This section introduces a selection of photos from Shashin Shuho and related documents that depict the kinds of food people in Japan ate during the war.


Issue No. 53 of Shashin Shuho, which was published on February 22, 1939, introduces dishes featuring sardines, whale, and rabbit meat as “nationally endorsed cuisine that is inexpensive, nutritious, easy to cook, and delicious.” At that time large numbers of sardines and whales were caught by Japanese fishermen, while rabbits were actively raised for their fur, which was used in military equipment to provide protection against the cold.

Document 1, “Issue of restriction order of livestock and rabbit,” is a document dated August 3, 1939 that was sent by the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry to the Vice Minister of the Army. The document reveals that while the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was striving to boost the number of rabbits raised to provide fur for military use, many people would begin to butcher rabbits when summer arrived for their meat. The minister argues that if no measures were taken, it would be difficult to increase the production increase of rabbit fur, and thus for this reason the restriction order of livestock and rabbit was issued on August 1.

Document 2 is an issue of Weekly Report that was published on August 16, 1939. It contains an article titled “The global whaling battle” (thirteenth through seventeenth images) that describes the state of whaling around the world and in Japan.

In addition to the nationally endorsed cuisine mentioned previously, Shashin Shuho often carried articles related to other ideas for dishes to cope with shortages in daily commodities during the war. Issue No. 132 of Shashin Shuho pictured above, which was published on September 4, 1940, highlights short study courses for learning how to make better meals for infants. Issue No. 166 from April 30, 1941 introduces the number of calories required by people in different occupations, items that could be used as substitute foods, and other related topics.

Document 3 is a notice from March 19, 1940 titled “Using substitute foods for lunches served in government office cafeterias” that was sent by the Secretariat of the Minister of the Army to the Chief of the Army Technical Headquarters. The document states that in accordance with the decision made at the meeting of the vice-ministers of each ministry, substitute foods were to be used for lunches in the cafeterias of government offices. It also adds that this was not an emergency measure taken in response to rice shortages, but rather in preparation for unexpected events and other matters in the future.

The continuation of the war led to more shortages in commodities. In May 1940 the ticket-based rationing system for sugar and matches was established. The following year in 1941 the Control Ordinance for Distribution of Daily Necessities was promulgated, which expanded the scope of the rationing system to include all daily necessities.

Document 4 is the Cabinet decision from May 10, 1940 titled “Concerning restriction on consumption.” It provides an introduction of the ticket system for sugar and matches that was approved.

Document 5 is the script of the Control Ordinance for Distribution of Daily Necessities, which was signed by the Emperor and promulgated on March 31, 1941.

As images provided above show, Shashin Shuho at this time featured an article that recommended raising fresh water fish, such as koi, in unused ponds. It is believed that this article was run in relation to the Living Necessities Designation Regulation that was promulgated together with the Control Ordinance for Distribution of Daily Necessities described in Document 5.

Document 6 is the Living Necessities Designation Regulation. This regulation states that fresh fish and shellfish designated by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry were subject to control along with drugs and hygiene products.

Document 7 is an issue of Weekly Report No. 235 that was published on April 9, 1941. This issue explains the rationing system for fresh fish and shellfish following the announcement of the ordinances and regulations described in Document 5 and Document 6.

In December of 1941 Japan entered war with the United States and the United Kingdom, and over the course of time the tide of war turned against it. As Japan’s situation on the battlefield deteriorated, shortages in daily commodities, particularly food, became more acute. Issue No. 266 of Shashin Shuho pictured above, which was published on April 7, 1943, depicts the state of restaurants in the face of rationing shortages. That same day Kiyoshi Kiyosawa wrote about his trip to Shikoku between March 23 and April 4 in Ankoku Nikki (A Diary of Darkness). “I was hard pressed to scour up some lunch on the train,” he wrote. “Fortunately I had taken some bread with me, so I ended up eating that.” He noted that he was unable to get lunch even at a top hotel in Matsuyama. Reflecting back on his lecture trip to Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, and Kyoto, he wrote in his diary on June 12, 1943 that “despite the fact the hotel was a first-class hotel, there was no sugar or salt.”

In response to these food shortages, citizens in the capital of Tokyo City were encouraged to increase food production by farming vacant plots of land. Issue No. 269 of Shashin Shuho from April 28, 1943 and issue No. 277 from June 23, 1943 mentioned previously covered the progress of people’s efforts to farm this land. One article in particular in issue No. 277 showed how people turned roads into vegetable fields.

Document 8 is a notification dated June 18, 1943 sent by the Vice Minister of the Army to related Army units. This notification also stresses the importance of promoting the use of vacant land to boost food production.

These kinds of efforts to convert vacant land into farm land and increase food production were encouraged even more as the war progressed. Issue No. 316 of Shashin Shuho shown above, which was published on April 12, 1944, carried articles about ways to improve the productivity of wartime farms, such as methods for sowing seeds.

Document 9 is a document titled “Notification about May ordinary session thoroughness matter,” created on April 5, 1944 and sent by the Director of the Executive Office of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association to the heads of each region. This notification places the issue of increased food production as an absolute priority for the month of May, and recommended planting all kinds of edible plants, such as rice, wheat, and potatoes, as well as other cereals and vegetables (second image).

While increasing the production of agricultural products was actively promoted, Kiyoshi Kiyosawa wrote the following comment in Ankoku Nikki (A Diary of Darkness) on April 7, 1944:

“Every day, newspapers only write about vegetables. Despite promoting the increased production of vegetables, no potato seed tubers, Chinese chive seeds, or any other vegetable seeds are rationed. This is one clear example of how unproductive the bureaucracy can be. However, inflexible Japanese people are still unable to understand this. Every time they hit an impasse, they blame problems for the lack of control.”

Kiyosawa also made the following statement in Ankoku Nikki (A Diary of Darkness) earlier that year on February 13: “The acute nature of this food shortage has become an urgent issue for everyone, from government officials all the way down to ordinary people. In short, people are no longer able to enjoy the satisfaction of a full stomach.” At this time, the government was also closely monitoring the food problem trends among the people.

Document 10 is titled “Trends in food situations and national thoughts in recent years from the viewpoint of communication censorship,” and was created in January 1944 by the Foreign Affairs Section of the Bureau of Police and Public Security, Ministry of Home Affairs. It reveals the emergence of statements reflecting anti-war sentiment stemming from food shortages in the mail sent from people in Tokyo and the surrounding suburbs to China and Manchuria after October 1943.

Document 11 is titled “Outline of rumors about food scarcity,” and was prepared by the Economic Safety Division of the Bureau of Police and Public Security, Ministry of Home Affairs in June 1944. It provides an overview of the various rumors that spread in the midst of food shortages.


Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, National Archives of Japan