Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space

Photo postcards are an often-ignored category of photographic production, but a crucial hallmark of the modern travel experience. The everydayness and obviousness of the postcard medium makes it a ripe primary material through which we can learn about culture, racial attitudes, and the inner-workings of imperial ideology. In this paper, I interrogate a single Japanese postcard set (ca. 1926-1940) that engages with the customs of the Japanese indigenous minority, the Ainu. Produced in Hokkaido—the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago—I argue that this particular set exemplifies a much broader postcard phenomenon that negotiates the newly industrialized Hokkaido frontier with the loss of indigenous, Ainu spaces. Through a creative juxtaposition of image, text, and graphic design these postcards simultaneously laud the wonders of railway travel to the island interior while inscribing new transportation hubs with nostalgia for an indigenous past. Postcards sold near railway stations were crucial in establishing the modern tourist landscape of Hokkaido. Previous travel routes depicted in nineteenth-century maps were traversed on horse or on foot. The speed of train travel forever changed the tourist experience of space, as visitation became limited to those sites with railway station access. As a testament to this new configuration of frontier space, postcards like these stand as visual relics that embrace new tourist geographies while illuminating the specter of the indigenous village erased in the name of progress. This postcard set of seven was produced in order to educate a new sightseeing public about the Ainu linguistic origins of Hokkaido city names. The Ainu are relegated to the periphery—both literally and figuratively—as Japanese text is superimposed over native bodies in a crowded collage. This postcard set illuminates not only the emergent geographies prompted by train travel, but also ideologies informing the new tourist experience of native culture.

Client: Nature of Space, Visual Arts Graduate Student Conference Date: March 9, 2013 Services: University of California, San Diego

Spiker, Christina M. “Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space,” paper delivered at the Nature of Space, Visual Arts Graduate Student Conference, UC San Diego. (March 9, 2013).

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