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1930s Japan: A Time of Turmoil and Transformation

The 1930s was a period of considerable turmoil and dramatic change in Japan. This decade has been characterized as the country’s “dark valley,” since the government devolved from a party-led representative system to military-led autocracy and headed towards the “Fifteen Year War,” which began with escalating conflicts in Manchuria and China and ended in the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This transition did not happen overnight. The 1930s witnessed a gradual increase in Japan’s industrial and military world power. The country’s colonial ambitions also swelled as it gained confidence as the self-appointed “leader of Asia.” Japan staged an intervention in Manchuria and periodic skirmishes with the Chinese army in 1931, which escalated to a full-scale undeclared war in 1937. Though elected leaders previously had formed the cabinets and assumed government leadership, their power waned in the 1930s—though they continued to exert considerable influence until the final years of the decade.

The 1930s was also a period of relative economic prosperity. Recovery from the worldwide economic depression brought increased employment, domestic consumption, and real income. Japan had also become completely “modern” through an industrial transformation that included the development of mass media—newspapers, magazines, radio, photography and film—and the introduction of advanced transportation systems such as trains, ships, and planes. These developments enabled the widespread movement of both information and people across the entire nation. By this time, Tokyo was a modern urban metropolis with thriving entertainment venues, including the Meguro Gajoen. The city confidently looked forward to welcoming the world as the host of the 1940 Olympic Games. It wasn’t until the final years of the decade that regulations stymied consumerism and the country headed towards war.

David Sneider

Noguchi Kiyoshi, "Silent Prayer," Single Panel Painting, 68 x 58 in, Private Collection of Naomi Pollock and David Sneider, USA.

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