MIT Visualizing Cultures

Selling Shiseido – Lesson 02

Women Go to War
By Lynn Parisi

Around the world, as nations mobilized and fought a protracted world war in the 1930s and 1940s, women and children on the home front were called upon to contribute to the war effort in concrete ways. They were called upon to conserve resources and trim consumption. They contributed to economic production in formal and informal ways. The home fronts were also called upon to support the war efforts of their nations in more abstract ways—through the promotion of national values and patriotic campaigns. Magazines and advertising were essential mechanisms for promoting wartime values, attitudes, and practices for those on the home front—primarily women and children. These visual media literally illustrated how people should act, what they should do to promote the victory of their nation at war, and the values they should embody.

By the time Japan entered into war, Shiseido was well established in the women’s consumer market and was a voice for women in Japan. Women had been turning to Shiseido for many years for information on appearance, fashion, and lifestyles. In this way, Shiseido advertising and magazines were powerful influences on women before the war, and continued in this capacity during the war. In this activity, students will analyze wartime-period Shiseido magazine covers and advertising messages to identify the expectations for women in a Japan at war in the 1930s and 1940s. Students will then conduct individual or group research online or in the school library to compare the messages and expectations directed at women in wartime Japan with those in the United States. How did war expectations and standards for women compare across two countries at war? What messages, values, sacrifices were similar? How were they different?

Grade Level and Courses
High-school World and US history

Time Required
Two to three class periods

Materials and Preparation
Handout 02-A (online or printed for students in advance)
Access to the Internet, specifically:
Selling Shiseido I: Essay chapter four, “Luxury & Thrift in Wartime”
Selling Shiseido II: Visual Narrative, “Commercial Advertising & the War: Chain Store & Hanatsubaki, 19361941”

At the conclusion of this activity, students will be better able to:

1. Recognize the expectations and demands on women in Japan during World War II.

2. Consider similarities and differences in the roles and expectations of women during war across two countries.

3. Identify characteristics of life on the home front in two nations at war.

4. Analyze the role of commercial advertising and print media in promoting national campaigns and goals.

1. With students, define the term “front” in the context of a wartime campaign. Students should understand a front as the foremost battle-line in a wartime campaign, such as the Allies’ Pacific Front or European Front during World War II. Introduce the term “home front” and discuss its meaning in the context of a nation at war. What does a “home front” refer to? Who are the actors or fighters on a home front? What is their wartime duty—that is, how do they contribute to the war effort?

Explain that during wartime, the “battle waged on the home front” often refers to concrete efforts such as those to produce war materials or curb excess consumption and waste, and, with these, more abstract or ideological efforts to maintain morale and patriotism.

2. Explain that advertising and magazines were and are valuable tools for mobilizing national home fronts during wartime. These media are in a position to set standards and ideals of wartime home front activity—the practices and values that people at home should embrace to help their country’s war effort. Explain that students will examine some wartime-period magazine covers and advertising targeting women during World War II in Japan in order to identify expectations and ideals for women in a Japan at war.

3. Refer students to chapter four (“Luxury & Thrift in Wartime”) of the essay “Selling Shiseido: Cosmetics Advertising and Design in Early 20th-Century Japan,” by Gennifer Weisenfeld. Have students read this section of the essay and discuss it in class. Some questions to guide discussion include:

• Why would cosmetics have been a successful product through which to promote wartime attitudes and practices for women?

• In what ways did the wartime advertising of products change to focus more on practicality and health than beauty and luxury?

• How did covers of the Shiseido magazine promote patriotism? What symbols were featured in the cover photography of this magazine during the war?

4. Turn students’ attention to Selling Shiseido II: Visual Narrative, “Commercial Advertising & the War: Chain Store & Hanatsubaki, 19361941” Divide the class into two groups. Have one group analyze the magazine covers in the Visual Narrative that feature women or children on the home front during the war. Ask the other half of the class to analyze the covers featuring battlefront images presented to the readers at home.

Students may work alone or in pairs. They are to analyze each image in their assigned category, using the guide questions on Handout 02-A. Have groups share their work.

5. Now turn students’ attention to another home front during World War II—the United States. If appropriate, ask students to draw upon any previous study of U.S. history to talk about how women on the U.S. home front contributed to the war effort.

Next, students will analyze images of the U.S. home front and the war presented to American citizens during World War II. Have students conduct their own research in the school library or on the Internet to locate magazine covers from World War II. Alert students that they are not looking for propaganda generally, but magazine covers specifically. While there is no single source for this info, students can google the covers of Time Magazine, Life Magazine, and the Saturday Evening Post by typing in key words like this: the name of the magazine+covers+WWII. In addition, within the Website Womens History (, students can search “women in WWII” and view a variety of advertising posters.

6. Have students select three or four magazine covers using the same criteria they used for examining the Japanese magazine covers. Students who looked at Japanese images of the battlefront should find samples of U.S. magazine covers featuring battlefront images; students who looked at images of women and families on the Japanese home front should find samples of U.S. magazine covers or advertising featuring the U.S. home front.

Once students have collected their U.S. images, have them compare ways in which women on these two home fronts—who were enemies—were presented with parallel information and messages. In what ways were women and all those on the home front in each country exposed to similar messages about the war? In what ways were women and those on the home front in each country engaged in similar activities? In what ways were they called upon to act in similar ways? What differences are evident in the magazine covers and their messages to consumers on the home fronts?

Allow time for class discussion of findings.

7. As a culminating activity, have students pick one Shiseido image and a comparable image from a U.S. wartime magazine. Students are to turn these images into propaganda or persuasive posters that promote an ideal or standard of behavior or activity during wartime. Students will create a caption or other written text to convey their message, which must be tied to the image presented on the magazine cover. Display images around the room and have students report on their work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology © 2010 Visualizing Cultures