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The Thought War

The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda

Barak Kushner
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    The Thought War
    Book Description:

    The Thought War is the first book in English to examine the full extent of Japan’s wartime propaganda. Based on a wide range of archival material and sources in Japanese, Chinese, and English, it explores the propaganda programs of the Japanese government from 1931 to 1945, demonstrating the true scope of imperial propaganda and its pervasive influence, an influence that is still felt today. Contrary to popular postwar rhetoric, it was not emperor worship or military authoritarianism that led an entire nation to war. Rather, it was the creation of a powerful image of Japan as the leader of modern Asia and the belief that the Japanese could and would guide Asia to a new, glorious period of reform that appealed to imperial subjects. Kushner analyzes the role of the police and military in defining socially acceptable belief and behavior by using their influence to root out malcontents. His research is the first of its kind to treat propaganda as a profession in wartime Japan. He shows that the leadership was not confined to the crude tools of sloganeering and government-sponsored demonstrations but was able instead to appropriate the expertise of the nation’s advertising firms to "sell" the image of Japan as Asia’s leader and modernizer. In his exploration of the propaganda war in popular culture and the entertainment industry, Kushner discloses how entertainers sought to bolster their careers by adopting as their own pro-war messages that then filtered down into society and took hold. Japanese propaganda frequently conflicted with Chinese and American visions of empire, and Kushner reveals the reactions of these two nations to Japan’s efforts and the meaning of their responses.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6509-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Propaganda for Everyone
    (pp. 1-18)

    Offstage a traditional three-piece Japanese instrumental band strikes up a tune. To a resonant drumbeat arakugoperformer slowly shuffles onstage, bowing as he approaches his seat cushion in the middle of the stage. It is a typical weeknight at Suehirotei, a popularrakugoand performance hall in the heart of Shinjuku, and the audience eagerly waits to see which comedy routine Kawayanagi Senryū will perform. Tucking his legs under himself and sitting down onstage, Senryū faces the audience, bows again, and smiles. He looks rather grandfatherly in his somber brown kimono, with his short-trimmed hair almost completely white. A...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Master Propagandists and Their Craft
    (pp. 19-49)

    In January 1940 the conservative Japanese magazineBungei shunjūpublished the results of an extensive poll concerning how Japan’s population viewed the political situation. Pollsters queried the public with questions ranging from “Do you think that the current Konoe cabinet is doing a good job?” to “Would you consider working on the Chinese continent?” One revealing part of the survey charted how Japanese regarded government regulations in light of the continuing war on the Chinese mainland. An overwhelming two-thirds of the urban respondents suggested that social controls should befurther strengthenedto help support Japan’s aims in China. At the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Defining the Limits of Society
    (pp. 50-67)

    One of Japan’s most famous spies, Onoda Hirō, graduated from the Nakano School, the military’s institute for espionage in the quiet western suburbs of Tokyo. School officials kept activities so secret that even townspeople living in the immediate vicinity had no idea what the buildings housed or that students there studied the “black arts.” Sent to the Philippines in December 1944, Onoda fought there for thirty years. The army specifically commanded Onoda not to commit suicide because the imperial forces considered his mission of paramount importance to Japan’s national security and ultimate victory. Army officers stipulated that even if it...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Advertising as Propaganda
    (pp. 68-84)

    It is easy to understand why Japanese civilian and military officials denigrated advertising and deemed the industry vulgar. The society at large emitted a collective groan when it confronted examples of the excesses of advertising products, such as certain feminine hygiene aids and devices for impeding sexual curiosity in young men. However, the government was in a quandary because it desperately needed professionals to aid in the production of wartime propaganda. Propaganda products,senden seihin,did not just create themselves. Government and civilian propaganda agencies required talent to draft, write, produce, and print the myriad propaganda items for imperial consumption,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Front
    (pp. 85-116)

    On the surface nothing about Japan in World War Two seems humorous. Images of stern-faced soldiers marching in formation dominate our memory. On the Japanese home front, pictures of young, determined women in cotton trousers hoisting bamboo spears, preparing themselves for the ultimate invasion of the home islands, reflect our perception of wartime Japan. Historians have presented the war as a monolith of government suppression, an evil conspiracy of military men denying the people freedom and forcing Japan into battle against western Allies that the Japanese armed forces knew to be militarily superior. Postwar Japanese intellectuals speaking for the masses...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Japanese Propaganda Struggle on the Chinese Mainland
    (pp. 117-155)

    Japanese infantryman Shinotsuka Yoshio did not personally participate in the vivisections and bestial bacterial tests that the now-infamous Unit 731, located outside of Harbin in North Manchuria, conducted on its Chinese victims. However, Shinotsuka did attend the gruesome experiments, visually recording the proceedings as a medical sketch artist. During an interview conducted fifty years after the war with a popular Japanese magazine, this former imperial Japanese soldier’s eyes glistened with tears as he recalled his crimes. Decades removed from life as a soldier in Manchukuo, Shinotsuka could no longer fathom the horrors he committed as a member of the Japanese...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Preparing for Defeat
    (pp. 156-183)

    If initiating a war requires complex strategies, concluding a war involves similar schemes. Previous chapters have illuminated the massive superstructure of competing agencies underlying the Japanese wartime propaganda campaigns. The Special Higher Police constantly surveyed the population to analyze statistically the level of its acquiescence to government pronouncements concerning the war. At the same time the military used a heavy hand to censor news that it felt could shake this fragile public opinion. In light of the extreme complexity and nature of these efforts we are left with a puzzling question: if the Japanese implemented propaganda to such a level,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 184-190)

    Japanese wartime propaganda persisted because it evolved from multiple centers of production. The Cabinet Board of Information, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, military propaganda platoons sent to the Chinese mainland, the Special Higher Police, private individuals, advertisers, comedians, publishers, and writers all worked to urge the nation to support the war. The aim of the propaganda was also multivocal. It championed a variety of messages to a diverse nation and empire, not simply blind devotion to the emperor. Japanese propaganda attempted to convince the Japanese that fighting for Japan meant fighting for modernity. Even when the heady Japanese propaganda abroad...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 191-218)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-236)
  14. Index
    (pp. 237-242)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-246)