This page was created by Emily Chapman. 

Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Yajimas as a 'my car' family

Two big things happen to the Yajimas in Album 3:

  1. they move into a larger house;
  2. they increase their car collection.

The privilege of the first page of Album 3 is all about the car (see image on the left). The photos on the pages which follow pre-date the arrival of the Ford, a fact which not only reaffirms the chronological play Isao enjoys in creating "album time" but also the immense importance the Ford had for him. On the page shown above Isao, Eiko and Haruki each took it in turns to pose with the car in three separate car portraits aptly summarised by the caption: “together with the Ford.” This Ford and her siblings enter this album—and possibly the life of the Yajima family—as kin and worthy of great care. In Isao's photographs, the car achieves a level of visual intimacy not afforded to the house, even the new one. This was perhaps because the car was Isao’s space–and it relied almost solely on his presence and skill. We never see Eiko, for example, behind the wheel.

Turn the page of Album 3 and with the sudden splurge of a colour photograph, viewers also learn that the family have also moved to a new larger home that incorporates the dental practice. The house was newly built in a modern housing development known as a danchi and when Isao was taking photographs of it, the house was surrounded by blank, unoccupied garden which the family filled with spiky shrubs and a traditional stone lantern, but mostly Isao used the space to park his cars. There, he developed a new aesthetic and spatial setting for taking family photographs.

As signalled by the curatorial choice behind the first page, Album 3 is dominated by Isao’s pride in owning and using his cars, a choice of subject that also reflects the reduced family milestones and perhaps, teenage unwillingness to pose. Around 1952 in the course of Album 1, the Yajima family bought the Japanese-produced Auto Sandal, which, for around 100,000 yen, faithfully enabled their domestic travels. However, the expanded outside space of their new home in turn allowed Isao expand his car collection and also photograph his cars at rest. Owning more than one car was a loud claim to the privilege of space to park and to travel when and where you pleased and at your own pace. Car parking was a pressing urban issue in 1960s Japan, and a reason many licence-holders gave for not yet owning a car (Asahi Shimbun 1966). In the album pages which follow it was the car rather than the new home which Isao chose to photograph close-up and solo, but also with himself back in front of the camera. This move back in front of the camera signalled a new stage in Isao’s visual and familial identity as he gradually lost his status as otōsan kameraman with his three pubescent children now far beyond the expected and desired infant snaps.

In 1963, the Yajimas would have been among the millions of maikā zoku (my car families) in Japan. In his essay on the rise of the owner driver in Shōwa Japan, David Plath describes how the family car and the car–owning family remapped, not only the Japanese landscape as roads were built and parking spaces competed over, but “the lines of human sociability” (Plath 1990, p. 235). Plath traces the car’s influence as a possession, but as Isao’s photos show, the car also existed as a photographic subject and the idea of the car was woven into the fabric of millions of families’ lives by the time Isao and his family posed with the Ford in 1963. In both Japan, and the Yajima family, the pace of car acquisition stepped up in the 1960s as Japan more widely entered the kokuminsha jidai—the “era of the people’s car.” By 1963 car ownership in Japan exceeded one million. By this point, the Auto Sandal and the Ford were not enough for the Yajimas, and in 1965 they purchased a Volkswagen Kahmann Gia, amusingly named “Sir Kahmann Gia” in Isao’s captions. Just a year later, in 1966, the year the Japanese media heralded as the “my car era,” they purchased a Toyota Corona. The car collection exhibited the family’s accumulating wealth, and the photographs which survive in Album 3 are one material trace of the family’s group performance as wealthy and proud car owners. The photo reel below shows just a few of these images from Album 3. Look closely at:

The sheer number of images of the cars in this album, particularly the closeness between bodies and the car, show that Isao cared about having a car collection, being seen with one or other of his cars, and making sure the future viewers of his photograph albums knew he owned many cars. The photos in this volume made these emotions material. Histories of post-1945 consumption have understandably focused on rates and patterns of acquisition as these are the acts that have generated archival traces. However, the Yajima family photos begin to make a case for examining the emotions behind and within the acts of consumption; emotions such as desire, pride, caretaking, and envy which all play a role in the experience of displaying something you own and want others to know you own. What is striking between this album and Album 1 and Album 2 is the different visual role that owning a car offered Isao versus that available when he became a parent. Isao’s visual trace of car ownership positions him in full view of any future onlookers. However, his visual traces of fatherhood render him largely invisible in the archive which survives as he stands, crouches or encourages his wife and children from behind the camera, beyond the threshold of historical view.

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