(Updated April 10, 2016)
Every October since 1993, with one exception, I have attended Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the annual international silent film festival founded in 1982 in Pordenone, Italy. Japan was not represented during the early years that I attended but since then the festival has showcased both Japanese feature films, animation, and a some actualities shot in Japan at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, I have found it impossible to get a palpable sense of early 20th century Japan to the extent that I have done so for most of Europe and the United States. For example, I can close my eyes and imagine London and New York, and through the experience of a “phantom ride” I can immerse myself in the European countryside. I have always felt a deep sense of loss because I have not been able to experience Japan in a similar way. This website began with a collection meant to help remedy that loss, to better understand the life and landscape of that time and space through other material means.
My collection started with postcards, because that is what came up first when I did a blind “Japan” search on online auctions. A short time later, while watching a Japanese detective drama in Pordenone, I recognized the Kobe cityscape from one of my postcards and experienced the distinct and immediate sensation of connecting with the past that tangible material objects make possible. My growing familiarity with the diversity of postcard genres in the early 20th century led to keener awareness of the active tourist trade and luxury steamship culture that existed in the first few decades of the century, and I turned my attention to collecting travel brochures, steamship menus, maps and guidebooks. Searches for such artifacts in turn led me to various genres of literature and magazines, usually special issues published in Japan for English speaking audiences. My increasing understanding of early 20th century visual culture, gained through first hand, haptic appreciation of individual artifacts, emboldened me to cast my net farther to include stereographs and glass slides. I also researched archival amateur travel films shot in Japan and instructional or educational films about Japan, and when possible purchased 16mm, Regular (or Standard) 8mm, and Super 8mm films to add to my collection. The ease with which you can now watch these films on this site thoroughly masks the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of making such access possible (see also “Technical Details” under “About” on the main menu.)
Each encounter with a new type of used object created another layer in my understanding of Japan in the early to mid 20th century; I have a deeper appreciation of found objects as tangible reminders of individual and personal experiences. As I subsequently learned more about the history of inbound tourism in Japan, I broadened my parameters to include the period up to the 1970s, a decade during which the rate of Japanese outbound tourists superseded that of foreigners visiting Japan. This decade also marks my first experience living in Japan, as a college student in the Image Arts Department of Osaka University of Arts. From April 1976 to July 1977, I was assigned with filming the life events and landscapes that I experienced first-hand.
As is the case with all published work, this website is the result of my desire to share my research on this rich range of material. This project exemplifies the value of material culture for cross-disciplinary scholarly research and education. I chose a digital platform for the results of my research because its multimedia dimension is best suited to interactive access. Be sure to listen to some of the original recordings in the Sheet Music and Wartime Propaganda (US, UK) galleries. (“Sheet Music” is located under “Entertainment” on the main menu, and Wartime Propaganda is located under “Edification & Instruction.”) You can also watch 16mm, Regular 8mm, and Super 8mm films under “Moving Images.” Titles that are not yet available to stream are awaiting copyright clearance.
A digital platform allows for continual updating, an asset to this project’s recuperative nature as image and object driven scholarship. Such flexibility also allows for further development with access to new technology. More information about this project is available under “About” on the main menu; in addition to general information about the site, you will find Credits, Acknowledgements, Copyright and Permissions, Sources, Related Links and more.
As of March 2016, 75% of the physical collection sustaining this project has been digitized in an ongoing process of presenting it here. You can listen to recordings for 46 songs in the “Sheet Music” and “Wartime Propaganda (US, UK)” galleries, and watch 16mm, Super 8mm, Regular (Standard) 8mm, and Archival films under “Moving Images.” Further descriptive and interpretive detail will be added shortly for each film title, describing the film’s provenance, content, physical condition, and digitization process. User-friendly timelines are available for 16mm and Super 8mm titles; we are in the process of completing similar timelines for the Regular 8mm and Archival titles.
This online resource is a collection of digital surrogates for the physical objects in the Re-Envisioning Japan collection. We have made it a priority to make available the best possible digital surrogate for each object by reiteratively exploring ways in which to emphasize its materiality.
The provenance of most of these objects prior to their acquisition is unknown; the process of identifying, describing, and contextualizing them is continuous. This project is open-ended and, in this sense, a living document. I recently donated the physical collection to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and Preservation, University of Rochester River Campus Libraries. Items in the collection will begin transitioning to RBSCP stewardship in the summer (2016), and this will ensure long-term preservation and broader access. We are currently designing a new digital environment for the project in Omeka. This will allow for increased functionality and enriched metadata. It will also facilitate the addition of new interactive features, and better expose the research and scholarship that this project embodies.
I believe these traces of Japan’s past and the people who used these objects will deepen your understanding of Japan and its place in the 20th century world, just as they have deepened mine.
The process of identifying and contextualizing the material on this site is ongoing. If you have information about any of the images that you would like to share with others, please contact me at the email address below. Please credit Re-Envisioning Japan when re-using or citing images and all other content in any capacity.
Joanne Bernardi, Ph.D.
Japanese Studies/Film and Media Studies
Department of Modern Languages and Cultures
PO Box 270082
University of Rochester
Rochester NY 14627
All Rights Reserved © 2013-2016 Joanne Bernardi