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Rare War-Time Propaganda Posters on Display Thru July 19th at the Tsukuba Shimin Gallery (Free)

 

Poster

Poster by Yoshitaka Nakayama (1938) for the World`s Fair held in Japan Comemorating the 2,600th anniversary of the legendary foundation of Japan

 

By Avi Landau

According to the organizers of this very special exhibition of 24 war-time propaganda posters, approximately 1,500 different works of this sort were designed between the years 1933 (of the Manchurian Incidient) and the end of the war in 1945. The common link between them is that they were created with aim of increasing patriotic spirit and raising morale and selling war bonds. Each of them was  printed up in the thousands by the government and distributed to all the cities, town and villages in the country.

Japanese fighter-planes control the airspace over New York in this poster

Japanese fighter-planes control the airspace over New York in this poster by Nobuo Kishi (1943)

If there were so many of these posters, and if they were printed in such abundance why would this exhibition be special, and why would these posters be rare?

Well, on August 21, 1945- just six days after the war had officially ended, the Japanese government ( and not the American GHQ, as I incorrectly stated on a TV interview today) ordered that ALL war posters be destroyed. No one is exactly sure why this order was given, but the most plausable theory is that it was an attempt to erase any vestiges of  pro- war sentiment before the Americans arrived.

Poster by Yokoyama Taikan

Poster by Yokoyama Taikan (the most important of the artists involved in making propaganda posters) It shows the Imperial Palace and pine trees

The Japanese then apparently went about the business of destroying these posters, with almost the same zeal that they had been fighting the war with- and all were destroyed – it seemed.

However, over the past 70 years, at least two stashes of these condemned posters have been found- one in Hokkaido (these can be seen at the current exhibition), and another in Nagano Prefecture. Though it involved serious danger, they were hidden away by people who realized what a waste (mottainai) it would be throw all those posters into the flames.

Poster

Poster by an anonymous artist urging citizens to buy war bonds (1941)

While just about every country has produced such posters, what distinguishes the ones on display this week in Tsukuba is that many of them were made by highly distinguished artists- especially Yokoyama Taikan, the Father of Nihonga (Japanese Modern Painting) and Leonard Fujita, who had made a name for himself in Paris.

One wonders why artists such as these would have “stooped” to creating workd like these, but I guess they just got caught up in all the excitement of Japan`s early victories (in Fujita`s case), or truly believed that it was Japan`s destiny to become the leader of a unified Asia ( as did Taikan)

Poster by Tsuguharu "Leonard" Fujita

Poster by Tsuguharu “Leonard” Fujita from 1941 which he called- 4th year of the Sacred War July 7th

As propaganda, all the posters seem to me to work very well- determined men looking up into a bright future and planty of erect missiles, shells and guns to equate in the minds of the people military success with virility and sexual potency.

Another by Fujita

Another by Fujita, this one proclaiming that: September 20th every year is Aviation Day

It seemed to me that the better artists (Fujita and Taikan) created the subtler- and more effective posters. Fujita`s young boy dreaming of becoming a pilot one day, ready to launch his (erect) plane into the sky, and Taikan`s rendering of the Imperial Palace, symbolizing Japan as the sacred Land of the Gods.

Poster

Poster by Kenichi Nakamura (1942) comemorating the the 37th Annual Army Day (March 10, 1942)

One serious problem with the exhibition is the plastic which protects the posters. They create a lot of glare and your own refelction stands out more prominently than the works, And though photography is permitted, these plastic coverings make it almost impossible to get a good shot.

Also interesting is the political nature of the exhibition. Is has been organized by one of Tsukuba`s prominent anti-war groups, and the leaflet it has produced emphasizes how wasteful war and terrible war is. Even if you whole-heartedly agree with that, I`m not sure if you will find the proof in these 24 very rare posters.

To be continued…….

Poster by Saburo Miyamoto comemorating the 38th Annual Army Day (1943)

Poster by Saburo Miyamoto comemorating the 38th Annual Army Day (1943)

 

A Japanese fighter-plane through a clearing in some tropical jungle - a poster by Usaburo Ihara (1944)

A Japanese fighter-plane through a clearing in some tropical jungle – a poster by Usaburo Ihara (1944)

This exhibition is free. It will be open from 10 am to 5 pm until the last day- Sunday July 19th on which it will close at 4 pm.

The Tsukuba Shimin Gallery (つくば市民ギャラリ) is located in the Chuo Koen Park- just north of the Tsukuba TX Terminal from which it is a five-minute walk (it seems like much longer in this heat!)

It is across from the Expo Center (and the planetarium) right in the middle of the pond.

Tel. 0298 56-7007

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This poster shows a virile and “erect” shell and reads: BUY BONDS – HAVE AMMUNITION SENT TO THE FRONT

 

Poster by Hisara Tanaka (1943)- the Power of Everyone Working Together

Poster by Hisara Tanaka (1943)- the Power of Everyone Working Together

The North China Railway Company (1939)

The North China Railway Company (1939)