Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures
University of Michigan
Friday, November 19, 4- 6 pm
Site of transformation: Asakusa, Photographic Studios, and Media in Modern Japan
In the early days of Japan’s photographic history, the area known as Asakusa in the capital Tokyo became the hotspot for photographic studios. There, famous photographers such as Uchida Kyuichi, Kitaniwa Tsukuba, and Ezaki Reiji all opened their studios, and by the early 1880s, nearly forty studios congregated in this small area surrounding the landmark Asakusa Senso-ji Temple. Studios took portraits of the customers and also sold portraits of famous actors and courtesans who used these images to compete against one another. The photographic portraits taken at the studios in Asakusa and other photographic products convey the transformative aspects of portrait photography from this period.
But Asakusa had also been a unique area just a few decades before the studios were set up: the area was filled with street performances, spectacle shows, and noisy crowds. Did this play a role in attracting photographers to Asakusa? What made Asakusa a suitable place for this new enterprise, and what made it possible to sustain such an abundance of studios?
This paper explores the historical interconnection between the area of Asakusa and the practices of the photographic studios from the late nineteenth century Tokyo. It analyses the photographic studios in Asakusa as one thread in an intricate fabric that comprised the dynamic, lively, sometimes eccentric, and always innovative area of Asakusa. This paper proposes photographic studios as a burgeoning business practice that responded to, and was shaped by, the particular transformative sense that defined Asakusa. Incorporating newspaper articles, advertisements, and accounts by Asakusa residents, this project aims to explore how the photographic studios aligned themselves within the spaces of transformation, and how the strong presence of photographic studios themselves might have challenged the neighborhood of Asakusa.