Censorship in Japan

One of the questions some people have is why did the Japanese people go along so readily with their government on its militaristic course? One reason is that the Japanese were conditioned for over a thousand years to obey whoever was in command. The feudal system that was established with its samurai set up a system of forced obedience; you didn't obey, you died. You criticized, you died. You didn't bow at the right time, you died.

This sets up a culture of obedience to authority, if not necessarily to the authority.

Another reason was the almost mythological nature of the Emperor and how the people were led to believe the Emperor was basically divine, descended from the Sun-goddess through an “unbroken line.”

There is another reason, though, and that is censorship. Control of what people see and hear; the power that can effectively control what the people are exposed to, in school, at home, and in any forms of mass media, is a power that will remain in power, barring something external happening.

Japan had a long tradition with censorship, with literary and theatrical censorship in place by the 18th century. The following list is compiled from a number of sources.1869: Publishing regulations passed.

1873: Newspaper law passed, restricting freedom of speech.

1875: Libel Law, for same purpose.

1880: List of books favorable to democracy is compiled, and the books are prohibited from use as textbooks.

1890: Assembly and Political Organizations Law

1893: Publication Law

1900: Public Order Police Law

1908: Criminal code. “”A commander who allows his unit to surrender to the enemy without fighting to the last man or who concedes a strategic area to the enemy shall be punishable by death.”

1909: Another Newspaper Law.

1925: The Peace Preservation Law of 1925 (amended in 1928), banned “any action, speech, or writing that advocated the abolition of private property, or of the imperial regime. This was a way for Japan to outlaw the Communist party and communist propaganda. The Home Ministry introduces a nationwide system of film censorship.

1925: Active duty military officers are assigned to all schools from the middle school level up (minus girls' schools); military training becomes part of the school routine.

1930's: The government of Japan establishes the Japan broadcasting Corporation (NHK) as a “privately owned government-sponsored monopoly.” The control agency was the Ministry of Communication. Pre-transmission censorship was used to prevent transmission of any of the following:

1. Items that “impaired the dignity of the Imperial House.”
2. Items that “disturbed public order and desirable customs.”
3. Items referring to diplomatic or military secrets.
4. Items referring to confidential proceedings in the Diet.
5. Items relation to contents of preliminary investigations prior to public trials.
6. Items that would “impair the honor” of government and public offices, or of the military.
7. Items that would impair the credit of an individual or group of individuals.
8. Items that were political speeches or discussions.
9. Advertisements.
10. Items deemed to “cause marked disturbance of public sentiments.”

Some of these make sense, such as 3 and 4. Others were definitely means to control what people heard and said.

1935: Film Export-Import Regulations: All films were prohibited which were “insulting the national polity, the military or foreign policy.”

1936: The Domei is established, which was a semi-official news agency.

1937: Japan's invasion of Manchuria gets heavy radio broadcast. This included news bulletins, and commentaries on Japan's objectives. Traditional stories were added to try and attract more listeners.

1937, September: Cabinet Information Office is established. In December, it became the Cabinet Information Bureau (1940). The Bureau was responsible for “public information, guidance of the media, and overseas propaganda.”

1937: any items concerning national economy and foreign relations were deemed state secrets and could not be published without prior consent of the authorities.

1939: Cosmetics and permanent waves are banned as “unnecessary luxuries.”(VOD)

1940: Instructors at the university level are forbidden to use the Bible as a text because “it was detrimental to the moral education of the Japanese.” (VOD)

1940: Japan's Foreign Minister starts a series of “special lectures” on major issues of policy, such as the “international Situation and the Position of the Japanese Empire.”

1940, April: All religions are placed under the Home Ministry and administered by them. (VOD)

1940, May 10: Stores were no longer allowed to carry “nonessential” merchandise. Around this time citizens were ordered to sell their gold to the government.(VOD)

1940, June: Matches and sugar are rationed. (VOD)

1940, December: The Cabinet Information Bureau says its aim is “The establishment of a military state through the unity and solidarity of the public.”

1941: The Peace Preservation Law was amended again in 1941, which allowed the death penalty for severe cases, and allowed the authorities the use of “preventive detention” for anyone who was deemed “a risk to public peace.”

1941: Magazines are ordered to submit in advance the contents of each issue to censors. A black list of liberal writers was given to the magazines so their articles could not be published. The result was that the magazines had to toe the “official line.”

