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

Provocation of Citizenship: Posters for the Ministry of Communications

This section presents public advertisements commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Communications to promote its postal savings system. In 1874, the Meiji cabinet introduced the system, patterned after the British model. The government-led Postal Savings Bank became popular nationwide, especially among the petit bourgeoisie, tenant farmers, and students at the beginning of the twentieth century. For instance, individual savings for the Postal Savings Bank accounted for more than 5% of Japan’s GDP and 22% of the government’s total expenditures in 1920. These figures increased until the early 1940s when Japan opened the war against the United States.[1] In other words, each person’s small savings supported Japan’s modernization, industrialization, and militarization. 

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The popularization of the postal savings system even in rural Japan resulted partly from the ministry's vigorous efforts to advertise this service across the country. Posters for the ministry, therefore, were printed in large numbers but made relatively cheaply using simpler designs and smaller papers.[2] However, this does not mean the advertisements were uninteresting. Three examples here show well-defined images, minimal and clear coloring, and slogans affirming that contributions benefited the country as much as they did the individual. These easily identifiable designs drew the eyes of maximum demography—the core concept of modern commercial design, which was, interestingly, made available by the public office. (Rika Hiro)


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