The Confusion Era:
Art and Culture of Japan During the Allied Occupation, 1945-1952


Don't Sell Salt Illegally: Posters in Occupied Japan

In the eerie, quiet weeks following war's end in August 1945, Japan's poster designers and printers showed surprising resilience. Emergency and survival notices had to be printed and distributed, as did food and health announcements, all in the face of shortages so severe that even locating sheets of paper large enough for posters required scouting.

Theaters recovered quickly, and movie production hardly paused--ten feature films were released between October and December 1945--so entertainment posters were also needed. Many editions were small, however, and the paper was of such poor quality that often only ink used in the lithographic process held it together. Conversely, some posters were printed on paper thicker than usual, and so are today well preserved.

By the beginning of 1946 the domestic press, rebuilt with the aid of Occupation authorities, was supplying newsstands with a wide variety of pulp magazines, sewing monthlies, children's and young people's periodicals, photo news magazines, and even design and art journals. It seems the country needed color in that bleak time of disease, hunger, and black marketeering. Making the most of the color and economies of the poster as a means of mass communication was a predictable development.

By the end of the Occupation period the infusion of capital from the United States in the form of procurement contracts for troops now engaged in the Korean War was having a profound effect on Japan's economic recovery. As consumer goods and services became increasingly available, advertising boomed and poster design, in particular, flourished. Entertainment, tourism, and politics also increased opportunities for older designers who had survived the war as well as young designers who were graduating from design schools just in time to experience this flush of postwar expansion.

Go to the Poster Gallery

courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution