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  • Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan by Amy Bliss Marshall
  • Jan Bardsley
Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan. By Amy Bliss Marshall. University of Toronto Press, 2019. 240 pages. Hardcover, $57.00.

By the late 1920s, reading magazines had become a major form of cultural currency and leisure entertainment in Japan. What new forms of engagement did magazines offer? How, where, and why did people read them? What values did they promote? Amy Bliss Marshall takes on these questions in Magazines and the Making of Mass Culture in Japan by tracing the rise of two phenomenally popular mass-circulated family magazines, Kingu (King) and Ie no hikari (Light of the Home). Marshall documents the roles of these magazines in creating mass audiences and illuminates critical aspects of the cultural landscape of Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, drawing attention to publisher goals and strategies; consumer reading practices; and new, though politically fraught, opportunities for rural women to participate in local and national conversations.

Marshall argues that Kingu and Ie no hikari, as “the first form[s] of media to capture mass audiences in Japan” (p. 23), helped establish a mass consumer culture that would extend into the postwar period. Both publications were founded in 1925 and achieved mass circulation in the 1930s, “becoming the first two magazines to reach circulations of over one million copies” (p. 76). Their slogans revealed their marketing ambitions and “devotion to producing a community out of their readers” (p. 135): Kingu aimed for “one issue per household,” and Ie no hikari, “one copy per house” (p. 138). More widely read than newspapers and broadly accessible at low cost, these hefty periodicals appealed across age, gender, occupation, and regional divides to readers who perceived them as entertaining and useful. Through their incorporation of numerous advertisements, the magazines also produced a mass audience for goods and services. While Marshall identifies the magazines’ critical legacy in their use as “mechanisms for creating a mass consumer audience” and “not any particular ideology” that they promoted (p. 32, emphasis in original), her intriguing forays into content analysis reveal editors’ keen awareness of the messages conveyed by visual images.

For all their similarities as intended agents of social change, Kingu and Ie no hikari had different publishing homes, pedagogical missions, and target audiences. Kingu [End Page 220] creator Noma Seiji, a former teacher and the founder of Kōdansha, Japan’s largest publisher, planned to reach readers from all walks of life by making his magazine an entertaining, educational “life manual” (p. 92) that would encourage them to see themselves as “confident, competent citizen-subjects who could be proud of their heritage in the world community” (p. 33). Among its diverse features, Kingu carried articles by prominent figures in government and business as well as work by well-known writers of the day. Ie no hikari, as the first entertainment magazine for farmers, concentrated explicitly on the rural home and on winning “the hearts and mind of the rural population” (p. 42). Published by the Sangyō Kumiai (Industrial Cooperative), an agrarian association formed by the Japanese government in 1900, it was intended to boost Kumiai membership and was distributed through a subscription system. The magazine hailed the positive potential in rural families’ daily lives and championed the transformative power of self-help and mutual assistance; meant to appeal to every member of a farm family, its lively contents extended from weighty topics such as politics and economy to articles on homemaking and hobbies in addition to games, puzzles, and features for children. Marshall offers anecdotes that speak to the delight many farming women took in sharing copies of the magazine.

Marshall explains how Kingu and Ie no hikari fostered a sense of imagined community across Japan and produced localized audiences who participated in shared readings, clubs, and booster events. Both publications celebrated Japan and its imperial ambitions, addressing readers as “unambiguously Japanese” and equally necessary to the nation’s advancement. References to the collective—“we,” “us,” “community”—occur continually in both magazines. Marshall argues that the broad popular reception of these family periodicals cautions us against stressing urban/ rural divides in Japanese society...


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pp. 220-224
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