Japan’s first nude poster

by Philbert Ono

In 1922, Torii Shoten (鳥井商店), the forerunner of Osaka-based beverage maker Suntory, made this poster to promote its “Akadama Port Wine” in Japan. Dubbed “Japan’s first nude poster,” it became an instant sensation.

It has become one of Japan’s most iconic and classic images. Any book about Japan’s advertising history or photographic history would include this historical poster. The nascent start of the “sex sells” concept in Japan. Needless to say, thanks to this poster, they sold a lot of this wine.

The poster was also very controversial during a very conservative period in Japan. The “nude” model was Emiko Matsushima (松島栄美子), a stage actress. A young woman posing like this was unthinkable and taboo in those days, and she was subject to police questioning for obscenity and other public harassment. She was even disowned by her siblings and all her relatives. Poor girl.

Emiko was the prima donna of a musical troupe (赤玉楽劇座) created specifically to promote Akadama Port Wine. The troupe went around Japan for a year to entertain wine retailers and customers. She was originally from Tokyo and worked as a stage actress before her famous gig.

Afterward, she moved back to Tokyo, married an NHK employee before World War II, had a son, and lived out her final years quietly in an apartment in Takadanobaba, Tokyo. Shortly before she died in 1983 at age 90, her nephew took a picture (below) of her posing with her famous poster at home.

Emiko Matsushima in 1983 with the famous 1922 poster of herself. Source: Sankei

Not much is known about the process of making this iconic shot. Torii reasoned that no matter how good a product was, it would be no use if people didn’t know about it. And so apparently he was in favor of a sensational PR campaign.

The photographer was KATAOKA Toshiro (片岡敏郎) who worked in the company’s PR department. Kataoka was already well-known in the advertising business as exceptionally talented, progressive, and innovative. He was the one who formed the musical troupe to promote the Akadama Port Wine.

He rented a photo studio in Osaka for a total of six days in May 1922 and took many shots of Emiko starting with her dressed in a kimono. Then he posed her in her underclothing, and eventually topless. Kataoka took about 50 to 60 shots per pose.

The final poster was made in a sepia tone with only the red wine standing out in color. The poster later won 1st place at a world poster contest held in Germany.

Akadama Port Wine displayed at the Yamazaki Whisky Museum in Osaka.

Suntory was founded in 1899 as an imported wine shop named Torii Shoten (鳥井商店) in Osaka by Shinjiro Torii (鳥井 信治郎). It mainly sold Spanish wines, but they didn’t sell well in Japan. So Torii produced his own sweet wine named “Akadama Port Wine” in 1907 (still sold today as “Akadama Sweet Wine”).

Akadama Port Wine was the first product made by Suntory. “Akadama” means “red ball” in reference to the sun (like on the Japanese flag). Helped by this nude poster, Akadama Port Wine sold well in Japan and Torii used the profits to try and make whisky. And the rest is history. Suntory now makes just about anything you can drink besides alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks, coffee, and even mineral water.

The company was renamed Kotobukiya in 1921, and then “Suntory” in 1963 after its main whisky. The name “Suntory” comes from “Sun” and the founder’s name “Torii.” The “Sun” comes from the “Akadama” red sun.

If you are in Kyoto or Osaka, I highly recommend taking a tour (only ¥1,000) of the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, a short train ride from JR Kyoto Station. Reservations are required. The distillery also has a museum, whisky-tasting bar, and gift shop. Great for whisky fans.

Tour inside Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

Japanese buzzword for 2017: Insta-bae

NHK TV program about the Instagram boom.

At the end of each year, a major Japanese publisher of reference books gives an award to the year’s most popular buzzword. The Japanese press gives this wide coverage to reflect the current times. Thirty words have been nominated for this honor in 2017 and one of them is photography-related.

It is “Insta-bae” (インスタ映え) which basically means “taking photos to show-off on Instagram.”

On the morning of Sept. 16, 2017, NHK TV in Japan aired a very interesting program about the Instagram boom in Japan. It was a discussion among a few celebrities and social media experts. They talked about the major aspects and issues about Instagram use, especially by young women in Japan.

The keywords for popular Instagrammers were “Kawaii,” “Kolorful,” and “Kako” (digital filters/enhancement). That’s what you need to focus on to become an Instagram star. One example they showed was a girl named “Nano” who used a pink theme to show confections. (Her Instagram wall is pink.)

The motivation behind Instagram is to show something “Right now,” “Only here,” and “Only me.” It’s about instant, fleeting, and unique moments plus You, the star. Vis-a-vis other conventional social media which was more about “Anytime,” “Anywhere,” and “Anybody.”
They also mentioned that a whopping 40% of Instagrammers and social media users in Japan were going on trips and to restaurants mainly to post photos on social media. So it’s creating economic ripples as they buy train tickets, food, etc.

It’s a great way to publicize products and businesses and for marketers to see current consumer trends and preferences. Many amusement facilities have set-up picture-taking ops or backgrounds just for these Instagrammers. Like a water park providing mermaid costumes for girls to wear for Instagram photos.

The social media experts also cited major differences between Instagram and Twitter. On Instagram, at least in Japan, there is a culture of praising each other. Post on Instagram and people will give you compliments. While on Twitter, you can be subject to flaming or criticism. (“Your makeup/hair looks ugly today!” etc.) So Japanese users seem to favor Instagram over Twitter.

insta2

Renting fake friends for a fake party photo.

On the darker side, users can become obsessed with the numbers game of gaining more “Likes” and comments. Their lives may revolve around social media so much that it affects their work or mental health. They might also go as far as posting fake or staged photos. Like borrowing a friend’s Gucci bag and posting it as their own. Or renting fake friends (¥8,000/person for 2 hours) to pose with you at a fake party so you can post the photos (photo above). Then there are followers who get tired of keeping up with all these people leading “exciting and wonderful” lives. The drudgery of “liking” all these photos…

If you can read Japanese, you can see the complete list of 2017’s nominated buzzwords in Japan here: http://singo.jiyu.co.jp/

They will announce the winner of 2017’s buzzword award on Dec. 1 at 5:00 pm.

UPDATE: On Dec. 1, 2017, “Insta-bae” was indeed selected as a co-winner as Japan’s buzzword of the year in 2017. CONGRATULATIONS to us and our photo world/culture in Japan!! Camera makers are responding to this phenomenon by offering Insta-bae-friendly cameras.

Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology

TOPmuseumDawnPhoto2017

TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM in Ebisu, Tokyo is holding a major exhibition called “Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology” about vintage/early Japanese photography on March 7–May 7, 2017.

On March 26 at 3 pm to 6 pm, a number of Japanese and foreign experts will give a talk for the “International Symposium: Photography in Bakumatsu Japan” in the museum’s 1st floor hall. Free admission.

On April 13 (4 pm) and April 14 (6 pm), Japan Times writer Alice Gordenker will give a tour of the above exhibition in English. Free with museum admission, no reservations required.

For details, see the official web page in English: https://topmuseum.jp/e/contents/exhibition/index-2577.html

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