1942 Rikugun Bijutsu Propaganda Album, World War II

靖國之繪卷: 昭和十七年秋季大祭記念 / [Scenes of Yasukuni: Autumn Festival 1942 Commemoration]. - Main View

1942 Rikugun Bijutsu Propaganda Album, World War II


Sticking It To Uncle Sam.


靖國之繪卷: 昭和十七年秋季大祭記念 / [Scenes of Yasukuni: Autumn Festival 1942 Commemoration].
  1942 (dated)     7.75 x 21.25 in (19.685 x 53.975 cm)


A fascinating window into Japan's wartime nationalism at the apex of the country's success in the Pacific War, this 1942 album celebrates victories by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Navy (IJN) against enemy forces. It is particularly enthusiastic to point out triumphs against the United States of America, including attacks on Alaska and the West Coast of the U.S. The album was jointly produced by the IJA and IJN and published by the Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai (Army Art Association) for distribution at an annual ceremony held at the Yasukuni Shrine, a now-controversial shrine for war dead in central Tokyo.
A Closer Look
The album includes twenty-five chromolithographs of battles on land and sea that had taken place in the preceding months, ranging from Burma to the Aleutian Islands and the West Coast of the United States. This period coincides with Japan's most successful phase of World War II (1939 - 1945) in the months following the Pearl Harbor attack and simultaneous invasions throughout Southeast Asia. Battles and campaigns depicted include the capture of Corregidor, the invasion of Burma, fighting in Indonesia, the bombing of Australia, and the Battle of Midway.

Each image has an individual artist and title listed, and many also come with brief descriptions of the battle. The images are reminiscent of war propaganda found in contemporary mass media, but are somewhat more finely done and less 'cartoony.' Artists for the Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai were generally present on the front lines, but those listed here include some of the leading young illustrators of the time, suggesting they used others' sketches or perhaps photographs as a basis for their paintings. The artists include Nakamura Ken'ichi (中村研一), Iwata Sentarō (岩田專太郎), Shimura Tatsumi (志村立美), and Miyamoto Saburō (宮本三郎).

The cover includes the calligraphy of Tōjō Hideki (東條英機), Japan's Prime Minister at the time. After being convicted as a war criminal at the Tokyo Trial (International Military Tribunal for the Far East) following the war, he was executed in 1948. He is among 14 high-level officers convicted as Class A War Criminals who are commemorated at the Yasukuni Shrine.
Sticking It to Uncle Sam
The album goes out of its way to demonstrate success against the U.S., applauding genuinely significant gains such as the capture of Bataan and Corregidor near Manila, as well as fairly trivial events. Two illustrations, one of which is the second image seen above, refer to the Japanese campaign in the Aleutian Islands that began in June 1942.

Another, the third image seen above, aggrandizes an attack by the Japanese submarine I-25 on Fort Stevens, a Civil War-era fort at the Oregon side of the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort's garrison maintained a blackout and did not return fire with their outdated guns, making it impossible for the Japanese submarine to precisely locate them. After firing off 17 rounds, which landed harmlessly around the fort, the I-25 came under attack from a U.S. bomber and escaped the area underwater.

Though both the Aleutian Campaign and the shelling of Fort Stevens were of no strategic value, they did have a psychological effect on the U.S. population, setting off unfounded panic over a potential Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The latter incident was the only attack on a U.S. military base in the contiguous U.S. (Lower 48) during the entire war.
Yasukuni Souvenir
The album was published to coincide with the 1942 Autumn Festival (秋季大祭) held at the Yasukuni Shrine. The title suggests it was distributed on site at the shrine, while a note on the back cover indicates that it was 'not for sale' (非賣品). Despite being so closely associated with a shrine to the war dead, there is a lack of any imagery of deaths of Japanese soldiers, sailors, or pilots. Instead, the only reference to death is an oblique one, through Tōjō's cover painting of sakura (cherry blossoms). The avoidance of imagery of death stood in contrast to the outright glorification of death and martyrdom at the time, a phenomenon with deep cultural roots that had become intense and widespread in the Showa era, constantly reinforced through the education system, media, and within the military.
Army-Navy Relations
The collaboration of the IJN and IJA on the publication of this album is notable since the two institutions were notorious rivals. Though both branches were shot through with militant ultranationalists, they disagreed on strategy, formed rival political factions, kept each other in the dark about their plans, and even schemed to undermine one another. This led to redundancies and confusion in Japan's armed forces which it could hardly afford.

This present work aims to placate both institutions, devoting ample space to the actions of the IJA and IJN, though the result is a somewhat disjointed work. Battles in China and troops guarding a frozen (in more than one sense) frontline against the Soviet Union in Manchuria appear alongside naval operations in Southeast Asia. In terms of personnel and resources, the war in China was a much larger undertaking, but it was also a grinding stalemate by 1942, whereas the situation in the Pacific and Southeast Asia was much more dynamic and, temporarily, successful for the Japanese.
Wider Context
When this work was published, the war appeared to be going swimmingly for Japan. One European colony after another fell to Japanese forces in early 1942, as did the American protectorate of the Philippines. At sea, Japan's highly effective aircraft carriers and submarines took a heavy toll on Allied ships. The U.S. had been dealt a black eye and had been mostly limited to symbolic counter-attacks, such as the Doolittle Raid. Japan's putative ally Germany had failed to capture Moscow, but still directly or indirectly controlled most of Europe and had the Soviets on the back foot.

But the seeds of Japan's catastrophic defeat had already been sown. The naval Battles of Coral Sea and Midway were far less of a triumph than is presented here. The months-long battle for Guadalcanal was already underway; Japan would eventually lose thousands of troops in the ultimately futile defense of the island. Although Japan occupied large portions of China, the entrance of the U.S. and other Western countries into the war gave Chiang Kai-Shek badly needed supplies and international support. Japanese offensives could temporarily disrupt these supply lines, but new ones could be quickly established further into the vast Chinese interior (one painting depicts a Japanese operation on the Sino-Burmese border in Yunnan, meant to cut off one of Chiang's main supply routes). Moreover, the Allies had cracked Japanese communications, allowing for some highly effective attacks like the extremely lopsided Battle of the Bismark Sea.

With their societies fully mobilized, backed most importantly by U.S. industrial might, the Allies put Japan on the defensive in the Pacific by early 1943. (Germany similarly lost the initiative after the Battle of Stalingrad).
Publication History and Census
This album was printed on October 8, 1942 (Showa 17) and published on October 13. It was jointly produced by the IJA and IJN, but is noted as being made (製) by the Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai (陸軍美術協會). An album with this title or a very similar title was published by the Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai each year between 1939 and 1944 (the military stopped publishing the names of war dead in 1944), all of which are quite scarce in institutional collections both within and outside of Japan. The present work is only noted among the holdings of the University of Arizona, Gettysburg College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Showa Memorial Museum (昭和館).


Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai (陸軍美術協會, Army Art Association; 1939 - 1945) was a unit within the Japanese Imperial Army tasked with producing artistic works glorifying Japan's war effort and the bravery of its soldiers. Painters of the Rikugun Bijutsu Kyōkai usually travelled with the troops to the front lines and made on-the-spot sketches of battles, similar to combat photographers of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. More by this mapmaker...


Good. 7.25 in x 10.125 in. Unpaginated. 27pp. 49 color lithographs. Pages stapled together and to only one side of cover as issued. Light creasing. Slight loss to spine.


OCLC 1041915961. National Showa Memorial Museum Call No. 210.7/Y64/1942-2.