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Radio broadcasting and the politics of mass culture in transwar Japan


My dissertation examines the role of radio broadcasting in constituting mass culture as an integral part of politics in Japan during the period from the mid-1920s to the 1950s, that is, during both the Asia-Pacific War and the U.S. occupation. Transwar Japanese radio broadcasting has been discussed primarily in narrow terms of state control and indoctrination during the Asia-Pacific War, and the liberation of the masses or lack of such in the postwar "democratization" initiated by the U.S. occupation. My study demonstrates that Japan's transwar radio culture was far more lively and indicative of much more complex power relations. Contrary to common belief, wartime discourses and practices of Japanese radio never uniformly imagined radio listeners as passive audiences. Rather, political and social elites as well as government officials and broadcasters made systematic efforts to engage mass audiences as conscious listeners and radio participants who would choose to put what they heard into practice out of their own will. These efforts paralleled the empire's mobilization of national and colonial subjects for conducting the war. When the U.S. occupation arrived, habits of radio listening and audience participation from the former era actually facilitated, rather than impeded, the occupation's mission to transform the Japanese into active and self-responsible citizens for rebuilding the nation state in the new global order. My dissertation demonstrates that while radio was indeed a powerful and effective medium, politicizing the masses into "responsible" members of society through radio was neither a unilateral process nor a smooth operation. I argue that if radio served as a unique intermediary in transwar politics, it did so because of its ability to channel major political themes, norms, and representations into the realms of mass culture and the rhythms of the everyday. My research documents how seemingly trivial popular genres of broadcasting such as the amateur singing contest, the quiz show, and the serial drama played a central role, although not without unexpected twists, in awakening the masses into "responsible" and "useful" members of society in work and play

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