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

Toyo Kisen Kaisha = Oriental Steam-Ship Company [Woman with a fan]

Opening her fan to show us the impressive steamship, the woman in the poster is inviting us into her home with a dramatic illustration of Yokohama Wharf. She is a bijin, or young beauty, who exemplifies traditional Japanese femininity in modern Japan. Her kimono disappears into a surrounding blue—the signature color of Toyo Kisen Kaisha, the company which commissioned this poster. The absence of lines delineating a separation between her kimono and monochromatic background is quite abstract, leaving her foreground image to be fully immersed in the negative space. Meanwhile, the lightly toned cream shade of her skin and flag simplify the image, marking a primary contrast of colors between the lively red of her lips, sleeves, hairpiece, and rising sun against the deep blue background. This poster represents the Taishō period’s embrace of new technology, including the steamship, modern consumerist design, and its hybridity of long-standing Japanese aesthetic tastes, which is reflected in the theme of bijin in the style of Nihonga (Japanese-style) painting. (Sophie Ceniza) 

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