I’ve long dreamed of getting a story paper or comic from one of our enemies during (or, in the case of WW1, the years immediately before) the world wars, and in 2014 I finally got an issue of Kodan Kurabu from 1942! … but, aside from some funny cartoons, it’s not that interesting (I’ll still “do” it on Things Japanese one day). Then, in 2015, (from the same shop, even) I got a Boys’ Own story paper from 1943. This one is full of derring-do, talk of how the allies will be smashed by the might of Japan, etc… yet is tempered with air-raid advice, which indicates the situation on the “unreachable” Japanese home islands wasn’t as in keeping with the government propaganda as they would have liked.
Much is written in English about American and British comics during the war (most of it, in recent years, sneering contempt for “propaganda”, or mock-shock at the depiction of children in battles), but virtually nothing is said about the other side, so let’s say it! (Actually, there are a few English-language articles about Shonen Kurabu. But they’re all full of critical theory).
Unfortunately, even my modern Japanese is hardly up to scratch, so I can’t say very much. The written language underwent a number of rationalisations and simplifications in 1946, getting rid of a number of irregularities, such as words that are said with U (う) at the end being written with Fu (ふ), and also the “long Ku” (く), which actually means “repeat the previous two letters”. Even my old Japanese teacher managed to slip up on that, pronouncing it “Kuuuu” in front of a bunch of Japanese historians. This probably also explains my bizarre / incomplete translations on previous occasions. I knew some kanji had been removed from circulation, but not about words being “spelled” differently!
Anyway, this particular story paper is the issue of Shonen Kurabu (Boys’ Club) from December 1943. You might think that “Kurabu” being used for “Club” indicates a loan word, taken from English, which would be written with the katakana クラブ. But actually it’s written with the kanji 倶楽部, which also means “Club” in Chinese. The fact they are pronounced Ku Ra Bu in Japanese appears to be nothing more than an incredible coincidence! That didn’t stop them from going over to katakana after the war, anyway.
This one’s from 1951. Note the writing now goes in the other direction.
But, to drag ourselves back to the issue in hand, it opens with the usual ads and contents page, many of the adverts have a greater or lesser war theme…
We also get this page, which appears to be an imperial edict, right from the pen of Emperor Showa himself! Old British story papers used to get celebrities like Lord Baden-Powell (who may be familiar as the founder of the Scouts) to write to them, but I’m not sure one ever secured the reigning monarch! Anyway, it’s written in “court Japanese”, which is heavy on kanji, broken up by small katakana. There’s no hiragana at all! You can see a rather more famous example of court Japanese on this Wikipedia page.
The contents page is not the “usual” fold-out thing, due to paper shortages. It does contain some happy islanders, greeting their liberators, though. It also repeats the slogan from the cover, which is something along the lines of “Victory in the great East Asian war number” – perhaps indicating that this was an especially war-themed issue, even for the time?
Following that, the coloured plate that many Japanese magazines of the period seem to have (see my look at King from 1939). This one shows patriotic school children bowing to their teacher. The title is “Reliable / Level-headed Pupils”. Perhaps they are being rewarded for the best attendance record, or highest score in thier exams?
After a page on how some ancient Chinese “bone script” characters evolved into modern Kanji, there’s some more wash plates. This time thrilling accounts of derring-do at the front. Here some soldiers bravely charge an enemy tank. The title appears to refer to “meat bullets” who “sacrificed themselves”. Was it a suicide bombing (one guy’s got some big cylinders on his back), or just a last-ditch charge to avoid the shame of surrender?
Another plate shows an artilleryman, who has somehow ended up in the sea, with his gun on a raft, tellling sailors to rescue the gun first. That really is straight out of Commando!
Well, War Picture Library, actually…
The main body of the paper is, of course, the stories! They cover the land, sea and air campaigns (with some very faint and ghostly illustrations). There’s also the usual samurai tales, and a story that looks-like-comedy-from-the-illustrations-anyway. The first of the stories has an odd character in it, but the title is something to do with the water of a river (though it’s not “the river water flows”, or anything like that). It’s subtitled as an old legend of Japan.
