About Re-Envisioning Japan

An updated and revised version of this page is available at the new Re-Envisioning Japan.

Re-Envisioning Japan uses travel, education, and the production and exchange of objects and images as a lens to investigate changing representations of Japan and its place in the world with a focus on the early-to-mid-twentieth century. The key objectives of this project are preservation, access, and historical analysis. As a multimedia resource, Re-Envisioning Japan makes available a wide range of artifacts that generally have not been a priority for collecting institutions until recently, if at all, allowing users to work with less conventional, ephemeral primary sources. With the exception of the archival film category and some of the glass lantern slides, all objects and images presented here belong to my personal collection. This collection encompasses a range of things falling into the broad categories of travel, tourism and education: for example, amateur travel films; educational films; postcards; photographs; stereographs; glass slides; tourist brochures; guidebooks; promotional trade publications; books; and teaching guides. These artifacts are listed in more detail in “Using this Resource” below. The objects and images on this website tell us something about the individuals that used (or created) them, and the cultural, political, and economic systems that produced them. An important function of the site is that ideally, when completed, its architecture will allow for a dynamic community of contributors who will be able to register and contribute content to the archive, creating a community of users forging new paths of inquiry, or providing fresh perspectives on familiar questions.

This digital humanities project is inherently ongoing. As of March 2016, 75% of my collection has been digitized and added to this site; the process of identification, contextualization, and the creation of metadata continues apace. If you come across something that you would like more information about please contact me directly. I maintain a separate, offline database and extensive research notes: the project has grown beyond the current WordPress platform and the site is currently being migrated to Omeka, a platform that offers several advantages over the current site architecture because it is built on a a robust and extensible metadata-driven framework.

Upcoming additions to the site include two additional film timelines: one for Regular (Standard) 8mm films and one for archival titles.  46 songs recorded from sheet music in the collection are available to listen to on this site, in the “Sheet Music” (Leisure & Entertainment gallery) and “Wartime Propaganda” (Edification & Information gallery). First click on the thumbnail image of the sheet music, and then click the red “Read More” button in the lower right hand corner of the full image that will appear.

I recently donated this teaching and research collection to the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, where it will be rehoused and catalogued at the Re-Envisioning Japan Research Collection, facilitating broader access and ensuring its ongoing conservation.



The red “Read More” button in the lower right hand corner of some objects (e.g., sheet music, books, pamphlets and brochures, magazines) allows users to explore select inside content. One reason for the site’s upcoming migration to Omeka stems from the limitations of the current WordPress platform and NextGen Gallery plug in to accommodate linkable and fully searchable metadata. We attempted to circumvent this limitation with “Item Info” buttons, also in the lower right hand corner of some objects. The idea was that users could click on these buttons to bring up a page of information beyond the basic metadata that accompanies each object. We found this was an awkward solution to the problem, and decided that transitioning to Omeka would be more effective and efficient.

The site is divided into 5 generically distinct “exhibits:” “Edification and Information,” “Leisure and Entertainment,” “Moving Images,” “Postcards,” and “Tourism and “Travel.”

“Edification and Information” comprises works on general culture, history, and language; missionary and social work-related materials; patriotic, pro-military objects (excluding postcards) from Japan dating from the 1930s to 1945; US and British World War II era propaganda; and objects dating from the U.S. occupation of Japan (1945-1952). Under “Edification, Information & Instruction,” selected titles from a complete collection of the first run of  The Tourist Library (Japan Government Railways, 1934-1942) are of special interest.

 “Leisure and Entertainment” includes objects (including some postcards) related to advertising, shopping, and Japan’s presence at international expositions, exhibitions, and world fairs. Photographs, slides, and stereoviews are joined by several genres of literature, including children’s literature, magazines, memoirs and travel literature. Japanesque or Japan-inspired sheet music is also included here because it represents an early instance of Japanese influence on twentieth-century American popular culture.

 “Moving Images” defined the twentieth century in an unprecedented way. They are represented here by lesser-known, small gauge films (16mm, Regular 8mm, and Super 8mm), ranging from the anonymous amateur travel film to widely circulated educational titles. There is a section for archival films and in the future the site will include links to the locations of relevant archival material.

 “Postcards is divided into seventeen subgenres, ranging from actors, children, cities and sites, and “colonial” to occupation, recreation, war, and women. These categories are only examples of the rich diversity that characterizes this mode of communication. Notably, many of the subcategories include postcards featuring events or locations that are emblematic of Japan, or Japanese customs and manners, and such postcards might have been collected as souvenirs. Other categories, such as the “personal messages” category, remind us of the days when the postcard was ubiquitous as a global unit of personal communication.