1941: Movie theaters are ordered to stop showing American and British films.

1941: National Defense Security Law: important government business like cabinet meetings are declared “state secrets”, with severe penalties for obtaining or revealing such classified information.

1941 (?) Provisional Law for Control of Speech, Publications, Assembly and Association: Political groups, political meetings, and publication of newspapers and magazines must get prior approval for their activities.

1941, May: The National Defence Security Law, which imposed the death penalty for the “revelation of any strategic information which would benefit the enemy.”

1941, December 8th: Announcement is made that Japan is at war with Britain and the US. Japan wants to repel Western “aggression” in Asia and emancipate Asians living under Western colonial control.

1941, December 19th: The Special Control Law, which banned “all unauthorized publications, assemblies or organizations.”

1941-1942: The NHK broadcasts martial music and patriotic celebrations along with literary works on “martial and East Asian themes.” Japan is said to have been forced to declare war to “survive and maintain her prestige.” The war was caused by the West's ambitions to conquer the world. Japan, on the other hand, wanted to establish a new world order so that all nations could take their “rightful place in a spirit of universal brotherhood.”

1942, January: The Information Bureau bans all “enemy music”, except for melodies that were the basis for Japanese songs. The music is removed from radio broadcasting schedules.

1942, April 18th: A warning signal is broadcast of Doolittle's raid on the mainland, but it's broadcast too late to be effective.

1942, October: To help control the media, the government reduced the number of local newspapers by stating that each prefecture could have only one local newspaper. This dropped the number of newspapers from 848 to 54 as of 1943. The fewer papers that existed, the easier it was to control the ones that did. There were several government agencies involved in censoring the newspapers.

1943: 866 persons are arrested for violation of the Peace Preservation Act. (VOD)

1943: Special Law on War-time Crimes is modified. “To disseminate information during wartime which will harm public order for the purpose of interfering with national administration or public order” becomes a crime.

1943: The Cabinet Information Bureau bans 1,000 songs, mainly American and British.

1943 (starting in), the government closes 10,000 geisha houses and other amusement centers. Prostitutes are pushed into factory work. (VOD)

1943, January: various Japanese music organizations vow to “weed Japan of the influence of American jazz.”

1943: A special series, “To Industrial Soldiers”, is broadcast to encourage factory workers.

1944: The number of magazines drops to 965; in 1940 there had been 1,970 magazines published. (VOD)

1944: The government decides a new approach is needed in the radio programs, with an emphasis on entertainment that would encourage patriotic feelings by emphasizing Japanese culture. This included programs on the history of Zen, the Tea Ceremony, and the history of art.

There were also programs on civil defense and air raid precautions. The NHK radio was the main source of warning for Japanese of impending air attacks. Reports of damage were downplayed, though, and even damage from earthquakes was not given extensive coverage.

1944, February 25: The government closes all remaining expensive restaurants, geisha houses, stage shows, kabuki dramas, high-price bars and top-line theaters. (VOD)

1944, April: Steel guitars, banjos and ukeleles are outlawed due to their “foreign influence.”

1945: The number of books published decreases to 875; in 1941 28,138 had been published, but this decreased in 1942 to only 3,354. (VOD)

1945, spring, summer: The audience for the radio broadcasts decreased due to the number of people that had fled the cities and a shortage of working radio sets. Interviews from kamikaze bases, including interviews with the pilots, began to be broadcast.

1945, late: After the war was over broadcasts urged that there not be any resistance to occupations by the Americans. Broadcasts began to emphasize agriculture and gardening, weather forecasts, Symphony Orchestra music and a Children's Hour.

The Special Higher Police, the tokko, was the group charged with enforcement the various laws such as the Peace Preservation Law.

There was even a Thought Section of the Justice Ministry. There were special “Thought Procurators” who handled prosecuting political offenders.

The question is, of course, why is all this important? One of the questions that has been asked is why the Japanese people seemed to go along with the military in their support of aggression, and these laws and enforcers help to point out that the civilian population didn't have much choice.

The schools brought up the kids in a somewhat militaristic style, supporting the Emperor and the government thoroughly. Textbooks were revised to make the US look like it had been an enemy of Japan for a century. Pictures of Roosevelt and Churchill were used for charging attacks by the students.

