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  • Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan by Amy Bliss Marshall
  • Kerim Yasar (bio)
Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan. By Amy Bliss Marshall. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2019. xiv, 221 pages. $55.00, cloth; $55.00, E-book.

Books occupy a privileged place in histories of both literature and print culture more broadly. One might speculate that this is because of their longevity as objects; the relatively greater time, care, and capital invested in their writing and production; the apparatus of reviewing and criticism that arose around them; their association with religious scripture; and so on. Even scholars of literary studies, who are usually keenly aware of the indispensable role that literary (and even not-so-literary) magazines and journals play in the formation of their corpuses and canons, only infrequently make magazines the organizing frame of their inquiry.

Popular commercial magazines faced even steeper obstacles to scholarly recognition until the turn toward cultural studies in the 1960s and 1970s. Once that recognition was conferred, new challenges presented themselves, including the sheer volume of material that demanded to be studied: countless periodicals, with runs that sometimes stretched for decades. Any scholar who dares to wade into the ocean of magazine culture needs to make difficult decisions about what to include and—more pertinently—what to exclude.

In Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan, Amy Bliss Marshall decides to take a very focused approach, limiting her consideration to two, rather different, periodicals: Kingu (King), the flagship magazine of Noma Seiji's Kōdansha publishing house, and Ie no hikari (Light of the home), published by the Sangyō Kumiai farming cooperative. This is arguably a risky strategy, not least because the title of Marshall's book announces an argument of sweeping breadth. That said, it allows her to lavish careful attention on both magazines, such that, by the end of the study, the reader feels an intimate familiarity with, and almost an attachment to, its subjects.

The scholarship in English on Japanese magazine culture has not been voluminous, though the last year has seen a bumper crop of new books that address the topic in one form or another. These include the present work, Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase's Age of Shōjo, and Nathan Shockey's The Typographic Imagination.1 The pioneering English-language monograph was [End Page 246] Sarah Frederick's Turning Pages: Reading and Writing Women's Magazines in Interwar Japan,2 which, like Marshall's work, limited its purview to a small number of periodicals and had a clearly demarcated thematic focus. There is only slightly more published on the topic in Japanese, among which the work of Nagamine Shigetoshi stands out for its breadth and depth.3

Thus, there is still much to be written about magazine culture in Japan, and Marshall leads us down two rich and historically important pathways. Kingu and Ie no hikari were two of the most successful magazines of the interwar years, and each appealed to broad, but also different, readerships. Marshall writes:

These two magazines started from thoroughly dissimilar backgrounds and financial and distribution structures, but they overlapped in their ultimate goals and had since their inception. The magazines' editors hoped to help create an ideal Japan by providing a nationally unifying leisure and educational resource. Because the producers of these publications each had a particular vision, one in which all people in Greater Japan were participants, they each created mass magazines unified around their principles and ideals. One remarkable thing about this is that the production and circulation of meaning that these magazines embodied was also a defining feature of Japanese culture in these years.

(p. 25)

There's a tension here, and in the book as a whole, between the idea of magazines as responsive to readers' tastes, preferences, and beliefs (as one would expect from commercial mass media) and the efforts of the editors (and, of course, advertisers) to shape those tastes, preferences, and beliefs. Marshall seems to come down in favor of the editors' and advertisers' intent and ability to shape the larger culture through means ranging from subtle insinuation to direct exhortation. She argues that...