 “Tourism and Travel.” The human act of travel generates a wide variety of objects, including brochures, guides, hotel ephemera, maps, and ephemera related to transportation by air, land and sea. This category also includes postcards, most notably those of major shipping lines like Nippon Yusen Kaisha. Travel Guides are divided into “general” (general guides to Japan the country) and “specific” (guides to specific locations).



I never intended to become a collector. In 2000 I began occasionally searching for specific objects that I could use in the Japanese and film studies classroom. Perhaps it was a function of the new millennium, but I was increasingly drawn to other things from Japan’s twentieth-century past that provided an opportunity to understand that past from a fresh perspective. I had just finished a book on silent cinema, a subject defined by loss especially in the case of Japan. Lacking the familiarity and sense of immediacy provided by a cinematic image of early twentieth-century Japan, I was drawn to the life and landscape of that time and place through other material means. I also wanted a more immediate sense of Japan’s profile as a contender in the increasingly complex and diverse media and communication channels characteristic of the twentieth century. From the start I was less interested in “superlative collecting” than in exploring a sampling of the variety of objects that I encountered. As motifs emerged I devised working categories in an attempt to construct a meaningful framework for these objects.  The predominance of objects generated by travel- and education-related activities, and the natural kinship between these two activities emerged as the connective tissue for my online archive. Educational items tend to be of American or British origin. Tourism ephemera generally originate in Japan. These two over-arching categories complement each other in useful ways.

I used the term “Tourist Japan” as a working title for the project early in its development, linking the armchair traveler reading about Japan with the traveler who physically moves through space. Hence, I define “tourism” as temporally limited travel, both actual (physical, experiential) and virtual (educational, informational). “Tourist” and “tourism” are all-too-often thought of as disparaging terms, signifying passive, shallow consumers and consumption. I agree with others who regard them as valuable because they are flexible and inclusive.  The rise of twentieth-century tourism is central to understanding twentieth-century cultural flow and cultural identity; the tourist perspective is personal, opening up possibilities for a multiplicity of narrative perspectives.

Japan was an actively promoted tourist destination in the first half of the twentieth century. Early government and industry intervention in this promotion aimed at enhancing diplomacy, raising Japan’s international profile as a modern nation, and encouraging the influx of foreign currency. As my collection grew, two focal points emerged: the wave of American tourism that peaked in the 1930s and the concurrent rise of Japan’s profile as a modern nation, and English-language media focus on postwar Japan. I chose 1970 as a rough cut-off  date for the archive for a number of reasons, but I selectively include objects from earlier and more recent periods that suggest continuities, ways in which Japan’s past recurrently informs its present. The collection, and subsequently this website’s focus predominantly denote a U.S. (and more generally, an English-language) audience, and the American tourist and educational experience of Japan.


About me

I am Professor of Japanese in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and a member of the faculty in the Film and Media Studies Program, the Digital Media Studies Program, the Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation, and the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management master’s degree program. I am also affiliate faculty in the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies and associate faculty in the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. I hold a B.F.A. in Photography, Film and Video from Kansas City Art Institute; an M.A. and Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University; and an honorary certificate from the L. Jeffrey Selznick Program in Film Preservation. I am the author of Writing in Light (Wayne State University Press, 2001) on Japanese cinema of the 1910s, focusing on its intersection with changing international attitudes toward screenwriting, film production and consumption. I have published on such topics as film preservation; Japanese cinema, genre, and screenwriting in Japan during the silent era; Godzilla and nuclear culture in Japan and the United States (see “Teaching Godzilla,” pages 111-125 in In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage, ed. Tsutsui and Ito, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); the writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (see, for example, pages 291-308 in Currents in Japanese Culture, ed. Heinrich, Columbia U., 1997 and pages 75-92 in A Tanizaki Feast, ed. Boscaro and Chambers, Michigan Monographs, 1998); and the films of Kenji Mizoguchi and Yoshikata Yoda (see, for example, “Revisiting 1930s Mizoguchi,” in Film Analysis: A Norton Reader, 2nd ed. Ed. Geiger and Rutsky, Norton, 2013). I am currently co-editing an anthology on Japanese cinema and completing book chapters on Re-Envisioning Japan‘s development as a digital humanities project (“Creative Curating”), and the Godzilla franchise (“Twentieth Century Monster”).


Joanne Bernardi (Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Rochester)

UR Research at the University of Rochester

Academia.edu profile