Displaying the Worldview of Japanese Fascism

The Tokyo Thought War Exhibition of 1938

Author: Max Ward


This essay explores an imperial state exhibition held in Tokyo in 1938 and explains how the exhibition displayed a fascist worldview of historical crisis and national regeneration that was taking shape in Japan in the late 1930s. The exhibition – entitled the Thought War Exhibition (Shisōsen tenrankai) – was curated by the Japanese state's newly formed Cabinet Information Division (Naikaku jōhōbu) and held in Takashimaya Department Store in downtown Tokyo. Comprised of materials related to the Communist International, the Spanish Civil War, the national liberation struggle in China, and the communist and anticolonial movements inside the Japanese Empire, the Exhibition portrayed Japan's invasion of the Chinese mainland in 1937 as an extension of a global thought war against communism, requiring all imperial subjects to purify themselves of foreign influences and mobilize for national thought defense. While on the surface this Exhibition was an example of prewar state propaganda, it also expressed a fascist worldview that was coalescing in the Japanese state in the late 1930s. This essay investigates how this fascist worldview was exhibited in a sequence of displays, including dioramas, panoramas, illuminated maps, and display cases, and how these displays revealed constitutive contradictions that underwrote the formation of fascism in Japan.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan
Topics: World War II

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September 2015
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano