August 04, 2016

The rebirth of Japan's mass media

Mitsuki Takahata (bottom right) plays
Shizuko Ohashi in the NHK series.
As I noted last week, Homer Sarasohn was the first quality control guru to visit Japan, invited by General Douglas MacArthur to rebuild Japan's electronics industry. Why was that a priority for the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers?

Because MacArthur believed in the power of the mass media to spread the good word of freedom and democracy. His good word. It wasn't simply a political pose. MacArthur was Ronald Reagan with ten times the ego and a papal sense of infallibility.

In other words, the perfect personality for a Japanese shogun (with access to a radio studio).

In fact, the first few years of the Occupation saw a spate of surprisingly liberal reforms (that drove Shigeru Yoshida up a wall). Leftists, labor organizers, and even communists were let out of jail and the press was unleashed.

In Embracing Defeat, John Dower documents how enthusiastically the Japanese embraced these freedoms. Soon SCAP was censoring as many articles and broadcasts as it was approving. A free press, you see, wasn't free to criticize SCAP.

But the fire had been lit. It's telling that the moral backlash that "brought about the collapse of the comic book industry in the 1950s" was shrugged off almost as soon as it arrived in Japan (though, to be sure, it never entirely went away).

The NHK Asadora, Toto Nee-chan, is a fictionalized biography of Shizuko Ohashi (1920–2013), who in 1948 co-founded 「暮しの手帖」 ("Notebook for Living"), a home improvement magazine for women still in print.

This retrospective at the magazine's website is in Japanese, but the illustrations largely speak for themselves.

This was an era when movie makers as well were yanking themselves up by their bootstraps. Akira Kurosawa turned the devastated landscape of Tokyo into a movie set in his second post-war film, One Wonderful Sunday, released in 1947.

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