In June 1946 the first-ever Japanese-language version of the popular US magazine Reader’s Digest hit newsstands all over Japan. Its impact was immediate and spectacular. The magazine quickly filled store racks, and within a few years circulation topped 1.5 million copies. Japanese citizens from all walks of life read Reader’s Digest. Youths in the capital of Tokyo claimed they enjoyed the journal because they wanted to “break free from the bonds of the feudal mindset” that plagued wartime Japan. The Reader’s Digest phenomenon was not only an enormous publishing success story in the cataclysmic aftermath of WWII in postwar Japan, but it also served as a barometer of geopolitical relations between Japan and the United States. As an implement of the Cold War and propaganda tool designed to ally Japan toward US interests in Asia, Reader’s Digest and its rise and fall in popularity directly mirrors US-Japan foreign relations in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The appearance of this magazine on the Japanese market at a key moment in postwar Japanese history highlights the aims and policies of the US occupation. When Occupation forces arrived they discovered that albeit within a limited scope, surprisingly, publishing continued to be viable. Reader’s Digest arrived amidst a time of catastrophic change and the magazine’s editors in hand with Occupation leaders took advantage of the situation. This American magazine garnered a spontaneous and large readership among the Japanese precisely because the periodical retained the backing of the US government, developed friendships within the Occupation forces that controlled postwar US propaganda in Japan, and represented the first serious outpouring of anti-Communist US rhetoric in the American media. Reader’s Digest’s success was crucial to US postwar propaganda in Japan.