Picture Postcards of Imperial Japan’s Peoples and Places, 1903–45

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:50 AM
Columbia 10 (Washington Hilton)
Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College
During the period known to Japanese history as "Taisho Democracy" (1912-1926), Japanese public education and mass culture propagated a certain image of the empire's ethnic bounty. Mass-market photography, made possible by dry-plates, roll film, portable cameras, and half-tone reproduction, played a key role in this emergent discourse on diversity. Dozens of "viral" ethnic icons illustrated the empire's reach from Sakhalin Island to Micronesia. They were attached to texts boasting a Great Japan that subsumed every conceivable climate and language group. The photographed subjects in these materials, despite their appearance across several media, were rarely named. This paper argues for the importance of recovering their names, as well as performing statistical batteries on the larger corpus to discern patterns of over- and under-representation. Close readings of iconic photos, and content analyses of batched images, reveal that tropes of authenticity, variety, and exoticism buried images of mobility, migration, and labor in early twentieth-century Japanese mass-media about the empire's peoples and places. The resulting visual archive obscured the agency of non-Japanese imperial subjects in the making of modern East Asia.