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Gas Mask Nation

Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan

A fascinating look at the anxious pleasures of Japanese visual culture during World War II.
Airplanes, gas masks, and bombs were common images in wartime Japan. Yet amid these emblems of anxiety, tasty caramels were offered to children with paper gas masks as promotional giveaways, and magazines featured everything from attractive models in the latest civil defense fashion to futuristic weapons.
Gas Mask Nation
explores the multilayered construction of an anxious yet perversely pleasurable visual culture of Japanese civil air defense—or bōkū—through a diverse range of artworks, photographs, films and newsreels, magazine illustrations, postcards, cartoons, advertising, fashion, everyday goods, government posters, and state propaganda. Gennifer Weisenfeld reveals the immersive aspects of this culture, in which Japan’s imperial subjects were mobilized to regularly perform highly orchestrated civil air defense drills throughout the country.
The war years in Japan are often portrayed as a landscape of privation and suppression under the censorship of the war machine. But alongside the horrors, pleasure, desire, wonder, creativity, and humor were all still abundantly present in a period before air raids went from being a fearful specter to a deadly reality.

408 pages | 83 color plates, 102 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2023

Art: Middle Eastern, African, and Asian Art

Asian Studies: East Asia

History: Asian History


“Weisenfeld brilliantly explores the overlooked creativity, humor, pleasure, desire, and play in Japan’s wartime culture. Her astute and original work opens up new ways of thinking about how we can productively revisit what we think we know about Japan’s wartime culture, expanding our understanding beyond reductionist views of the familiar tropes of sacrifice and aggression, toward a view that takes a sophisticated and nuanced position on the social mobilization of Japanese citizens.”

David Odo, Director of Academic and Public Programs, Division Head and Research Curator, Harvard Art Museums

“This is a marvelous, smartly-written, and utterly fascinating study about the global culture of air defense in Japan. Full of beautiful, well-chosen images and original, razor-sharp insights, Gas Mask Nation makes a powerful and important contribution to our understanding of how Japanese society transitioned to a total war footing in the 1930s and early 1940s through the prism of air defense. Weisenfeld demonstrates that Japanese fears, anticipation, and even enchantment of aerial bombardment transformed ideas about gender, consumption, aesthetics, and desire. An essential read for anyone interested in the Japanese experience of World War II.”

Benjamin Uchiyama, University of Southern California

"Book titles often exaggerate the meaning of the volume they refer to. In the case of Weisenfeld’s investigation of Japan’s decades-long propaganda about aerial war, Visualizing Air Civil Defense is an understatement. Her enquiry unveils not only the massive communication campaigns which prepared the Japanese population to war, but also the multilayered strategies which unfolded at the time. Thousands of miles away, unexpected echoes of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 'Aerial architecture' abound in this masterful undertaking."

Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts/New York University

Table of Contents

1 Selling and Consuming Total War
2 Aviation and Japan’s Aerial Imaginary
3 Gas Mask Parade
4 Bombs Away!
5 Wondrous Weapons and Future War
6 Exhibiting Air Defense
Epilogue: Afterimages

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