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The Thought War

Japanese Imperial Propaganda

Barak Kushner

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-ix

Any author undertaking a long project owes a heavy debt of gratitude to his family. Through health and sickness, with unwavering support even when they doubted what exactly I was doing all the time in Asia,my parents and sisters remained steadfast in championing my research and travels. Professors Rudy Binion and Steve Whitfield offered insightful comments, criticism, and compliments, urging me beyond what I thought I was capable of producing...

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Propaganda for Everyone

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pp. 1-18

Offstage a traditional three-piece Japanese instrumental band strikes up a tune. To a resonant drumbeat a rakugo performer slowly shuffles onstage, bowing as he approaches his seat cushion in the middle of the stage. It is a typical weeknight at Suehirotei, a popular rakugo and performance hall in the heart of Shinjuku, and the audience eagerly waits to see which comedy routine Kawayanagi Senryü will perform. Tucking his legs under himself and sitting down onstage, Senryü faces...

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Chapter 1: Master Propagandists and Their Craft

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pp. 19-49

In January 1940 the conservative Japanese magazine Bungei shunjü published 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...

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Chapter 2: Defining the Limits of Society

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pp. 50-67

One of Japan’s most famous spies, Onoda Hirö, 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...

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Chapter 3: Advertising ad Propaganda

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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...

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Chapter 4: A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Front

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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...

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Chapter 5:The Japanese Propaganda Struggle on the Chinese Mainland

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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...

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Chapter 6: Preparing for Defeat

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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...

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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...


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pp. 191-218


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pp. 219-236


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pp. 237-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865092
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829209

Publication Year: 2006