Leading Dogs and Children to War
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Leading Dogs and Children to War

Many societies today imagine that children possess a natural affinity for animals such as pet dogs, cats, and horses. Yet few scholars have examined such notions.2 The connection between children and pet animals is not a given, but in each society is a historically constructed cultural artifact often of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Such associations often became pervasive throughout society with the rise of a bourgeois middle class that emulated the pet-keeping practices of the upper classes. The middle class could afford to acquire and keep dogs and cats as pets and at least dream of owning a horse, not for labor but for pleasure. Children’s affinity for animals was fueled in part by a publishing industry that issued many more books and magazines for youngsters that featured stories about children and their pets. In many societies, sometimes these real and imagined ties with animals were further solidified by military conflict that led national education systems and private media, as well as militaries, to mobilize children and animals as never before. Governments and private industry alike took advantage of young people’s interest in animals to mobilize youth for war, even as they nurtured the relationships between pets and the young. These images illustrate one example of that process in 1930s Japan, where the confluence of these factors—an emergent middle class with an enthusiasm for pet dogs, a burgeoning children’s publishing industry, and total war—fostered in children an interest in dogs while preparing both for war.

The images feature the cartoon dog Norakuro. Norakuro, which is an abbreviation of norainu (stray dog) and Kurokichi (the dog’s name, which literally means “black lucky”), is both the name of the most widely read comic series (manga) in Japan during the 1930s and its main character. The series appeared from January 1931 to October 1941 in the monthly boy’s magazine Shōnen kurabu (Boy’s Club) produced by the publishing giant Kōdansha. The first image is the front and back cover of a twenty-eight-page booklet, Norakuro tosshintai (Norakuro’s Attack Unit), one of two free supplementary items received with the purchase of the February 1933 issue of the magazine for fifty sen (a sen is [End Page 5] one-hundredth of a yen), or the equivalent of about 12 cents in 1933.3 The booklet contains a 123-panel story covering twenty-three pages recounting a series of raids and battles between Norakuro’s unit of canine soldiers and an army of gorillas, two pages of which can be seen in the second image. The booklet also includes several pages of advertisements for Norakuro-related goods, such as collected volumes of the cartoon and a recording of Norakuro songs, as well as ads for milk chocolate bars, caramels, and harmonicas. The other supplementary item included with the purchase of the magazine was a paper model of a monument to be built in honor of the “three human bombs,” soldiers from an engineering division who died blowing a hole in Chinese defenses during an assault on Shanghai in early 1932.4 The title on the front cover reads “Comic booklet: Norakuro’s attack unit.” On the back cover, two characters meaning “owner” appear next to a space in which the owner could write his name. Even though the booklet was entirely in Japanese, the words “MADE IN JAPAN” in English appear on the back cover, probably to create for young readers a feeling of foreign exoticism and sophistication.

The protagonist and namesake of the series, Norakuro, a black dog with a white muzzle and paws, stands near the front while two white dogs, who are a part of his unit, advance to his rear. All three dogs are outfitted as soldiers, with rifles, backpacks, and helmets. Military insignia resembling “dogtags” hang from their collars. Norakuro has risen by this time in the story to the rank of corporal, reflected in his wearing of a sword. The other two dogs are low-ranking privates.

The scene is fairly typical for the comic, though it is clear the cartoonist, Tagawa Suihō, took...


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