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Fanning the Flames: Examining Japanese Propaganda from the Meiji Era (1868–1912) to the Pacific War (1941–45)

Propaganda shaped Japan during a time of dramatic cultural and political change, as a once-isolated feudal country was transforming into an imperialist modern state. Visual propaganda such as photos, posters, nishiki-e woodblock prints, and “paper plays” known as kamishibai played a role in expressing and shaping public sentiment about these substantial social transformations. These documents can impart a valuable understanding of the past, present, and future of East Asia, where old wounds from battles won and lost still reverberate within Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and U.S. relations.

In this teacher’s guide, students engage in a critical analysis of primary sources from the website Fanning the Flames: Propaganda in Modern Japan, which features Japanese visual propaganda from the Meiji Era (1868–1912) to the Pacific War (1941–45). By analyzing these primary sources, students learn the importance of understanding and interpreting propaganda. The lessons are built around five core topics from the Fanning the Flames website: “The Rise of Empire,” “Defining Conflicts of Modern Japan,” “War & Media in Modern Japan,” “Nishiki-e Defined,” and “Kamishibai Defined.”

The teacher’s guide is available for free download below. It was created in collaboration with the Hoover Institution Library & Archives and made possible with a grant from the Japan Fund of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.