Menu Content/Inhalt
Главная arrow Publications arrow Culture arrow Katasonova Y. Modernization and problems of formation popular culture in pre-war Japan
Katasonova Y. Modernization and problems of formation popular culture in pre-war Japan Печать E-mail
26.02.2014 г.

Modernization and problems of formation popular culture in pre-war Japan

Katasonova Y. Dr. Sc. (History), Institute of Oriental Studies

A review at the history of modern Japanese popular culture clearly reveals the borders of the three main periods that nearly coincide with the main stages of the modernization process. These are: the initial period from the end of the 19th century to World War II, during which the foundations of modern Japanese popular culture were created on the basis of synthesis of national traditions and foreign borrowings; the post-war period, from 1945 to the late 1980s, which saw the completion of the main phase of the country's cultural modernization in the context of its economic and technological progress; and the period between the 1990s and 2010s, characterized by Japan's transition to a post-industrial or information stage of development and the emergence of a new type of post-modern culture.

Given that modern mass culture is closely related to information carriers and is largely determined by technical and economic possibilities of the time, the conditional sign of such a division can be attributed to the emergence and spread of some or other means of mass communication, the development of which was determined by the process of industrialization of Japanese society.

Rapid progress in publishing was one of the first steps toward cultural modernization of Japan; as a result, publishing has become an important factor in the life of Japanese society. The number of newspapers increased dramatically after 1868. Starting with "Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun" (1870), daily newspapers began to appear one after another. In 1872 alone the world saw the "Tokyo Niсhi-nichi Shimbun," "Yubin Hoti Shimbun," "Nisshin Shinjisha" and others, and all were regularly available on the market. Beginning in 1874, there appeared newspapers that soon received a national status: "Yomiuri Shimbun," "Asahi Shimbun," etc. The newspapers ran political discussions, sharp journalistic essays on topical issues, and printed news postings side by side with articles about the latest trends in fashion and cultural events in New York, Paris, London, etc.

Following the boom in newspaper production was an era of illustrated magazines, with circulations ranging from 10 to 100 thousand copies. The most commercially successful magazine was "King"(Kingu) "The most interesting in Japan," "The largest circulation in Japan" - these catchy ads appeared in the 1926 New Year issue of the magazine, which did have a starting circulation exceeding one and a half million copies. Moreover, it soon had to compete with worthy rival ​​magazines such as "Sunday Mainichi," "Shukan Asahi," and others.


The popular newspapers and magazines paved the way to the so-called mass literature (taishu bungaku), which synthesized art and culture, everyday experience, interpretations of history, and popular expositions of fashionable philosophical ideas. The path to newspapers and magazines for the popular novels was blazed by the work of Kikuchi Kan entitled Madame Pearl (Shinzu Fuzin). The publication by installments began in the newspaper "Nichi-nichi Tokyo Shimbun" in October 1920 and was a great success.

In 1923, Kikuchi Kan created and was for many years the editor of a highly popular social and literary journal "Bungei Shunzu" (‘Literary Chronicle'), which is still popular today. He opened the pages of the publication to heated debate of his contemporaries about the new mission of literature, and he was quick to put these ideas into practice by gathering around the journal a group of like-minded, talented beginners who immediately engaged in the process of large-scale literary production. For a while the only outstanding problem was to find ways to reduce the cost of this publication, and they were eventually found.

The years 1925-1930 saw the country literally swept with a boom of cheap popular literature - books worth one yen, hence the subsequent concept of "enpon" (literally, a yen-book). All this printed matter was geared toward the new middle class as potential consumers.

Another phenomenon that the Japanese mass press generated along with popular literature was manga comics, which in those days were literally filled up the Japanese newspapers and magazines. The 1920s were a period that saw the most intense search for a place of the Japanese comics in the culture of the modern times. Their development produced a huge impact on the part of European caricature of American comics, which became well-known in Japan during the second half of the 19th century. Many Western models were translated and redrawn for the Japanese reader. Having accepted the idea of ​​comic books, Japanese artists chose to adapt them to traditions of national art (scroll painting emaki, popular books kibyoshi, ukiyo-e woodcuts, etc.) that came into being long before the culture of comics emerged in the West.

The first Japanese "serials" comic book with the same heroes (although created with a focus on American models) was a humorous color comic by R. Kitadzava entitled "Tagosuku to Makube Visit Tokyo" (Tagosuku to Makube-no Tokyo kenbutsu); it was first published in 1902 in the magazine "Djidji manga." Then in 1905, the artist began to publish a comic magazine, "Tokyo pakku," thus giving rise to a host of followers - both manga artists and publishers of manga periodicals.

