Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The call of Showa

In Japanese years, I was born in Showa 62, two years before the start of the Heisei era.

Perhaps this explains my fascination with early Showa buildings, remnants of a nostalgic history I have no claim to. While a great deal of Japan's large cities are concrete and glass, here and there a building survives, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, like Ginza or Azabu Juban. Unsurprisingly Osaka, a city which holds onto its past and culture with great pride, is a treasure trove of these wonderful, slightly derelict structures.

However, my interest also extends to the Meiji era, a period of huge change and transition in the country. The mixing of traditional culture and western influences, which come across clearly in Tanizaki and Natsume Souseki novels, a cultural maelstrom I got to learn more about when I was doing research in Kobe, courtesy of a Fulbright fellowship. I devour books, movies and dorama that give a glimpse of the past.Watching 'Norwegian Wood', I was not so much taken by the story (which, as usual for Murakami, is routinely tragic) as by the background, the clothes, the way of speaking, all the carefully recreated details of Japan in the 70s.

Perhaps I am just curious about a Japan without cellphones (hypocritical, as I write this from my smartphone, on the looong train home from a livehouse in Kokubunji), with more traditional ideas of beauty and a growing economy (post-Bubble era being exempted). The call of the past, even when it is not your own past, is strong.


  1. It's very interesting that you're fascinated by Showa. I am fascinated by Taisho, especially Taisho kimono. The Makioka Sisters is slightly more appealing to me (even though it is a Showa era novel) as well as Ogai Mori's novels. I like to imagine half of Japan in kimono, the other half in western clothing.

    I loved Norwegian Wood (the book, haven't seen the movie, kind of afraid to) for the interesting settings too.

    Thanks for this post, I've been looking at your blog for a little while and just wanted to say I like your pictures and writings. :)

  2. Very nice post! I'd never even thought about it, but there is a lot of that left over Showa in Osaka, often where you least expect to find it (I almost moved into a Showa apartment once DD:)

    By reading this, I also realized how out of touch I am with more modern Japanese history. I could handle a convo about the Nara Period and Nihon shoki or Man'yogana, but after like.. Heian, I'm just done Lol

    I feel like I should go research more now so I can get more in touch with these Meiji and Showa vibes.

    Ohh, was that recent NHK asa-dora Showa era?? I think it's called Carnation...

  3. im totally interested in these old buildings and "a simpler life" time too. thanks for these~~

  4. I wasn't a fan of the movie Norwegian Wood because I thought it seemed too abstract/artsy... However the novel was rather good!

    But yes, I agree, the clothing and scenery in the movie are fantastic and quite beautiful. :) While there aren't so many interesting historical buildings in my area, there are a number of awesomely creepy abandoned hotels that I want to explore some time.

  5. Hi None, thanks for commenting. I love Taisho kimono patterns as well, I think my next kimono will be one of those lovely arrow prints(^_^)
    I read the book as well, and the movie is different, but it is worth seeing just for the background...and the cute actor ;p
    Also, yay for liking Mori!

  6. Hi Alyse, yup Carnation is early Showa.
    I feel that it is common for those who have studied Japanese history to only have info up until the surrender in WW2.
    It would have been cool to live in a Showa building, but probably also really chilly!

  7. Indi, creepy abandoned love hotels are really scary... All the gaudiness gone to decay is just...strange(^_^)
    Btw, next time you are in Tokyo, let me know!

  8. This is a brilliant article. I feel the same way about a past that is not my own. I long for 80's fashion and 50's mentality! :P

  9. I'm Showa 62, too! And these photos are cool, I love finding kitschy places around Tokyo.

  10. Coolness! If you have any recommendations, let me know(^_^)

  11. awesome photos and tidbits about Japanese culture! Thanks for sharing about your trip. I like your blog name hehe

  12. Hi Rachel!
    Thanks for stopping by :) I loved the cow backpack you posted!

  13. i am highly distracted by the fact u are born in showa 62. u are so much younger than me XD

  14. Haha, sorry Yumeko! Not much I can do about that (though, if it helps, I'm often told I act very otonashii?)