Gennifer WeisenfeldSep 5, 2023
Gas Mask Nation
Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan
University of Chicago Press 2023
Airplanes, gas masks, and bombs were common images in wartime Japan. Yet amid these emblems of anxiety, tasty caramels were offered to children with paper gas masks as promotional giveaways, and magazines featured everything from attractive models in the latest civil defense fashion to futuristic weapons.
Gas Mask Nation: Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan (U Chicago Press, 2023) explores the multilayered construction of an anxious yet perversely pleasurable visual culture of Japanese civil air defense--or bōkū--through a diverse range of artworks, photographs, films and newsreels, magazine illustrations, postcards, cartoons, advertising, fashion, everyday goods, government posters, and state propaganda. Gennifer Weisenfeld reveals the immersive aspects of this culture, in which Japan's imperial subjects were mobilized to regularly perform highly orchestrated civil air defense drills throughout the country.
The war years in Japan are often portrayed as a landscape of privation and suppression under the censorship of the war machine. But alongside the horrors, pleasure, desire, wonder, creativity, and humor were all still abundantly present in a period before air raids went from being a fearful specter to a deadly reality.
Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.