Posters From Japan’s 100-Year Old Pandemic Manual

Roughly 100 years ago the 1918 pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, ravaged the world, infecting one-third of the planet’s population. Despite a significant lack of travel compared to today, even as an island nation Japan was not immune. So in an attempt to educate the public and prevent further infections, a now-defunct branch of the Japanese government known as the Central Sanitary Bureau released a manual that detailed what the flu was and how to deal with it.

above: the 4 rules of preventing the flu

The majority of the 455-page manual contained factual information about the known status of the disease. There is text and charts showing the number infected and what type of symptoms were exhibited. It also included steps everyone could take to avoid spreading and contracting the flu. Above are the 4 rules, the very first one being “stay away,” which was basically a simpler way of saying “social distancing.” Rule 2 is “cover your mouth and nose,” rule 3 is “get vaccinated” and rule 4 is “gargle.”

What also caught our attention are these posters that were produced at the time and distributed across the country as a way to spread awareness. Looking at these posters, it strikes us that things haven’t changed all that much in the last 100-years.

this poster warns that if you cough without covering your mouth, germs will spread

The manual went out of print but was later republished by Heibonsha in 2008. And in light of current events, they have made a black-and-white version of the book available to download for free through April 30, 2020.

this poster advises that individuals showing symptoms should be quarantined in a separate room

get vaccinated, this poster says, so that the virus can no longer live inside you

this poster promotes the use of masks to hinder the spread of the virus

The poster on the left advises you to use masks when you go out and gargle when you get home. The poster on the right recommends sunlight as a form of disinfectant and vaccinations as a form of prevention.


  1. Deborah DeSnoo

    April 28, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    Why is the writing backwards. Are we supposed to look at them in a mirror?

    • After WW II the horizontal writing direction was changed to from left to right. But in books and newspapers the vertical direction is still from top down and from the right column to the left. From our western point of view Japanese books and magazines are opened from the “rear cover”.

  2. I had no idea Japan had N95 masks 100 yrs ago. And, in black! Lol

  3. There was a flu vaccine back then?

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