Censorship in the Empire of Japan

Last updated
Government censors at work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in 1938 Censorship TMPD.png
Government censors at work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in 1938

Censorship (検閲, Ken'etsu) in the Empire of Japan was a continuation of a long tradition beginning in the feudal period of Japan. Government censorship of the press existed in Japan during the Edo period, as the Tokugawa bakufu was in many ways a police state, which sought to control the spread of information, including Christianity, the influx of Western ideas, pornography and any political writings critical of the shōgun and government.


Meiji Period (1868–1912)

With the Meiji Restoration, the focus of state censorship of information shifted to protection of the Emperor and the fledgling Meiji government. Ideals of liberal democracy were considered dangerously subversive, and were targeted with the Publication Ordinance of 1869 (出版条例, Shuppan Jōrei), which banned certain subjects (including pornography), and subjected publications to pre-publication review and approvals. Initially intended to serve as a copyright law, it was quickly adopted as a method of controlling public anti-government criticism.

With the establishment of the cabinet system of government, the Home Ministry was assigned this task, and issued a variety of regulations aimed specifically at newspapers. The growth of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement caused a reaction by conservative elements within the government to pass strict libel laws in 1875, and also a draconian Press Ordinance of 1875 (新聞紙条例, Shimbunshi Jōrei) that was so severe that it was labeled the “newspaper abolition law” as it empowered the Home Minister to ban or shut down offending newspapers which the government deemed offensive to public order or state security. The ordinance was further strengthened in revisions of 1887, which extended penalties to authors as well as publishers, and also restricted the import of foreign language newspapers with objectionable material.

During the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, the Army Ministry also imposed separate censorship restrictions in time of war.

The censorship laws were revised again in the Publication Law of 1893 (出版法, Shuppan Hō), which remained virtually unchanged until 1949. Newspaper regulations followed suit in the Press Law of 1909 (新聞紙条例, Shimbunshi Jorei), which followed the regulations of the 1893 Publication Law and detailed punishments for offenses.

Taishō period (1912–1926)

Although the Taishō period is stereotyped as one of liberal politics, it was also a period of great social upheaval, and the government became increasingly heavy-handed in its attempts to control the spread of new political philosophies deemed dangerous to the government: especially socialism, communism, and anarchism. After the end of World War I, the Peace Preservation Law of 1925 increased police powers to prosecute promoters of socialism and of the Korean independence movement. Censorship restrictions were also expanded to cover religious groups. In 1928, the death penalty was added for certain violations, and the Special Higher Police Force (Tokkō) was created to deal with ideological offenses (i.e. thought crimes) on a national basis.

Early Shōwa Period (1926–1945)

In 1924, the Publications Monitoring Department of the Home Ministry was created with separate sections for censorship, investigation and general affairs. With the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Home Ministry, Army Ministry, Navy Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs all held regular meetings with publishers to provide advice on how to follow the ever-stringent regulations. Penalties for violations increased in severity, and voice recordings (including radio broadcasts) also came under official purview.

In 1936, an Information and Propaganda Committee was created within the Home Ministry, which issued all official press statements, and which worked together with the Publications Monitoring Department on censorship issues. The activities of this committee, a consortium of military, politicians and professionals upgraded to a "division" (Naikaku jōhōbu) in September 1937, were proscriptive as well as prescriptive. Besides applying censorship to all medias of the Shōwa regime and issuing detailed guidelines to publishers, it made suggestions that were all but commands. [1] From 1938, print media "would come to realize that their survival depended upon taking cues from the Cabinet Information Bureau and its flagship publication, Shashin shūhō, designers of the 'look' of the soldier, and the 'look' of the war".[ attribution needed ] [2]

Article 12 of the censorship guideline for newspapers issued on September 1937 stated that any news article or photograph "unfavorable" to the Imperial Army was subject to a gag. Article 14 prohibited any "photographs of atrocities" but endorsed reports about the "cruelty of the Chinese" soldiers and civilians. [3]

Giving the example of the Nanjing massacre, Tokushi Kasahara of Tsuru University asserts, "Some deniers argue that Nanjing was much more peaceful than we generally think. They always show some photographs with Nanjing refugees selling some food in the streets or Chinese people smiling in the camps. They are forgetting about Japanese propaganda. The Imperial Army imposed strict censorship. Any photographs with dead bodies couldn't get through. So photographers had to remove all the bodies before taking pictures of streets and buildings in the city ... Even if the photos were not staged, the refugees had no choice but to fawn on the Japanese soldiers. Acting otherwise meant their deaths ..." [4]

One of the most famous examples of censorship is related to Mugi to heitai (Wheat and soldiers), Ashihei Hino's wartime bestseller. A paragraph in which the author described the beheading of three Chinese soldiers was cut from the final section of the book despite the author's dedication to the war effort. [5]

In 1940, the Information and Propaganda Department (情報部, Jōhōbu) was elevated to the Information Bureau (情報局, Jōhōkyoku), which consolidated the previously separate information departments from the Army, Navy and Foreign Ministry under the aegis of the Home Ministry. The new Jōhōkyoku had complete control over all news, advertising and public events. It was headed by a president (sōsai) responsible directly to the Prime minister with a staff of about 600 people including military officers and officials from the Home and Foreign ministries. [6] In February 1941 it distributed among editors a black list of writers whose articles they were advised not to print anymore. [7]