The first adventure story is called Marai no Tora, or “The Malay Tiger”. I would have thought “Malay” would have been Marei (マレイ), not Marai, but there ya go. Anyway, it seems to be about a spy in Malaya, witnessing the cruelty of the British, and helping to lay the groundwork for the Japanese invasion. Just look at this picture of an old man about to be run down by grinning Tommies. The art style actually reminds me of Commando. Maybe they ought to do this same story from “the other end” XD.
There’s another very short story, or article, which I couldn’t initiallly understand the purpose of (it’s only over one spread). Until I realised it was called “The 8th of December”. In Japan, the date of Pearl Harbour!
Airmen are represented by this story, called Homeward Through the Jungle of Death. As the name implies, it doesn’t involve much flying – instead, it’s about a shot-down pilot on a trek through the jungle, meeting giant bats, alligators and a hulking native with an axe!
On the subject of the navy, the story Kuri Sailor’s War Account (“Kuri” meaning Chestnut, but I assume it’s the name of the ship, in this instance) is about sailors – seemingly either ratings, or young, junior, officers – as was common in old British navy stories, too. Anyway the illustrations are very faint and murky, but they show a torpedo tube being fired at a distant ship, and, in this one, a line being tied onto a burning carrier, probably so it can be towed to safety. It also starts with a section labelled “previous number up until”, aka “the story so far”, indicating a serial!
The next story is Appare Katsu Tachira-kun, or “The Praiseworthy Boy, Katsu Tachira”. It’s billed as a true war story and seems, from the illustrations, to be about some boys who kept a lookout for spies / enemy soldiers, allowing a boatload of them to be machine-gunned before they reached the beach. This sounds like the sort of cautionary tale that was also rife in British comics of the time, even Tiger Tim’s Weekly! (Though in that, of course, the spies just ended up arrested).
Except, there’s actually photos of Katsu Tachira and his friend, as well as the machine gunnners! There’s also a picture of some sort of list they kept, counting the numbers of men and women “seen” (it says “investigated”) in the north of… something.
Those letters, written over and over, mean “correct”, but they’re also the Japanese version of tally marks, as they take 5 strokes to write.
The first of the “historicals” appears to be called “Become the Camphor Tree of Justice”. I guess I’m missing some samurai metaphor. Anyway it has sword fights and archery. This one’s also a serial, it has a “story so far” section, and the first chaper appears to be numbered 14 (though, oddly for the time, written as “1 4” and not “10 4”).
There’s another historical tale called Book of the Spirit Times. Though “spirit” in this case is more “the essence of” something, rather than ghosts. Maybe it’s Book of Ages? Anyway, it has an illustration of some very angular-looking samurai…
There’s one main comic strip, 30 panels long (they’re all numbered). I can’t make head nor tail of the main title. It’s something about “flying big son XX’s look study”. It’s about a kid who goes to visit a training camp for pilots, called “Bear Valley Military Flying School”, with some incredibly primitive-looking equipment. I doubt “the west” was much better, though – no computerised simulators in those days!
There’s some sort of contraption with a bicyle-powered cockpit, and a model plane on the front (probably a general primer for how an aircraft handles). There’s also a fake fuselage with a box over it, perhaps for training pilots to fly by instruments.
Later there’s a cockpit on a zipwire (landing training?), and a big spinning wheel with a seat on it (a fitness test, for flying upside down?). The boy has been taken to the camp by his high-ranking dad. On the train back he falls asleep, then suddenly wakes up, saluting, and shouting that he wants to be the first pilot to bomb “Washinton”.
“Washinton” doesn’t do too well out of the other comic strip, either. It opens with a formation of American bombers approaching Japan (at this stage, only Kyushu was in range, though the Doolittle raid, an effective “kamikaze” mission, had made token hits on other cities in 1941). Then some sort of intercontinental ballistic missiles get launched, with magnets on the end, drag the bombers all the way back to Washington DC (surely all those big, square buildings are the stereotyped apperance of New York?), and blow the city to bits. You wonder what the Germans would have thought about this strip “giving away their secrets”! (The only time Jane was censored was when there was a storyline about a secret plane called a “Meteor”, only weeks before the real thing went into service).
