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.”
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.