When the kids became adults, if they had anti-military, anti-war thoughts, they were not free to express them since any such written or verbal expression would end up getting them arrested and perhaps even killed.

Add to this that the mass media was supportive of the military and you have a very strong “thought control” type of situation. Police had the power to ban or withdraw “any book which, in their judgment, was harmful to public security.”

Then you also had the Military Police (kempei) who were also involved in political repression.

A good summary of this is in the book Valley of Darkness:

”Since neither the religious bodies, the publishing world, nor institutionalized education proved to be sources of threatening ideas, the question of thought control ended up as a matter between the individual's conscience and the terrifying police power of the government.”

The book also points out that the people did not have access to guns, so any kind of armed rebellion was also eliminated.

The reliability of official reports of what was going on in the war was good as long as the Japanese were winning, but when their fortunes were reversed, the reliability of the reports decreased in order to help keep public morale high.

Examples include:

The disasters at Guadalcanal were reported as military successes.

The death of Yamamoto was not announced for five weeks.

The death of his successor was not announced for almost a year.

The first major defeat that was announced was the island of Attu in May, 1943. The entire Japanese garrison was killed, and their deaths were termed “heroic.”

Kamikaze attacks were widely reported and praised.

Problems increased when the war got nearer and nearer to Japan itself, as Japanese forces were defeated on island after island. It became totally impossible to conceal everything when the Americans began bombing Japan itself. The only thing that could be done was to report the bombings, but not release any casualty figures.

The government even tried to stop local papers from being available anywhere else, but the idea didn't work since people fleeing from various cities met people from other cities and by word-of-mouth, people began to find out that a lot of Japanese cities were being destroyed by American bombing.

The Hiroshima bomb was reported as a “new-type” bomb that caused “considerable damage”, and that report was issued two days after the bomb was dropped. The papers did report that the Pope had protested to the US about the use of the bomb.

Japan was considered to be morally superior to the West due to kokutai, her “unique national polity as a family nation with the emperor as its father.”

Americans were described in the press as “vicious, wicked, bereft of moral standards, lacking in martial spirit, and devoid of any chivalry.” Reports of Japanese hospital ships being sunk (and some were) were held up as proof of the Japanese evaluation of the moral fiber of Americans. (The times when Japanese sunk hospital ships were not reported, of course. Nor were the things that were being done in China such as Unit 731.)

There was a “logical” extension of this, though. If the Americans were of such an incredibly low moral character, then it was better to die fighting then to surrender to such beasts.

In August of 1944 the Japanese newspapers reported that American soldiers were sending Japanese skulls home as souvenirs (which is true; they were, and not just skulls.)

The Nippon sangyo keizai wrote in August 5, 1944:

”The barbarism of the Americans is a conspicuous characteristic of American history. If one considers the atrocities which they have committed against the American Indians, the Negroes, and the Chinese, one is amazed at their presumption in wearing the mask of civilization.”

The Japanese were not happy when lots of German soldiers surrendered. They thought that the soldiers should have fought to the death as the Japanese soldiers were.

Anti-Semitic Feelings

Despite the fact that there were very, very few Jews in Japan (around 1,500 so), there was still (and still is) a fairly strong anti-Jewish feeling in the media. Anti-Jewish books and articles increased in the 1930's, including such things entitled “The Jewish Attack on Japan” and “The International Jewish Front.”

Some department stores even had anti-Jewish displays such as “Freemasonry, the Secret International Society of the Jews.” They said that the Jews had a “sinister influence” on American films and morals.

There was a July, 1943 conference in Tokyo on Jews with such addresses as “The Financial Power of the Jews” and “The Secret Writings of the Talmud and the Kabbalah.” There was a conference in January of 1944 by the League for the Observance of the Imperial Rescript on Education about “Jewish Intrigues.”

The anti-Jewish movement was not a big government approach like it was in Germany, however; it was mostly a media campaign. The absurdity of their attack is easily shown by a January 22, 1942 article in one newspaper that said that Jewish doctors were spreading the flu epidemic in Europe and the US “in order to weaken Western society.” (Which meant what, that the Jews wanted Japan and Germany to win the war?)

(This material is taken from the following sources:

1. Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan (1981)

2. Film and Radio Propaganda in World War II (1983).

3. Valley of Darkness (VOD), 1986.

4. The Pacific War, 1931-1945 (1978) (PW)

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