1942 Gonin no shoya – JAPAN WWII Propaganda – VILLAGE IN DROUGHT – Kamishibai

Kamishibai Propaganda Play
Japanese WWII Nationalist Education
Five Innovative Heroic Headmen
Save a Village from Drought

Go Nin No Shoya
Story Illustration Cards
In Original Portfolio

“Gonin no shoya” [Five Estate Owners in the Village]

Japan: Nihon Kyoiku Kamishibai Kyokai, Showa 16 [1941]. Creator: Hiroshi Hirabayashi. Kamishibai propaganda play / Japanese picture show (kamishibai) illustrating the benefits and immense moral obligation of collaborating with one other for survival. Folio. The complete work, comprising 20 offset full-colour printed illustrative cards which together form a story to educate or indoctrinate the viewer with nationalist concepts during the Second World War, each with printed story text to verso, one of the cards being the title and publishing information. Text is in Japanese. Contained in publisher’s original paper portfolio covers, with title label to front. Story cards measure approximately 38 x 26 cm. Portfolio covers measure approximately 39 x 27 x 1 cm. Some age-toning and wear to portfolio, otherwise in very good and original condition, cards retaining vivid impression, a fascinating and scarce Second World War propaganda presentation.

Japanese wartime propaganda was distributed through films, magazines and newspapers, radio, books, cartoons and the education system. Publications such as the present illustrative stories, promoted the ideal citizen’s nationalistic point of view, indoctrinating civilians to work collectively and in support of their government’s actions, even when creating some form of imposition on the citizen himself.

Kamishibai are Japanese paper plays that gained popularity among children in the 1930s and were subsequently used as a medium for propaganda during World War II. Also referred to as a “Picture Card Show,” they were made for influencing youth with their engaging storylines and vivid imagery. In 1940, elementary schools were renamed “Citizen’s Schools.” Textbooks became vivid, engaging, and contained militaristic picture-books. During the course of World War II, the Japanese government attempted to indoctrinate Japanese children through education and propaganda. Both methods nationalized youth and encouraged them to support the war effort. Science curriculum, for example education taught children about agriculture so they could better assist in food production for the nation. Youth were expected to volunteer in factories and farms to replace the conscripted labor force.

Additionally, “kokutai,” meaning the uniqueness of the Japanese people in having a leader with spiritual origins, was officially promulgated by the government, including a text book distributed by the Ministry of Education. The purpose of this instruction was to ensure that every child regarded himself first of all as a Japanese and was grateful for the “family polity” structure of government, with its apex in the emperor. Indeed, little effort was made during the course of the war to explain to the Japanese people what it was fought for; instead, it was presented as a chance to rally about the emperor.

This is a dramatic story of collaboration and innovation, its ultimate message being that these virtues are necessary for survival of a society and the individual.

Sustenance being the key to survival, the story unfolds as follows. A village in Western Japan suffering a long arid season which led to drought, was unable to support vegetation and was seeing abandonment as many farmers left the region. Evidently this was a large village, having five shoya (village headman), and the latter devised an irrigation plan to restore its agriculture and ultimately preserve the village.

In order to instill the urgency of success with the undertaking, the local bugyo (governor) approved the project under the alarming condition that if the project failed, the five headmen who also owned estates in the region, would be burnt alive at the stake. He had five hanging platforms erected in preparation of failure, and also to motivate them to accomplish the task lest they meet a gruesome public fate.

Villagers supported the idea and all hands worked diligently to ensure its success. Indeed, working together with a common goal was the key. The water flowed abundantly. The village was saved, and so were the lives of the five headmen. The hanging platforms were set ablaze (without victims) in celebration.

[The Shoya (village headman) and the Nanushi (village headman) are one of village officers (“murakata-sanyaku” in Japanese; the three officers of a village), or one of the machiyakunin (municipal officials) in Edo period. Each Shoya and Nanushi of a village was one of the three officers of a village (“jikata-sanyaku” in Japanese), and the official representative person for the village. In western Japan, the term Shoya was the commonly used name, and Nanushi was the commonly used name in eastern Japan. Additionally, in the regions of Tohoku and Hokuriku, the term Kimoiri (sponsorship) was the commonly used name.]

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