The officials spokesmen of the Naikaku Johōkyoku, such as the vice-president Hideo Okumura, Major-General Nakao Nahagi and Captain Hideo Hiraide, became themselves the most popular commentators. These men addressed press conferences, spoke on the radio and wrote in newspapers. [7]

The Naikaku Johōkyoku however dealt only with civilian matters. War bulletins were the domain of the Daihonei hōdōbu, the Press Department of the Imperial General Headquarters which was made up of the press sections of the Army and the Navy. The Daihonei hōdōbu deployed its own war correspondents and occasionally drafted civilian reporters for coverage. [8]

The 1941 revision of the National Mobilization Law (国家総動員法, Kokka Sōdōin Hō) eliminated freedom of the press completely. All mail was also subject to scrutiny. In February 1942, all newspapers were ordered to merge, or to cease publication. The Japan Publishers League (日本新聞連盟Nihon shinbun renmei), reorganized in the Japan Publishers Association (日本新聞会Nihon shinbunkai) agreed to cooperate with the government by conducting internal monitoring of its members by a self-screening of drafts, manuscripts and proofs before final submission to the official government censors. As the war situation deteriorated, the government took over the distribution of paper, releasing supplies only for matter related to official policy. By 1944, only 34 magazines were left in publication, and by 1945, only one newspaper was permitted per prefecture.

Occupation of Japan

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers abolished all forms of censorship and controls on freedom of speech, which was also integrated into Article 21 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. However, press censorship remained a reality in the post-war era, especially in matters of pornography, and in political matters deemed subversive by the American government during the occupation of Japan.

According to David M. Rosenfeld:

Not only did Occupation censorship forbid criticism of the United States or other Allied nations, but the mention of censorship itself was forbidden. This means, as Donald Keene observes, that for some producers of texts "the Occupation censorship was even more exasperating than Japanese military censorship had been because it insisted that all traces of censorship be concealed. This meant that articles had to be rewritten in full, rather than merely submitting XXs for the offending phrases."

Donald Keene, quoted in Dawn to the West [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Asahi Shimbun</i> Japanese newspaper

The Asahi Shimbun is one of the five national newspapers in Japan. Its circulation, which was 7.96 million for its morning edition and 3.1 million for its evening edition as of June 2010, was second behind that of Yomiuri Shimbun and subsequently is the second largest circulating newspaper in the world behind Yomiuri.

<i>Mainichi Shimbun</i> Japanese newspaper

The Mainichi Shimbun is one of the major newspapers in Japan, published by The Mainichi Newspapers Co.

Nakae Chōmin

Nakae Chōmin was the pen-name of a journalist, political theorist and statesman in Meiji-period Japan. His real name was Nakae Tokusuke. His major contribution was the popularization of the egalitarian doctrines of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Japan. As a result, Nakae is thought to have been a major force in the development of liberalism in early Japanese politics.

<i>Sports Hochi</i>

Sports Hochi, previously known as Hochi Shimbun, is a Japanese language daily sports newspaper. In 2002, it had a circulation of a million copies a day.

February 26 Incident

The February 26 Incident was an attempted coup d'état in the Empire of Japan on 26 February 1936. It was organized by a group of young Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) officers with the goal of purging the government and military leadership of their factional rivals and ideological opponents.

Peace Preservation Law

The Public Security Preservation Laws, commonly referred to as the Peace Preservation Laws, were a series of laws enacted from 1894 to 1925 during the Empire of Japan. Collectively, the laws were designed to suppress political dissent on the left.

Ministry of Information (United Kingdom) United Kingdom government ministry

The Ministry of Information (MOI), headed by the Minister of Information, was a United Kingdom government department created briefly at the end of the First World War and again during the Second World War. Located in Senate House at the University of London during the 1940s, it was the central government department responsible for publicity and propaganda.

Shortly prior to and during World War II, and coinciding with the Second Sino-Japanese War, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were resettled in the Japanese Empire. The onset of the European war by Nazi Germany involved the lethal mass persecutions and genocide of Jews, later known as the Holocaust, resulting in thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing east. Many ended up in Japanese-occupied China.

Home Ministry

The Home Ministry was a Cabinet-level ministry established under the Meiji Constitution that managed the internal affairs of Empire of Japan from 1873 to 1947. Its duties included local administration, police, public works and elections, and monitoring people. This Ministry changed its name to Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications after Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers restoration in 1945.


Tōhōkai was a Japanese fascist political party which advocated Nazism. The party was active in Japan during the 1930s and early 1940s. Its origins lay in the right-wing political organization Kokumin Domei which was formed by Adachi Kenzō in 1933 and In 1936, Nakano Seigō disagreed with Adachi of matters of policy and formed a separate group, which he called the 'Tōhōkai'.

