Wartime propaganda in pop culture

Asahi has a neat article with an unfortunately small, if tantalizing, photograph of an exhibit currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen (I’m still bitter over you guys closing the Kyoto store!) in Tokyo until Monday, on the way that kimono designs of the pre-WW2 and wartime period reflected the political consciousness of the time. For example, in this photograph you can see a design reflected the tripartite alliance between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near Tokyo so I’ve asked Adam if he could drop by and get some photos, or perhaps pick up whatever pamphlet or art book they have available because I would love to see more of these, and in some detail.

War-theme designs often mirrored current events. Inui found a kimono that depicted Adm. Heihachiro Togo, who was credited with Japan’s 1905 victory over the Russian fleet in the Sea of Japan.

She also found a design that spelled out the name of Yosuke Matsuoka–in romaji alphabet–then ambassador, when he pulled the Japanese delegation out of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933.

Heartwarming stories and tear-jerkers also made it into kimono.

The story of the heroic Nikudan Sanyushi (Three human bullets), or Bakudan Sanyushi (Three human bombs)–three engineering corps soldiers who reportedly perished in a suicide bombing during the Shanghai incident in 1932–were given sweeping coverage by the media. Headlines and parts of the articles from The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi Shimbun became part of kimono designs.

This article  immediately made me think of one I had seen on BBC news a couple of weeks ago, on a similarly unexpected yet unsurprising penetration of wartime propaganda into popular culture: British boardgames of the World War II era.

Take the early wartime game Battle of the River Plate, for example. Based on the first major confrontation between German and British naval forces, it is one of the earliest known games to reflect the international conflict. Players tried to score points by firing wooden sticks at the ship with a spring action. A direct hit caused the gun turrets on the ship to “explode”.

Another, Bomber Command, depicts bombing squadrons and invites players to bomb Berlin, at the centre of the playing board. Players take turns to throw dice to move toward the target. When materials were in short supply, the dice were replaced by a numbered spinning card.

“It was a game you can easily imagine people playing sitting in the air raid shelter while being bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz,” says historian and author, Robert Opie.

The article then goes on to mention the way in which WW2 comic books incorporated anti-Nazi and anti-Japan motifs, a number of examples of which I posted some time ago. And of course, one can’t forget what you must agree is the best comic book cover of the war, if not all time. That is, unless you like Hitler-and you don’t like Hitler, do you?

What would be some good examples of popular culture reflecting enemies and conflicts in the world around us today? Off the top of my head, there’s naturally “24,” which I’ve never seen but I understand is about how Arab terrorists want to kill us. And then of course there’s the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, in which a disaffected North Korean general stages a military coup on the eve of reunification with the South in some near future year, or on a similar but slightly more afield topic, take the third season episode of the fairly recent Justice League Unlimited cartoon show, in which a number of DC superheroes travel to a fictitious militaristic Northeast Asian nation, clearly modeled after North Korea, to stop a rampaging nuclear powered robotic monster which they claim they had built “to protect us from the foreigners,” clearly modeled after North Korea’s metaphorically rampaging nuclear (non-robotic) monster.

All of these are in fact less examples of government sponsored propaganda than grass roots, genuinely popular culture expressing such things as a society’s popularly held fears and hatreds regarding their enemies at that time. I recall during the first Gulf War, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I saw someone at a flea-market selling “Desert Shield” branded condoms, which exclaimed on the package something along the lines of “Don’t you wish Saddam Hussein’s father had worn one of these?” Perhaps it is due to the fact that I was out of the country during the early stages of the recent Iraq invasion, but I can think of no examples of similarly popular expressions of support for the current war. Is it wrong of me to think that the initial support for the invasion was, however high the level, generally a grudging and ambivalent sort of support, lacking the level of enthusiasm needed to generate items along the lines of the pro-Axis kimono, the Hitler-face dartboard, or the “Desert Shield” condom?

