Watch Vintage Videos Capturing Life in Japan from the 1960s Through Today

Just yes­ter­day, Japan ful­ly re-opened its bor­ders to tourism after a long peri­od of COVID-19-moti­vat­ed clo­sure. This should prove eco­nom­i­cal­ly invig­o­rat­ing, given how much demand to vis­it the Land of the Ris­ing Sun has built up over the past cou­ple of years. Even before the pan­dem­ic, Japan had been a coun­try of great inter­est among world trav­el­ers, and for more than half a cen­tu­ry at that. Much of that attrac­tive­ness has, of course, to do with its dis­tinc­tive nature, which man­i­fests both deep tra­di­tion and hyper-moder­ni­ty at once.

But some of it also has to do with the fact that, since ris­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion of the Sec­ond World War, Japan has hard­ly shied away from self-pro­mo­tion. “A Day in Tokyo,” the short film at the top of the post, was pro­duced by the Japan Nation­al Tourism Orga­ni­za­tion in 1968.

Its vivid col­or footage of Japan’s great metrop­o­lis, “the world’s largest and liveli­est,” cap­tures every­day life as it was then lived in Toky­o’s depart­ment stores, stock exchanges, con­struc­tion sites, and zoos.

The film puts a good deal of empha­sis on the cap­i­tal’s still-ongo­ing post­war trans­for­ma­tion: “In a con­stant meta­bol­ic cycle of destruc­tion and cre­ation, Tokyo pro­gress­es at a dizzy­ing pace,” declares the film’s nar­ra­tor. “Peo­ple who haven’t seen Tokyo for ten years, or even five, would scarce­ly rec­og­nize it today.” And if Tokyo was dizzy­ing in the late nine­teen-six­ties, it became pos­i­tive­ly dis­ori­ent­ing in the eight­ies. On the back of that era’s eco­nom­ic bub­ble, Japan looked about to become the wealth­i­est coun­try in the world, and Toky­oites both worked and played accord­ing­ly hard.

This two-part com­pi­la­tion of scenes from Japan in the eight­ies con­veys that time with footage drawn from a vari­ety of sources, includ­ing fea­ture films (not least Ita­mi Jūzō’s beloved 1985 ramen com­e­dy Tam­popo.) “It was a mag­i­cal place at a mag­i­cal time,” remem­bers one Amer­i­can com­menter who lived in Japan back then. “Every­thing seemed pos­si­ble. Every­body was pros­per­ing. Almost every crazy busi­ness idea seemed to suc­ceed. Peo­ple were hap­py and shared their hap­pi­ness and good for­tune with oth­ers. It was like no oth­er place on earth.”

As dra­mat­i­cal­ly as the bub­ble burst at the end of the eight­ies, Japan­ese life in the sub­se­quent “lost decades” has also pos­sessed a rich­ness of its own. You can see it in this com­pi­la­tion of footage of Japan in the nineties and two-thou­sands from the same chan­nel, TRNGL. Though it no longer seemed able to buy up the rest of the world, the coun­try had by that era built up a glob­al con­scious­ness of its cul­ture by export­ing its films, its ani­ma­tion, its music, its video games, and much more besides. Even if you haven’t seen this Japan in per­son, you’ve come to know it through its art and media.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing mak­ing the trip, this video of “Japan nowa­days” will give you a sense of what you’ve been miss­ing. The Tokyo of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry shown in its clips cer­tain­ly isn’t the same city it was in 1968. Yet it remains “an inter­min­gling of Ori­ent and Occi­dent, seem­ing­ly new, but actu­al­ly old,” as the nar­ra­tor of “A Day in Tokyo” puts it. “Beneath its mod­ern exte­ri­or, there still lingers an atmos­phere of past glo­ries. The cit­i­zens remain unal­ter­ably Japan­ese, and yet this great city is able to accom­mo­date and under­stand peo­ple of all races, lan­guages, and beliefs” — peo­ple now arriv­ing by the thou­sands once again.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

Watch Life on the Streets of Tokyo in Footage Record­ed in 1913: Caught Between the Tra­di­tion­al and the Mod­ern

1850s Japan Comes to Life in 3D, Col­or Pho­tos: See the Stereo­scop­ic Pho­tog­ra­phy of T. Ena­mi

Hand-Col­ored 1860s Pho­tographs Reveal the Last Days of Samu­rai Japan

An Intro­duc­tion to Japan­ese Kabu­ki The­atre, Fea­tur­ing 20th-Cen­tu­ry Mas­ters of the Form (1964)

How Youtube’s Algo­rithm Turned an Obscure 1980s Japan­ese Song Into an Enor­mous­ly Pop­u­lar Hit: Dis­cov­er Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plas­tic Love”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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