Japan's Proper Place

An Examination of American Depictions of Japan

by Paxton Ouellette

Japan currently is one of the United States’ closest allies, despite having been considered one of America’s fiercest military enemies and then a major economic rival. This thesis will focus on the changing depiction of the Japanese in American mass media from the mid-1800s through the 1990s. When the Japanese remain in their proper subordinate role, depictions show them in a positive light. However, when Japan attempts to assert its dominance, depictions of the Japanese shift, showing Japan as a threat. The argument will be made by analyzing newspapers, political cartoons, and other forms of mass media such as short films. As Japan began to shift away from its proper place, as defined by the United States, depictions of the Japanese changed in both the 1930s and 1980s. Rather than being shown as kind, intriguing, and childlike, as was the case during times of friendship, the Japanese were shown as threatening and dangerous but always inferior–King Kong is just an ape, not a human. Yet, as stated by historian John Dower, the flexible and malleable portrayal of the Japanese, which has been a consistent factor throughout the history of Japanese-United States relations, allowed the Japanese to once again be seen as a friendly ally who required American help when the Japanese were understood to no longer be a threat.

Background image courtesy of http://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay03.html.

Cover image courtesy of https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/what-happened-to-emperor-hirohito.


History of American Depictions and Descriptions of Japan

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  • publisher
    Union College - Schaffer Library
  • publisher place
    Schenectady, N.Y.