Media and Entertainment

The availability of media and entertainment was expanding in Japan from the 1920s onwards, but varied dramatically according to where children lived and how well off their families were. Interviewees from better off families remembered being bought picture books and children’s magazines. A number mentioned Shōnen kurabu (Boys’ Club), the bestselling boys’ magazine of the period, or characters that appeared in its pages, such as the army dog Norakuro or ‘Adventurous Dankichi’ (Bōken Dankichi), about a Japanese boy who becomes king of an island in the South Seas. Boys’  magazine literature included adventure stories, warrior epics, science fiction, and contemporary war stories, as well as non-fiction articles, but hardly any interviewees recalled specific content aside from the kind of celebrated character-focused story series mentioned above.

Not all of these interviewees bought magazines; some seem to have read copies of friends or relatives from time to time. Some girls were bought girls’ magazines, such as Shōjo kurabu (Girls’ Club). However, there were also many interviewees who either made no mention of reading children’s magazines, or denied that they had any chance to do so. Some interviewees recalled magazines purchased by adults in their household, such as Ie no hikari (Light of the Home), Shufu no tomo (Housewife’s Friend) or Kingu (King). In wartime diaries by children, comic book figures such as Fuku-chan, who was the subject of stories in newspapers and record albums, feature prominently.

Evacuated children and teenaged workers mentioned visits by adults who told them stories, put on plays, or gave lectures as a form of entertainment. Most of the content in these visits involved the dissemination of patriotic tales and values during the war years. This was especially true if the adults who performed for children were members of local veterans’ groups or the Japanese Women’s National Defence Association (Kokubō fujinkai).

Some lived in homes that boasted either a radio or a gramophone, or both, though only a minority mentioned such devices, and in some cases they had been purchased from 1940 onwards, to listen to news. A number of interviewees commented that at least before the Pacific War, electricity was only available in the evening. In some cases, the radio was listened to by live-in servants or neighbours, as well as family members.

Some interviewees (mainly women) remembered having been keen readers in their teens. Their interests varied widely, from the novels for girls by Yoshiya Nobuko, through historical novels about samurai swordsmen, to literary fiction by authors such as Tayama Katai and the proletarian novelist Kobayashi Takeji. Some interviewees also mentioned going to a library in their town or city to read.

Many interviewees mentioned that cinemas existed nearby, but not all actually went to see movies.  Some recalled movies being shown at their school, or being taken to see a movie by the school. Some interviewees remembered watching militaristic movies during the war years. On the whole, however, going to see movies did not seem to be a common recreation that interviewees remembered in their childhood.  Diaries, by contrast, mention films more frequently, especially in the wartime evacuation and mobilised student labour (kinrō dōin) context. Strongly propagandistic films such as ‘The Spider and the Tulip’, soft propaganda shorts (bunka eiga), and newsreels such as Nippon Nyūsu, were projected by visitors to evacuation and labour sites.

Other kinds of entertainment were mentioned by interviewees as coming periodically. Most frequent was the kamishibai, or ‘paper play’, an entertainment usually provided by street performers, though it could also be performed by school teachers. Paper plays were a poor man’s cartoon, in that the narrator told a story according to pictures that he displayed in a case that was designed as a theatre stage. Children who bought sweets were allowed to stand in the front, while poorer children and adults lined up behind. Interviewees’ memories of the content were limited, but included both folktales and war-related stories. While paper plays mass produced in the war years were ostensibly controlled by a government union, many teachers produced their own kamishibai before and during the period of mass evacuation. Teacher-produced paper plays were far less militaristic than the ones generated by the state-approved channels, focusing on traditional subjects such as scenes from famous kabuki plays, daily life at evacuation sites, and religious tales and parables.

Less frequent visitors included the puppet theatre (Aomori), travelling players, and the circus (Shiga). In diaries, evacuated children also mentioned visits to barracks, where they put on plays for soldiers and listened to the servicemen sing military ballads (gunka).

Peter Cave, Aaron William Moore, and L. Halliday Piel

How to Cite This Source

Peter Cave, Aaron William Moore, and L. Halliday Piel, ‘Media and Entertainment’, in Childhood, Education and Youth in Modern Japan [add URL and access date].