Nikkei’s Wiki image management (more Japanese wikiscanner)

Continuing my dirt-digging exercise in the last post, here are some edits that Nikkei, Japan’s leading business newspaper, has made about itself in the “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” article:

  • Deleted passage (2005): “The upper floors of the company headquarters are shared with (top business lobby) Nippon Keidanren headquarters, and there are critics who characterize its editorial stance as “the official gazette of Japan Inc.” I can’t tell if this is true from Google Maps (and I’ve never been there) but they are at least right freakin next to each other. Similar (and somewhat harsher) language has survived in the current article.
  • Deleted mention that the company plans to move its head quarters to Otemachi in 2011 (just the mention of Otemachi not the 2011 move). (2005) Mention of Otemachi now survives and the move is characterized as “part of redevelopment of the Otemachi area.”
  • Diluting responsibilty over its treatment of the three Japanese hostages in Iraq in April 2004 (edit made in April 2007): A passage which read “In its reporting, [Nikkei] posted the detailed addresses of the three hostages on the Web. While it deleted the information after reader complaints, the addresses were widely distributed and are belieted to have aided in the harassment, insults, and embarrassment endured by the victims’ families” was changed to include “as other companies did.”
  • An edit made over the same time period deleted a passage: “One reason the mass media does not report these several scandals (including an insider trading scandal and a faked photograph that I will mention later) despite their being open to the public owes to the dubious tradition unique to the mass media in which they protect each other by hiding each other’s scandals. Perhaps that is why no apologies are ever posted on Nikkei’s website. Though it mercilessly attacks companies that commit crimes or cause accidents, it actively hides competitors’ scandals as if in collusion with them. This perhaps reveals one extreme example of the Japanese media’s closed nature.” This is the sort of editorializing that may not belong in Wiki, but it is funny that someone within Nikkei felt the need to get rid of it. The “we were not alone” passage survived (after being deleted more than once, evidence of some back-and-forth) and the deletion of the anti-Nikkei rant has also survived to this day.
  • A passage on a 2003 faked photo scandal, in which a Nikkei reporter covering the release of Sony DVD recorder PSX photographed himself for a photo of a random “man buying a PSX” and passed it off as actual reporting (great photo here). The original passage read “criticism mounted by people claiming the incident was a faked stunt” since the reporter’s armband was visible, and continues “Nihon Keizai Shimbun admitted that the man was a Nikkei BP reporter and apologized.” The text in quotes was deleted and replaced with “Nihon Keizai Shimbun admitted that the man was a Nikkei BP reporter and apologized since he was negligent in his duties while reporting.” Interestingly, this shifts the blame from the company as a whole to the one misbehaving reporter.
  • Comments that writing for Nikkei’s back-page “My Resume” column is “considered the greatest honor for people who have been successful.” This passage was deleted and then re-added and remains.
  • That’s about it for interesting edits… there are also the usual mundane ones on actors, economy-related stuff, cars, etc. More to come!

    Wikiscanning Japan

    I seem to be coming late to the party, but the amazing Wikiscanner has started to take its toll on the Japanese-language Internet thanks to a nice Japanese version of the site:

    Yomiuri reports that Wikiscanner has found that among other things the health labor and welfare ministry and the education ministry have edited articles on themselves and Diet member Nagatsuma (claiming he exploits his stance to make money on the national pension scandal). The rest of the article explains the concept of an IP address for anyone who is smart enough to make it into the government but dumb enough not to know that people can tell what you do online.

    Kikko uses the emergence of this tool to make a rant and rave over the inaccuracies in her own entry, but makes the following commentary on the Yomiuri article:

    So to sum up, looking at this web news article, I was angry to see that the MIC edited the “electronic voting” article to make the government look good, that the education ministry deleted a passage about the scandal surrounding former Tax Commission Chairman Masaaki Honma, or that the health labor and welfare ministry wrote bad things about DPJ Diet member Akira Nagatsuma, but it made sense just because that’s what they would do. What puzzled me was why someone in the agriculture ministry made a massive amount of edits to the entry on Gundam. We can tell it was accessed during work hours because of the MAFF IP address, but it has zero to do with government administration and could only have come from a Gundam maniac. And this guy is using the people’s tax money to play around on the Internet! So maybe we should find out his name and write a Wikipedia entry saying “He is a ridiculous civil servant who accesses Wikipedia from MAFF computers during work hours and plays around with the Japanese people’s tax money.” (lol)

    JCAST notes that NHK has been making lots and lots of edits to a wide range of subjects and whines that they are wasting too much time editing Wikipedia for “personal” use.

