Vintage 1930s Japanese Posters Artistically Market the Wonders of Travel


Ear­li­er this year, we fea­tured vin­tage Japan­ese print adver­tise­ments from the gold­en age of Art Deco and for such prod­ucts as beer, sake, and cig­a­rettes. If you like that sort of thing, you might con­sid­er pay­ing atten­tion to the recent­ly launched Brand­ing in Asia, a site detect­ed to cov­er­ing “the art of brand­ing” as expressed in “the excit­ing new ideas and con­cepts explod­ing from the mind of Asia” — or the excit­ing old ideas and con­cepts which, aes­thet­i­cal­ly speak­ing, remain pret­ty explo­sive still.


Take, for instance, their col­lec­tion of clas­sic Japan­ese steamship ads. “In the ear­ly part of the 20th cen­tu­ry,” writes Steph Aromdee, “Japan’s increas­ing­ly pros­per­ous mid­dle class was tak­ing to the high seas for trav­el. One com­pa­ny, the Japan Mail Steamship, adver­tised heav­i­ly, hop­ing to attract would-be tourists to their lux­u­ry ships. What were like­ly at the time regard­ed as sim­ple adver­tise­ments and brochures that sim­ply showed depar­tures and des­ti­na­tions, have today become viewed as stun­ning works of art.”


Here we’ve excerpt­ed a few such adver­tise­ments from their impres­sive selec­tion which, as you can see, ranges artis­ti­cal­ly from the styl­ized to the real­is­tic, and con­cep­tu­al­ly from the prac­ti­cal to the pure­ly evoca­tive. They might entice read­ers onto a steamship voy­age with an Art Deco bathing beau­ty, a con­trast of human trav­el­er against moun­tain’s majesty, a detailed map enu­mer­at­ing a vari­ety of pos­si­ble des­ti­na­tions, or, as in the case of deer-filled Nara, a scat­ter­ing of local icons.


The age of the steamship has, of course, long since dis­solved into the roman­tic past, even in Japan. Or per­haps I should say espe­cial­ly in Japan, whose shinkansen bul­let train not only put every oth­er mode of trans­port straight into obso­les­cence, but — at least to my mind — also boasts a cut­ting-edge romance of its own.


And so these adver­tise­ments, more than 70 years after their print­ings, still get me plan­ning my next trip to Japan, a coun­try that knows a thing or two about desire and place. “Even in Kyoto,” wrote 17th-cen­tu­ry poet Mat­suo Bashō, “I long for Kyoto.”

via Brand­ing in Asia

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Adver­tise­ments from Japan’s Gold­en Age of Art Deco

Glo­ri­ous Ear­ly 20th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902–1954)

Hand-Col­ored Pho­tographs of 19th Cen­tu­ry Japan

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Bob Hovey says:

    Beau­ti­ful poster art. Some his­tor­i­cal triv­ia, the three ships named in the final poster only saw a few months ser­vice as pas­sen­ger ves­sels, in 1941 they were com­man­deered by the Japan­ese Navy and con­vert­ed into air­craft car­ri­ers (Chūyō, Un’yō and Taiyō respec­tive­ly). All were even­tu­al­ly sunk by Amer­i­can sub­marines.

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