The first children's comics appeared in Japan even in the beginning of the 20th century. It is worth mentioning in this connection the following three magazines produced by Kodansia Publishers: "Shyonen Kurabu" (from early 1914), "Shyojyo Kurabu" (from early 1923), and "Yonen Kurabu" (from early 1923 ), for boys, girls and toddlers respectively.

The Taisho period (1912-1926) was marked by the increasing popularity of newspaper comics. Then, national recognition befell the artist Okamoto Ippei; he became famous in the first place as a political cartoonist who responded rather sharply to events of the day. For several years, he drew a special column in the newspaper "Asahi;" from 1923, he published a weekly newspaper supplement that first reprinted adaptations of American comic book series, and then switched to original Japanese comics.

A serial issue consisting of four drawings that would tell a very short story was called "The Cheerful Dad" (Nonkina Otosan) by Yutaka Aso became the first popular Japanese comic of the new generation. It is noteworthy that Japan, unlike the United States and other countries, was the first country where the most popular comic strips were collected and published in a 0book form.

It is commonly believed that the manga is not much different from the ordinary media and fits in somewhere between movies, literature, and television, etc. Log before TV time, its forerunner, the radio, made its entry into the everyday life of the Japanese since 1925, and above all as a means of broadcasting.

The pre-war capacity of the national broadcasting and its impact on the minds of the Japanese stood no comparison with the impact of cinema, whose appearance, along with photography, gramophone records, etc. formed the basis of mass culture and serious competition to newspapers and magazines. Not only did Japanese cinema continue to develop the ideological objectives and economic and organizational methods started by mass printing, but it also defined the advertising, publicity and commercial goals of the production of artistic material as such. Cinema laid the foundation of aesthetic principles of mass culture, whose outlines were only being set in literary industry.

Japan made its acquaintance with the moving pictures almost simultaneously with Europe and America. The first cinematographic cameras by Edison and the Lumiere brothers showed up there in 1906, with the first visual and then feature films released three years after that. A completely new and unfamiliar genre of art for the Japanese, cinema faced a hard reception, but it kept to consistently gaining popularity due to the forceful infiltration of European and American films. Familiarity with Western cinema greatly enriched the culture of pre-war Japan and had a huge impact on everyday life, habits, and tastes of the Japanese population who were eagerly and rapidly accumulating the values of Western civilization during that period.

National film production had its start in Japan in the 1920s, with about a dozen new films making their way to the screens every year; for the most part, they fell in the most popular genres: melodrama, detective, comedy, etc., executed in complete imitation of the Western models. However, the pre-war productions also included works by Kenji Mizoguchi, which are considered the height of realism in Japanese cinema, and the films of Teynosuke Kinugasa, who worked at the junction of European art practices and national theatrical traditions.

The development of national animation proceeded alongside feature film production. The first experiment with a painted film in Japan took place in 1907, and it consisted of fifty or so frames with images applied with a brush on celluloid. The clip lasted only 3 seconds and showed a boy in a sailor suit writing in chalk the words "katsudo shyashin" or ‘moving photos,' on the blackboard. What followed this event was nothing more than an imitation of the works of American and European cartoonists.

For all that, many Japanese artists engaged in numerous and rather successful experiments with various animation techniques, trying to find their own individual creative style. For example, one of the brighter of the first Japanese animators, Kitayama Seytaro, initially made his drawings using chalk and blackboard, and later cut paper characters and photographed them against pre-prepared background. His own film company, Kitayama eiga seisakudza, did not last long, however, as it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1923. But many students who worked at his studio subsequently continued their own creative experiments.

In 1928, one of them, the legendary Sanae Yamamoto, filmed the folktale "The Greatest Hero of Japan Momotaro," which became a classic of national anime. Another one, Kenzo Masaoka, created in 1933 the country's first sound animated film "The World of Power and Women," for which the master is sometimes called the "father of Japanese animation." The most enticing goal of Japanese anime experimenters was to come at least one step closer to their foreign idols, Walt Disney and the Fleischer brothers, a goal that was a mere pipe dream given the current stage of development of Japanese animation technology and the non-existent industrial base, adequate funding, or professional skills.

Thus, the development of Japanese pre-war cartoons, as well as feature films and other genres of popular culture, was decades behind those in the West. Similarly, until the mid-20th century, the cultural modernization of Japan proceeded much more slowly than its political, technological, and socio-economic reforms. Hence, the main phase of the formation of modern mass culture in Japan was completed only in the post-war period, when alongside the economic and political revival and rapid development of the country, the foundation of modern culture industry was laid.

(For full text of the article see Yaponia: opyt modernizatso, Moscow, 2011)
« Пред.   След. »
Институт Дальнего Востока РАН