This page was created by Emily Chapman.  The last update was by Kate McDonald.

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

Leisure, pleasure and showing off

Isao travelled a lot. Accompanied by family and friends he travelled across Tokyo and Japan by bus, train, and eventually using in his own car. Domestic travel was the space through which Isao claimed—and used the albums to visually articulate—his family’s place in Japan’s postwar middle class. It was also the main forging ground for his photographs. This was partly practical; when travelling he had the camera on his body and much more time to take photos. It was also, as it was for the tens of thousands of fellow camera–wielding domestic tourists, an instrumental part of what Anne McClintock describes as the “theatrical performance of leisure”(McClintock 1995, 162).

Album 2 is all about the spectacle of free time that played out in this classed and coded “theatre.” Look at the image to the left. As a spectacle itself, this volume’s cover is by far the most ostentatious in design. Velveteen and opulent, it hints at wealth, humour, and fittingly for the contents, carries embroidered overtones of transport and journey with the approaching ship and greeting penguin. The real-life mobility of the Yajima family seen in the mapping pages across this module (Mapping Album 1 | Mapping Album 2 | Mapping Album 3) did not just hint at wealth, it shouted it. Friends, neighbours, and family back home were, however, out of earshot, so the photograph, alongside inevitable souvenirs and gifts, was therefore needed as proof of this classed pursuit. It is no surprise then, that aside from the names of family and friends, the word which appears the most in captions across all volumes is tabi, or “trip” and across the life–span of this album, 1959-1961, Isao used photographs to catalogue seventeen separate trips.

Since its invention in 1839, photography and the photograph have developed as forces explaining and accounting for time. Travel, although appearing to all the senses as a suspension of time, was laden with a constellation of institutions which gave meaning to the way free time was spent and dispensed. The family, local government, and the Japan Travel Bureau were just some of these institutions at work, while amateur photography acted as a foil for preserving the pretence of private, rather than institutionally-sponsored, leisure (Leheney 2000).

Let’s look again at the image with which this module started in which two “private” photographic moments are happening at once–Isao’s and the family behind him. The privacy of this moment is fictitious, but the existence of a final owned print transforms what was a public moment into something material and intimate. The public/private blur of the travel photograph means that scenes ordinarily banished from family snaps - such as eating and shopping - are permitted entry while not transgressing the spatial code Isao had established for photographs near home.  When travelling, the family is snapped slouching at a kitchen table, Eiko is pictured shopping, proudly displaying her purchase for the camera and Isao appears slurping noodles at a standing noodle bar during a trip away with colleagues. When travelling, the Yajimas—like all tourists—were not just tourists in new places, but tourists in their own lives, and the photographs survives as companions to these novelties. The photograph was also the proof that the Yajima family had successfully travelled from their urban home to “the wild” and back again—albeit a heavily managed and well–catered wild. This success was multi–layered. First, it was a testament to financial success and the attainment of a high-standard of living—in this case, the success of Isao’s Dental Practice. Second, it heralded the success of the Japanese countryside as a tourist destination.

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