Sunday Travels #6: Japan (Keystone actually respects its subject!)

KVC manages to respectfully cover Japan

We’ve been through a couple dozen Keystone View Company stereoviews in the Sunday Travels series so far. While some of the stereography is pretty good, for the most part the cards don’t respect their subject. Last week, for example, I showcased the first 7 cards that I ran across focused on Australia. The group was an exercise in stereotyping – the featured subjects were mostly kangaroos and sheep. It was while looking for enough Australian subjects to make last week’s post that I came across these views of Japan.

Prior to Australia, we were in The Netherlands. Many of the cards in the four groups we looked at had paternalistic – if not downright puerile – text attached to them. The Dutch were portrayed as a quaint people, who wore wooden shoes whilst riding boats on canals that passed by windmills. The cards from the Metropoolregio Rotterdam Den Haag were of somewhat more varied and interesting content. However, in general, the views – and the verso text – reinforced extant American stereotypes about The Netherlands (often conflated with Holland).

Today, however, we’re looking at some Keystone cards from Japan. And they’re not only good (stereographically speaking), but they’re almost unexpectedly respectful. It’s not just a set of stereotypes, and there’s a good mix of subjects. Scenic views, views of various people in various occupations, an architectural shot – and they’re mostly excellent stereographs! There are, of course, scenes of Tokyo, the silk industry, Mt. Fuji, and the “aboriginal” Ainu. But the verso text on each reads as if written by an anthropologist who understood and respected the culture.

So why the sudden respectful attitude from the silly KVC folk?

While it may be the case that Keystone just had a higher opinion of Japan than, for example, Australia, this seems unlikely. Most of the Keystone cards I’ve looked through take a paternalistic view of other nations, and of minorities in America. So I don’t think that the higher quality of these cards has anything to do with KVC’s view on Japan. Rather, I think it’s related to my sorting process. Let me explain.

After the four posts on The Netherlands, I took a week off. It was the 80th anniversary of the beginning of WW2, and I wrote companion articles on the German invasion of Poland and the occupation of Danzig. I’d already come by 7 cards on Australia sorting through the same boxes that I’d found the Netherlands cards in – so I figured it was no bother to find more before last Sunday. But as the deadline (being early Sunday morning) approached, I searched through that collection and only founded a duplicate kangaroo.

So I opened up a previously unexplored box of Keys, and came across these Japanese views, amongst other, less-obnoxious Keystone travel views. And I noticed something about the 7 cards I’m about to display: they’re almost certainly from the same set. Unlike the cards from The Netherlands and Australia, these Japan cards are of higher quality – both stereographically and textually. And I think there’s a simple reason for this…

These stereoviews were later captures than those from the other box!

The seven cards displayed today all have series numbers between 925 and 942 – presumably from a “Tour of the World” set. I’m sure many of the others that have featured on Sunday Travels did as well. But those make reference to times between the 19th century and the early 1920s. These mention events in the 30s.

So my working hypothesis is that these date from some time around the time that Keystone released the much-coveted (and extremely rare) 1932 four-hundred-card “World War through the Stereoscope” set. And my guess is that by this point, Keystone having acquired all of the major manufacturers and become “the only game in town”, they both had access to a better image gallery, and had the resources with which to hire copyrighters who could do a good job.

My suspicion is that, if there are Japan stereoviews in the collection I had been culling from, they’re as problematic as the Australia ones. Different set – different qualities. When Keystone acquired Underwood & Underwood, the overall quality of their Great War sets jumped. There’s no reason to think that a similar thing didn’t happen with their “Tour of the World” sets. So let’s look at some nice – and respectful – views of Japan. Next week, I’ll try to find another sequence from the same box – and we’ll see if they line up!



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