Sunday, March 27, 2011

Images of "Japan"

These ads were both featured in Atlantic Monthly in 1960: the first in September and the second in December. What I find striking is the lack of Japanese in either of these ads. The first features a blonde, All-American woman, comfortably enjoying the amenities of JAL at the Kusaga Grand Shrine. The ad promises “Shoji screens, and tatami-patterned carpets, chrysanthemum designs and pine bough motifs, the taste and restraint of Japan” on every JAL flight. The early 60s borrowed “Oriental” motifs, especially in the design of “mod” furniture, and the Western interest in Japan increased following World War II. The first Benihana Japanese Steakhouse appeared in New York City in 1964, four years after JAL received its first jet. The aesthetic of “Japan” was fresh, haute couture, and this ad is inviting wealthy housewives to come to Japan to find tasteful, restrained items with which to decorate their suburban homes. 

            What really strikes me about the second ad is the faceless, charming, hostess. The man’s eyes are trained on her as she bows over him, yet to the viewer of the ad she is simply a piece of art, a decoration to be looked at. “Classic elements surround you,” this ad promises, “seat fabric that repeats an ancient pine-bough motif, carpeting with the texture of raked sand, shoji screens, and chrysanthemum designs”. In this image, the couple is at the Yasaka Shrine, but again the airline chairs are meant to complement and become a part of the background. The ad goes on to say, “At your side will soon appear a kimono-clad hostess, charming, helpful, attentive. Everything combines to capture the calm beauty of Japan while you fly high over the Pacific at almost the speed of sound”. The Otherness of the “hostess” is showcased as something exotic and essentially Japanese, but also non-threatening and subservient. The woman in the pink dress is again tempted by carpeting and design, while the man is positioned as the dominant, western male, free to sample the “Orient”. 

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