Modernizing Propaganda:
Avant-Garde Postcards

One of the most stunning revelations of the picture postcards that the Japanese produced en masse is how extraordinarily “modern” and even avant-garde many of them were. Japan’s great tradition of exquisite graphic craftsmanship obviously is reflected here—but so also is the degree to which aesthetic sensibility had been modernized, “Westernized,“ and commercialized in ways unimagined only a decade or so earlier.

Explosions, hot-air military observation balloons, Russian and Japanese war flags, enemy gunboats, even sinking warships and landmines became transformed into emblems of beauty, modernity, and cutting-edge creativity. And all—in this case—for a popular audience and a practical purpose. The “blank” spaces on most graphics—often aesthetically attractive in themselves—were where messages were written. In some cases, the personal message was handwritten right over the image.
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“Side View of Temple Building with Red Sky Background”
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“Red Explosion Motif and Silver Lines”
(with hand-written message)
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“Balloon with Japanese Flag in the Sky”
(with hand-written message)
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“Russian Fleet and Swallows”
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“The Fall of the Variag”
(from an unidentified series)
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“Sinking Russian Naval Boat”
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“Rising Sun, Cherry Blossoms, and Eagle”
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“Naval Boat Kolz”
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“Danger Off Port Arthur”
Images from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection of
Japanese Postcards at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Asia Rising” by John W. Dower

On viewing images of a potentially disturbing
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© 2008 Visualizing Cultures
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