Tourism in Japan is climbing, with well over 20 million visitors expected annually by the 2020 Olympics. With a great exchange rate, more international flights and relaxed visa requirements, it’s no wonder people are flocking here from all over the world. Not too dissimilar to Japan almost 100 years ago, in fact,  when developments in train and sea travel meant Japan was the new top destination for the adventurous. To reflect this, the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo is exhibiting a stunning selection from one of the earliest tourism campaigns.

Selection of works in Tourism Exhibition
Photo by MOMAT

By interspersing beautiful traditional images of cherry blossom and kimono-clad women by renowned artists such as Yoshida and Hashiguchu with bolder graphic designs by Western artists such as Pieter L. Brown and Gosta Georgii-Hemming, who employed elements of art-deco and Russian constructivism to advertise Japan, the impact of the collection is significantly enhanced.  The contrast of the selection provides an interesting insight into the transitional period Japan found itself in, and arguably is yet to escape.

Including works from many private collections, this is a great opportunity to see some rarely exhibited works, in particular those by Hisui Sugiura. A prominent artist at the time, Sugiura travelled to the West to bring back examples of graphic design and was famed for his work for the Mitsukoshi Department store which displayed the transition from realistic Biji-ga to Matisse-like depictions of women and integrated typograhy; noticeable in his works for the Tourist  Bureau’s campaign.

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As well as posters, there are intricately designed guidebooks and leaflets, along with a 20-minute screening of the promotional video for the ‘Japan in 3 Weeks’ tour. If you have the time, this is definitely worth watching, even if only for a few minutes, with fascinating footage of Japan as you may never have seen it.  If not only to enjoy being taken back in time, it could help with trip-planning as it highlights the best route around Japan’s sights for those on a tight schedule (and I imagine it will now be much easier with the modern luxuries of bullet trains, if admittedly less picturesque).

At  430 yen for standard entry and 130 yen for students, this is a bargain, especially considering it grants you access to all other exhibitions. However, for the ultimate cheapo win, entry is free on the first Sunday of every month, so February 7th could be the day to take a chance on a view back into Japan’s tourism beginnings.

For those planning multiple visits, there is a MOMAT Passport available for 1,000 yen which provides entry to collection exhibitions, the Crafts Gallery as well as the Gallery of the National Film Center.

Visit Japan: Tourism Promotion in the 1920s and 1930s

January 9th – February 28th

The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo

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