Re-Envisioning Japan uses travel, education, and the production and exchange of objects and images as a lens to investigate changing representations of Japan and its place in the world with a focus on the early-to-mid-twentieth century. The key objectives of this project are preservation, access, and historical analysis. As a multimedia resource, Re-Envisioning Japan makes available a wide range of artifacts that generally have not been a priority for collecting institutions until recently, if at all, allowing users to work with less conventional, ephemeral primary sources. With the exception of the archival film category and some of the glass lantern slides, all objects and images presented here belong to my personal collection. This collection encompasses a range of things falling into the broad categories of travel, tourism and education: for example, amateur travel films; educational films; postcards; photographs; stereographs; glass slides; tourist brochures; guidebooks; promotional trade publications; books; and teaching guides. The objects and images on this website tell us something about the individuals that used (or created) them, and the cultural, political, and economic systems that produced them. An important function of the site is that ideally, when completed, its architecture will allow for a dynamic community of contributors who will be able to register and contribute content to the archive, creating a community of users forging new paths of inquiry, or providing fresh perspectives on familiar questions.

This is a large-scale, open-ended digital humanities project. Its first iteration (REJ 1.0, 2013-2016) was created on a WordPress platform using highly customized versions of the Toolbox Wordpress theme and Nextgen Gallery from Photocrati Media (both open source) to display individual images. For a shortcut to the original WordPress site, use the pink button "Old REJ Website" in the upper left hand corner on the main menu header bar. We began designing this enhanced second iteration of Re-Envisioning Japan (REJ 2.0) in September 2015, and it was launched in January 2017. As of April 2017, a limited number of objects in the Re-Envisioning Japan collection can be accessed here, representing the broad range of formats that comprise the collection. Migration of digital assets from REJ 1.0 is ongoing, as is the addition of newly acquired and newly digitized objects. The Re-Envisioning Japan collection is a living collection: digitization, identification, contextualization, and the creation of metadata continues apace. If you come across something that you would like more information about please contact me directly. 

I have deeded this teaching and research collection to the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, where it will be rehoused and cataloged as the Re-Envisioning Japan Research Collection, facilitating broader access and ensuring its ongoing conservation.

Brief Background

I never intended to become a collector. In 2000 I began occasionally searching for specific objects that I could use in the Japanese and film studies classroom. Perhaps it was a function of the new millennium, but I was increasingly drawn to other things from Japan’s twentieth-century past that provided an opportunity to understand that past from a fresh perspective. I had just finished a book on silent cinema, a subject defined by loss especially in the case of Japan. Lacking the familiarity and sense of immediacy provided by a cinematic image of early twentieth-century Japan, I was drawn to the life and landscape of that time and place through other material means. I also wanted a more immediate sense of Japan's profile as a contender in the increasingly complex and diverse media and communication channels characteristic of the twentieth century. From the start I was less interested in “superlative collecting” than in exploring a sampling of the variety of objects that I encountered. As motifs emerged I devised working categories in an attempt to construct a meaningful framework for these objects.  The predominance of objects generated by travel- and education-related activities, and the natural kinship between these two activities emerged as the connective tissue for my online archive. Educational items tend to be of American or British origin. Tourism ephemera generally originate in Japan. These two over-arching categories complement each other in useful ways.

I used the term “Tourist Japan” as a working title for the project early in its development, linking the armchair traveler reading about Japan with the traveler who physically moves through space. Hence, I define “tourism” as temporally limited travel, both actual (physical, experiential) and virtual (educational, informational). “Tourist” and “tourism” are all-too-often thought of as disparaging terms, signifying passive, shallow consumers and consumption. I agree with others who regard them as valuable because they are flexible and inclusive.  The rise of twentieth-century tourism is central to understanding twentieth-century cultural flow and cultural identity; the tourist perspective is personal, opening up possibilities for a multiplicity of narrative perspectives.

Japan was an actively promoted tourist destination in the first half of the twentieth century. Early government and industry intervention in this promotion aimed at enhancing diplomacy, raising Japan’s international profile as a modern nation, and encouraging the influx of foreign currency. As my collection grew, two focal points emerged: the wave of American tourism that peaked in the 1930s and the concurrent rise of Japan's profile as a modern nation, and English-language media focus on postwar Japan. I chose 1970 as a rough cut-off  date for the archive for a number of reasons, but I selectively include objects from earlier and more recent periods that suggest continuities, ways in which Japan’s past recurrently informs its present. The collection, and subsequently this website's focus predominantly denote a U.S. (and more generally, an English-language) audience, and the American tourist and educational experience of Japan.  

About me

I am Professor of Japanese in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and a member of the faculty in the Film and Media Studies Program, the Digital Media Studies Program, and the Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation. I am also affiliate faculty in the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies and associate faculty in the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. I hold a B.F.A. in Photography, Film, and Video from Kansas City Art Institute; an M.A. and Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University; and an honorary certificate from the L. Jeffrey Selznick Program in Film Preservation. I am the author of Writing in Light (Wayne State University Press, 2001) on Japanese cinema of the 1910s, focusing on its intersection with changing international attitudes toward screenwriting, film production, and consumption; and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Cinema (2020) and Provenance and Early Cinema (2021). In addition to silent cinema, film preservation, and moving image and media history and historiography, I have published on the collaborative work of Kenji Mizoguchi and Yoshikata Yoda; Jun’ichirō Tanizaki and cinema; Godzilla and nuclear age culture; collecting and curatorship; and digital humanities scholarship and pedagogy. Works-in-progress include a book monograph on the director Jūzō Itami for the Global Film Directors Series, Rutgers Univ. Press (Films for the Living: The Cinema of Jūzō Itami).

Joanne Bernardi