    So with all the buzz, I thought I would take a stab at seeing what sort of edits Japanese IPs have been making. Feel free to try at home!

    Mainichi Shimbun – In the English Wikipedia, Mainichi has edited the post on “MOTTAINAI” a term it has been promoting (in the face of much MF skepticism). This only deepens my suspicions at the cynical Japanese media-government collusion attempting to turn this word into some kind of soft-power buzz word.

    People at LDP headquarters are fans of rakugo and J-Pop singer Minako Honda (“Japan’s Madonna”), ego-Wiki, and delete a mention of the involvement with the LDP of someone in the Nagasaki local TV for reasons I can’t possibly understand.

    … Someone at Dentsu changed the height of an actress by one centimeter. That is the attention to detail that keeps these guys on top.

    … A second look shows almost 300 edits from Dentsu. A rundown:

    A line was added to the entry for Calbee (a potato chip company) on the new president/CEO Yasuo Nakata. Previous: “He is the first head of the company from outside the founding [Matsuo] family.” Now after that, “However, Nakata is well-known in the IT industry as a CIO. He also serves as an external director of Autobacs, a car part retailer listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.”

    They added this to the entry for Kirin Beverages: “Starting in Feb 2006, the company started a new Internet shopping business “markers” an experiment with Internet business including selling items other than beverages.” Oh, I wonder whose idea that was?

    Lots of minor adjustments to musicians’ discographies, etc.

    Multiple edits to the ‘list of fictional diseases’

    More possible ego-editing to the page for “media creator” and former Dentsu-man Masahiko Sato

    Special attention paid to the AIDMAS “Attention / Interest / Desire / Memory / Action / Share” theory of Internet marketing

    …and a bunch of edits to pages for people that I’ve never heard of…

    OK, we can do this TPMuckraker style. Search the site and tell us what you find! Things I want to look at at some point: Johnny’s, Yoshimoto Kogyo, Scientology, Soka Gakkai, other media institutions (Nikkei, Asahi, Sankei to name a few) and on and on… I am sure 2ch has it all in there somewhere.

    Things I’ve been meaning to post

    1. Neojaponisme – Despite the confusing, infuriating “manifesto” this project from David Marx of Neomarxisme fame (and others) is inspiring and I will be watching it closely and hopefully contributing some time soon.

    2. Sweet pictures of Meiji/Taisho era Tokyo from the National Diet Library – As a recent Tokyo convert, I am struck with a healthy dose of fake nostalgia every time I look at these. A favorite:


    people hanging out in Hibiya Park, Japan’s first western-style garden/park built over what used to be part of the Imperial Palace’s moat (and right next to my workplace for another two weeks until we move… I will miss it!)

    3. Anti-death penalty demonstration in Kosuge/Ayase (near Tokyo Detention Center) – A testament to how well the Justice Ministry’s policy of executing prisoners with no prior public announcement whatsoever works to suppress dissent, a 60-person protest of the death penalty was held more than a week after 3 prisoners were hanged on Aug 23 as one of former Justice Minister Nagase’s final official acts before leaving office. Pictured is an elderly woman hailing all the way from Oita prefecture in Kyushu holding a sign that says “Abolish the death penalty!”:

    My favorite movie

    OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was looking around in the awesome retro video collections of the Internet Archive and thought I would re-watch what actually is my favorite film of the educational short film genre.

    <object type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”480″ height=”392″ id=”FlowPlayer” data=”http://www.archive.org/flv/FlowPlayerWhite.swf”>
    <param name=”movie” value=”http://www.archive.org/flv/FlowPlayerWhite.swf”/>
    <param name=”scale” value=”noScale”/>
    <param name=”wmode” value=”transparent”/>
    <param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”sameDomain”/>
    <param name=”quality” value=”high”/>
    <param name=”flashvars” value=”config={
    loop: false,
    initialScale: ‘fit’,
    videoFile: ‘http://www.archive.org/download/OneGotFa1963/OneGotFa1963.flv’,

    Edit: Flash doesn’t seem to be working, so try this link here.