Revisiting the political and social history of Seoul, Korea, in 1945, this article assesses responses to Japanese defeat and the end of empire in the context of American military occupation. The arrival of the Americans forced Japanese and Koreans alike to rethink their positions in the world. Drawing on past colonial practices, Japanese residents used the immediate post-surrender moment to ponder their future prospects, recording those thoughts in a number of public and private sources. They negotiated the passage from a colonial to a post-imperial society, I argue, by embracing a consciousness of a defeated people while disregarding criticisms of colonial rule. This investigation seeks to interpret the immediate post-World War II moment in Seoul less as a founding moment of the Cold War and more as an important transition in the history of decolonization.