Unpinning History : Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism


Beginning with the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and then the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan acquired colonies in East Asia through various means such as treaties and negotiations (often involving Western powers), and acts of military aggression. As Elise K. Tipton notes, through its acquisition of colonies Japan “achieved foreign recognition and parity with the Western powers” who themselves were colonial powers at the time with interests in Asia, for example the Philippines was held by the U.S, while Great Britain held India, Burma (Myanmar) and Singapore, and the Dutch held the East Indies (Tipton, Modern Japan: A Social and Political History, p. 72). At the start of the Taishō period (1912-1926), from which many of the posters exhibited here date, Japan’s empire included Taiwan, the Pescadores Islands, Karafuto, and Korea. See the Timeline of Japanese Colonialism in East Asia for more information about how and when each colony was acquired.

We use “colonies” deliberately and specifically to denote that the lands and people therein were occupied and placed under Japanese rule. We also acknowledge that “colonies” has been a contested term in East Asia, for example, the “textbook controversy’ in East Asia wherein right wing ultra-nationalist interests in Japan had references to Japanese colonialism and colonies removed from Japanese high school textbooks and replaced with more neutral terms which caused backlash within and outside Japan.

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