Unpinning History : Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism

Nippon Yusen Kaisha = Japan Mail Steamship Co. [Futamigaura]

This poster demonstrates how the Japan Mail Steamship Corporation simultaneously incorporated distinct Japanese iconography and western-style modernist motifs in their advertisement design for branding purposes in the early 1900s. A romanticized image of "traditional Japan" is evoked in the poster through its depiction of stylized kimono-clad bijin (beautiful women) at a famous place (meisho), a typical subject of an Edo period (1600–1868) woodblock print (ukiyo-e). The three willowy figures, with their lightly made-up faces and small cherry-red lips, corresponded with the notion of traditional Japanese beauty. The shore of Ise’s Futamigura too, the famous Shinto site that the women were viewing, had been long thought to represent the essence of the Japanese spirit. At the same time, the poster also features a close-up of a well-equipped steamship painted in a western style (yōga) as a symbol for the Japan Mail Steamship Company’s advanced technology. This poster uses English rather than Japanese characters, suggesting it was meant for a foreign audience, while Japanese and Chinese versions have been also confirmed. The employment of the calendar—which is kept intact here—suggests that the poster was a costly production with colorful and complicated design, commissioned only once a year. (Peilin Chen and Samantha Scheinfeld)

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