Another “comic”, of sorts, is this page of “Japanese-style songs”. And two other letters I can’t make out at all! Anyway, they seem to be short poems, actually, not songs. Or maybe they’re all verses of one song. Anyway, they show kids doing things like obeying thier teacher, taking food and water to women who are working as air-raid wardens / fire watchers and, erm, stealing apples. There’s probably meant to be a point of contrast, somewhere!
There’s a later section called “Poems for People in Small Countries”, which features a Burmese teacher (and, on the next page, Japanese soldiers coming away from a shinto shrine, cheered by schoolboys). The text doesn’t look much like poems, though.
As for factual content, though the horrors of sustained firebombing were yet to come, Kyushu was experiencing sporadic air attacks, so there’s an article about air-raid precautions. Readers are advised to sleep near their bundled-up possessions, ready to head for the shelters. There’s also diagrams of American bombs, and advice to wear padded clothes and an “air raid hood”. I’ve seen one of those hoods in the Osaka Peace Museum, it’s not much more than a padded balaclava; I wouldn’t trust it to protect me against a thrown stone, let alone bomb fragments!
There’s another diagram showing the lethal range and height of shrapnel from a high explosive bomb. Note the nearby shelter – unlike Britain’s corrugated Anderson shelters, the usual Japanese bomb shelter was a short trench, with wooden planks over it. By the time of the major city bombings, the Americans had developed cluster incendiary bombs, especially designed to start the most intense fires possible in Japan’s wooden residential areas. The resulting firestorms sucked up oxygen from the lowest spaces first, suffocating families to death, even if they were untouched by the explosions.
Another article is about an assault course youngsters can build (or, perhaps, get their teachers to organise). It features bars to balance on, walls to climb, nets to crawl under, etc. All as a primer for future military training, when the readers are old enough. There’s also another article about general fitness, with push-ups, running, etc. One picture shows how you should motivate yourself by imagining you’ll one day be a soldier, charging into battle!
There’s also an article called Minna Sendo Da, which is roughly “It’s Everybody’s War!”. An illustration shows Japanese and American boys building model planes, while the men fight in the skies above. Basically it’s like those poems in the contemporay Beano, telling children to “do their bit”, even if it’s just saving waste paper. Fortunately, the Kyoto kid who bought this one hung on to it, instead!
Still, it wasn’t all worry and self-sacrifice. The article Sea Eagles Hitting the Enemy’s Fleet is about successes the Japanese naval air arm have had against allied ships. Pearl Harbour is well known, they also sank HMS Prince of Wales, which had survived the infamous encounter with Bismarck, where the Ark Royal was blown to pieces by a shot in the magazine. The artist doesn’t seem to have had many reference pictures, though. An American carrier is drawn in the “top heavy” Japanese style, and a battleship, seen later, looks a bit Yamato-ey too. No internet image searches in those days!
This is accompanied by Filming The War at Sea, which is apparently (from the pictures, anyway) an account of a Japanese ship being attacked by American planes, but it survives, and the crew rescue one of the pilots.
More light-hearted is an article called Koko ni Konna Kufuu, or “How to Make These Useful Devices”, including a frame apparently designed to stop roosters, but not hens, getting seeds, and a thing for clipping an umbrella to a belt, leaving your hands free.
This section advertises the next issue, as a “New Year Number”. As well as the continuing adventures of The Malay Tiger and the good ship Chestnut, there’s an article / interview with a submarine captain who sank a ship, and got a picture of it through the periscope.
I beleive the Japanese government banned all “entertainment publications” at some point in 1944, as the paper shortage became desperate (and, no doubt, to free up the lumberjacks, paper factory workers, and writers, for army service). But Shonen Kurabu was among several magazines re-started after the war. The picture I showed earlier is from 1951, but, if we look at the publishing details (which, at the time, always gave the date of first publication), we can see they both have the same “first published” date:
Continuity was clearly intended, though the later Shonen Kurabu is quite a different publication (more comics!). I’ll also give it a review one day.
(And there was a spare image left over… erm…)