Japanese newspapers, similar to their worldwide counterparts, run the gamut from general news-oriented papers to special interest newspapers devoted to economics, sports, literature, industry, and trade. Newspapers are circulated either nationally, by region, by each prefecture, or by each city. Some newspapers publish as often as two times a day while others publish weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly. The five leading national daily newspapers in Japan are the Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun and the Nikkei Shimbun. The first two are generally considered liberal/left leaning while the latter three are considered conservative/right leaning. The most popular national daily English-language newspaper in Japan is The Japan Times.

Censorship in Germany has taken many forms throughout the history of the region. Various regimes have restricted the press, cinema, literature, and other entertainment venues. In modern Germany, the Grundgesetz guarantees freedom of press, speech, and opinion. Censorship is mainly exerted in the form of restriction of access to certain media to older adolescents or adults only. Furthermore, the publication of works violating the rights of the individual or those considered to be capable of inciting popular hatred (Volksverhetzung) may be prohibited. Possession of such works, however, is generally not punishable. Germany has been consistently rated among the 20 most free countries on the Press Freedom Index.

The Rising Sun Flag symbolizes the sun as the Japanese national flag does. This design has been widely used in Japan for a long time. The design of the Rising Sun Flag is seen in numerous scenes in daily life of Japan, such as in fishermen's banners hoisted to signify large catch of fish, flags to celebrate childbirth, and in flags for seasonal festivities.

Censorship in Japan, although prohibited by the country's constitution, is effectively mandated through the Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan with regards to pornography.

John Reddie Black was a Scottish publisher, journalist, writer, photographer, and singer. Much of his career was spent in China and Japan where he published several newspapers including The Far East, a fortnightly newsmagazine illustrated with original photographs.

Nanjing Massacre denial is the denial that Imperial Japanese forces murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians in the city of Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War, a highly controversial episode in Sino-Japanese relations. Some historians accept the findings of the Tokyo tribunal with respect to the scope and nature of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army after the Battle of Nanking, others do not. In Japan, however, there has been a debate over the extent and nature of the massacre. Relations between Japan and China have been complicated as a result, as denial of the massacre is seen in China as part of an overall unwillingness on Japan's part to admit and apologize for its aggression, or a perceived insensitivity regarding the killings. Estimates of the death toll vary widely, ranging from 40,000 to 200,000. Some scholars, notably the revisionists in Japan, have contended that the actual death toll is far lower, or even that the event was entirely fabricated and never occurred at all. These revisionist accounts of the killings have become a staple of Japanese nationalist discourse.

<i>Heimin Shinbun</i>

Heimin Shinbun was a socialist and anti-war daily newspaper established in Japan in November 1903, as the newspaper of the Heimin-sha group. It was founded by Kōtoku Shūsui and Sakai Toshihiko, as a pacifist response to the approaching Russo-Japanese War. When the newspaper that Kōtoku and fellow socialist Sanshirō Ishikawa had worked for, Yorozu Chūhō, endorsed the war, they resigned in protest to form the group.

The administrative structure of the government of the Empire of Japan on the eve of the Second World War broadly consisted of the Cabinet, the civil service, local and prefectural governments, the governments-general of Chosen (Korea) and Formosa (Taiwan) and the colonial offices. It underwent several changes during the wartime years, and was entirely reorganized when the Empire of Japan was officially dissolved in 1947.

Political prisoners in Imperial Japan

Political prisoners in Imperial Japan were detained and prosecuted by the government of the Empire of Japan for dissent, attempting to change the national character of Japan, Communist activity, or association with a group whose stated aims included the aforementioned goals. Following the dissolution of the Empire of Japan after World War II, all remaining political prisoners were released by policies issued under the Allied occupation of Japan.

<i>Manila Shimbun</i>

The Manila Shimbun (まにら新聞), officially called The Daily Manila Shimbun, is a daily broadsheet newspaper in the Philippines written in the Japanese language. Established in May 1992, it is Southeast Asia's first modern-day daily Japanese-language newspaper. Although the newspaper is primarily in Japanese, it also has a section in English.


  1. David C. Earhart, Certain Victory : Images of World War II in the Japanese Media, M. E. Sharpe, 2007, pp.89, 108, 143
  2. David C. Earhart, Certain Victory : Images of World War II in the Japanese Media, M. E. Sharpe, 2007, p.99
  3. Shinichi Kusamori, Fukyoka Shashi Ron: Hūkoku no Shashi 2 (An Essay on Disapproved Photographs: Journalistic Photos on Japan 2), Mainichi Shinbun Hizū Fukyoka Shashin 2, Mainichi Shinbun 1999, pp.177–178
  4. The Nanking Atrocities, Psychological Warfare : I Chinese Propaganda, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-09. Retrieved 2009-05-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. David Rosenfeld, Unhappy Soldier : Hino Ashihei and Japanese World War II literature, p.49
  6. Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, 1999, p.94
  7. 1 2 Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, p.95
  8. Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, p.94
  9. Donald Keene, Dawn to the West, New York: Henry Holt, 1984), p. 967, quoted in David Rosenfeld Unhappy Soldier: Hino Ashihei and Japanese World War II Literature, p. 86.

Further reading