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

Minami Manshū Tetsudō Kabushiki Kaisha = South Manchuria Railway [Two boys]

The soft, earthy coloring of Nagahara Kōtarō’s South Manchuria Railway (1921) displays a lack of synthetic modern techniques, and the image foreshadows Japan’s militarism in the 1930s through WWII. With the Manchurian boy on the right stepping slightly ahead of his Japanese partner, the poster suggests that Manchuria is leading the way for Japanese colonialist interests. At the same time, the bottom quadrant of the frame is lined with a map of the South Manchuria Railway, one of the most essential links between Europe and the East and, more specifically, Japan. The theme of migration and dynamism, which can be also found in the Oriental Steamship Corporation’s poster with children, suggests a grand and fruitful future for Japanese territorial expansion through industrialization and imperialism, bolstered by recent colonialist successes in Korea (1910) and part of South East Asia (in stages from 1895). Thus, the public display of this artwork in an era of mass production fulfills propagandistic intentions, encouraging post-First World War Japan to globalize, modernize, and colonize. The South Manchurian Railway Corporation exemplified such efforts, as encapsulated in this image. (Ella Wilson)

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