Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Images of "Japan"

I was recently looking through a gallery of Life magazine cover when I found a couple of interesting covers from 1951 and 1964. The '64 cover takes the ubiquitous image of a beautiful woman in a kimono and combines it with the most American thing on the planet: bowling. This is quite possibly the only sport one can play with eating a hot dog, and drinking a beer, but now we’ve kicked off our bowling shoes and added some tabi socks to the mix, making this is such a quirky, kitschy image to my eye. Bowling graces the cover of the “Special Issue: Japan”, that’s the best they could do. Yet, I do think the cover choice positions Japan as the protector of traditional, but also a perspective audience for American products and gimmicks. In the 50s and 60s bowling alleys were popping up all over the United States, especially out West, where they the Los Angeles Times described them as “small cities in themselves”. Throughout the 1960s much of the real estate development surrounding bowling alleys could be attributed to Louis Lesser, a businessman who really loved bowling. After developing properties all across California he turned his eye to Japan in 1962, where he dreamed of developing a bowling alley that could compete with other popular entertainment in Japan. Oddly enough his dream came true; between 1960 and 1972 over 120,000 lanes were installed in Japan. 

            The second image is also from Life, but a littler earlier: 1951. The model on the cover is Mitsuko Kimura, a Tokyo-born actress best known in the United States for starring alongside Dick York in the tepid World War II romance Three Stripes in the Sun. Here we are dealing with the “Asian Issue”, and the cover image is presented as a stock image of “Asian” fantasy. What I find really interesting about both covers is the prominence of women, and the complete lack of Japanese men. Both covers are released shortly after the end of WWII, and both issues chose a feminized, eroticized image. Although these images are old, I think they set the groundwork for how the United States thinks of “Japan”, and establish the symbols American companies use to evoke “Asia”. 

If anyone is interested in the contents of the 1951 issue:
·       Editorial: What Asians Think of U.S. Policy
·       Photographic Essay: Three Views of Asia - Drawn Especially for LIFE - New maps set geographical scene for this special issue which explores the largest and most populous continent
·       Decline of the Westerner by David D. Duncan
·       Rise of the Red Star by Robert Neville
·       Photographic Essay (Dmitri Kessel) BANGKOK
·       The Mind of Asia by F.S.C. Northrop
·       A Festival on the Yellow River - Ancient 33 foot painted scroll
·       Film Queens of Asia - They are glamorous in Hollywood style
·       A County Agent Comes to India - Horace Holmes, Tennessee
·       Photographic Essay: The Example of Japan - The medieval land that became Asia's most modern nation
·       A New Era for Afghans
·       Chinese Success Story by James Michener
·       LIFE visits the Beach of Passionate Love - Malaya

Unfortunately the “Beach of Passionate Love” has undergone a name change. It is now the “Beach of the Clear Moon”. Bummer.

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