After spending a productive fall semester studying Western civilization and the edifices of Athens, Greece, I was able to globalize my experience as a Visualizing Cities Fellow by migrating to the Tokyo research group. I had wanted to work with Dr. Gennifer Weisenfeld on Japanese studies as I felt it was important to spend time within an Eastern atmosphere. Cities were certainly not just Western ideas, and I knew to expand my competency as a researcher, digital-humanist, and student invested in Asiatic studies, focusing on history, culture, and metropolitanism from an Eastern perspective was to be a formative endeavor. Early on, working with the Tokyo group, we plumbed the intersections of globalism and the cumulative evolution of Tokyo as a city from the Edo and Meiji periods onwards. One of the topics we discussed was the idea of spatiality, and how the creation and destruction of public spaces intersected with a grander narrative of urban and national identity. One typology I researched was transit in Tokyo—how maps of railway networks from the 20th century reflected the spatial growth of transportation and population. From this research, an alluring question arose: how does space, particularly public space, facilitate and engender social connections and meanings—what role does visuality play? As I also wanted to explore media theory, I eventually began researching “Manā” or “Manner Posters”, which refer to a collective artistic and social media advertisement campaign that emerged along rail and subway stations in 20th century Tokyo. The posters are visually dynamic images intended to communicate proper subway etiquette to passengers, often done in comedic, nostalgic, or avant-garde ways. Using the Omeka software and Dublin Core Metadata syntax to build an archival collection, I researched the work of artist Hideya Kawakita, who curated an assortment of Manā Posters for the Tokyo Teito Rapid Transit Authority in the 1980s. The research was fascinating because it was multi-factorial. There was the artistry and design implementations motivating the posters—how the use of perspective, symbology, and language were mediums of communication and instruction. And there was also a confluence of ideology and meaning-making. Kawakita’s work for example was enhanced by both historical nationalism and cosmopolitanism. One Manā Poster depicts a character from a famous kabuki theater play, Sukeroku, only someone from Japan might know, while another depicts the universally recognized stature of Napoleon Bonaparte. This form of both local and global spatial awareness seemed to reflect the very dynamism of modern Tokyo itself—how by the late 1900s transit passengers were no longer city-dwellers but also foreign visitors, expatriates, and immigrants. Studying the visuality and significance of Manā Posters, then, presented me the opportunity to do exactly what I had initially wanted, which was to use the veneer of Tokyo to examine the constellation of cultural interactions between East and West that continue to this day. Japanese Manā Posters are one such example of this Eastern and Western intersectionality, and as I’ve emphatically learned this semester, studying a city can become synonymous with studying the world.
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