions, such as prayer in the beginning of the day and before eating. The language used is light-hearted and hopeful, as the girls say of themselves, "Though the school-house is burned and we have no play-ground, we, young girls, are cheerful all the time." Words like these are corroborated with photographs of the girls smiling and looking jovial; the most powerful photographs are those taken without formal posing, as they show the girls interacting in the present moment with genuine expressions of happiness.

One of the most interesting aspects of the scrapbook is the visual pairings of the children and the school as complementary sets of photographs and pictures. The page shown here illustrates a typical classroom setting (Figure 1). On the right is the picture, which shows an adult in front of the class teaching geometry, a teaching assistant looking over the students, and the multiple rows of students themselves. The picture shows a remarkable attention to detail as is evident when looking at the accompanying photograph on the left of the page, somewhat hidden behind the enclosed letters, which offers more direct information on the classes in the school. The photograph shows a strikingly similar scene, not just in the social arrangements but also in the way that the classroom is depicted. The chalkboard is exactly the same, and, the photograph shows that the picture accurately captures the type of wood and the temporary quality of the makeshift wall. The colors in the pictures also reveal much about the building beyond the limit of the black-and-white photographs, such as the colors of the wall and even the clothes that the people wear.

Further examination of the children's artworks in the scrapbook show that they were most likely contributions by class, as the style varies from picture to picture. The scrapbook devotes a large amount of its pages to depictions of recess, where students both work and play outside the school. Though the school did not actually have an area for outdoor play, it aligned with a nearby technical school to share resources with each other and so the students had a place to spend time outdoors – an illustration of postwar resilience and cooperation. One of the most visually striking pictures is one that has almost no depiction of the environment. It represents students playing various games outside, such as jump rope, tennis, and tag. As each child is drawn differently, it is evident that the student-artist took great care to draw her own classmates. Finally, some of the last pictures, which mostly lack partnered photographs, show the children cleaning and maintaining the school, which is still typical in Japanese schools today. Some of the paintings also have labels written on or near them, narrating the image and adding an extra layer of information to the viewer.

This scrapbook is a remarkable collection of real stories that illustrate a variety of themes we have tried to highlight in this exhibition, such as resilience, cooperation (both domestically and internationally), and hope. The interaction between the text of the letters written from various viewpoints, the photographs, and the children's artwork forms a vivid picture of life in the Friends Girls' School from a large variety of angles and mediums from which to examine the school. The cheeriness of both the students and the teachers of the school are inspirational and can be used as an example of human trust in an uncertain time. Today, the Friends Girls' School thrives in Tokyo, with renewed facilities and boasts over 800 students and a strong place in the current academic environment of Japan. This scrapbook serves as a useful time capsule in the summer of 1947 and shows the many sides of disaster in human society and how people choose to rebuild, depict their work, and tell their own stories. Just as the Quakers in the United States were able to see the school through the narratives that the Japanese children and educators created, so too are we able to see the rebuilding of both education and architecture through the very human story created by the scrapbook as a whole.