Coverage of Japan and Japanese Americans
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In U.S. popular magazines of 1940-41, the Japanese routinely appeared as servants to
the wealthy. Notice in the photo of the Japanese housemaid that her white employer
apparently requires her to wear a kimono while serving beverages.
In a similar vein, American magazines often portrayed the Japanese in Japan as
servants of Nazism, as in this extended cartoon. (The text in the original is difficult to
read, so I have reproduced it to the left of the cartoon.)
1 Japan is not so hotsy totsy / Since they aped that nutsy Nazi
2 Prince Konoye, as dictator / Sits upon a seething crater
3 Weird decrees appear in Nippon / As the fascist garb they slip on
4 Concubines can't have a phone / To announce they're all alone
5 One-sized girdles for each filly / Gee, the fat ones must look silly
6 Sweethearts now must marry younger / (Love's the antidote for hunger!)
7 Prince, you'll find it's not a snap / To feed the Jap this brand of pap.
8 And as stomachs keep on shrinking ... / Rising Sun, you'll start in sinking!
This photo from Life magazine of geishas reviling Churchill is another example.
The caption explained that "Churchill's initials also stand for ‘toilet' in Asia and
Europe." Although Western style flush toilets, or water closets (WC), did appear in
Japan in the early 20th century, they did not become common until after World War II.
It's hard to imagine most Japanese would have understood this photo, given its
English letters and the rarity of water closets. Which leaves the question: for what
purpose was the photo staged?
Coverage of Japan that was less focused on politics and more on Japanese culture
ranged from ridicule to revulsion.
A favorite theme of cartoonists in 1940-41 was the Japanese national who posed as a
tourist in order to spy on the U.S. Of course, since the would-be spies below appeared
in cartoons, their efforts were risible. Note the buck teeth in the closeup on the far
right. This was standard practice for caricatures of Japanese.
See TR/AP, pp. 46 - 49.
Despite the foolishness, Liberty magazine warned against Japanese military prowess.
In the first opinion piece by Liberty's publisher, Bernarr Macfadden noted, "One of the
most irritating phases of the Japanese threat to this country is the high and mighty
attitude of some of our officials when dealing with Japanese government questions....
Some of our preceding officials have assumed they can give mandatory orders to
these people.... Some day it may bring us to a bloody fight."
These were countered with gentle tourism ads (see 2014 Revised TR/AP, p. 11) as well
as by assurances in the mainstream press of Japanese eating "humble pie."
The truth was, Americans didn't know what to think of the Japanese. This cartoon
captures the ambiguity of their situation:
What has Colonel Morgan said? That Japan is peaceful? Or that we can easily defeat
them? What is the joke exactly? That the women are gullible? The colonel? The fact
that such a meeting needs to be held in the first place? Why publish a cartoon about
overcoming a fear of Japan but not a fear of Nazi Germany?
Fear of Japan translated directly into fear of Japanese Americans. I included in
Revised TR/AP (Figures 1.7 and 1.8, p. 13) two typical articles about Japanese in
California. Here are three others:
The author of the article on the left, Earnest O. Hauser, is the same writer who titled
his article in the Saturday Evening Post, "Are Japanese People?" (See Revised TR/AP,
Figure 1.6.) Here he warned against "alarmist patriots" who expected Japanese
Americans to support Japan and wage war on its behalf against the U.S. As the
internment camps proved, the alarmist sentiment won out.
Tokyo Rose /
A Dual Biography