Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies, Duke University,
“Gas Mask Parade: Japan’s Anxious Modernism”
An army of schoolgirls marching through Tokyo, their faces an anonymous sea of gas masks. Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the anxious modernism of 1930s Japan, photographer Horino Masao’s Gas Mask Parade reveals the vivid yet prosaic inculcation of fear in Japanese daily life through the increasingly pervasive visual culture of civil defense. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in late 1931—the beginning of its Fifteen Year War—marks the onset of a period of intense social mobilization and militarization on the homefront as the warfront expanded on the continent and throughout the Pacific. Surveillance, defensive barriers, physical protection and prophylaxis became standard visual tropes of communal preparedness. Analyzing a diverse range of media from hortatory government posters to commercial design, this paper will explore the interocular construction of an anxious visual culture of civil defense evident in Japanese photography, advertising, and urban space.