Sites of "Disconnectedness": The Port City of Yokohama, Souvenir Photography, and its Audience

  • Mio Wakita (Author)
    Institute of East Asian Art History Heidelberg University
    Assistant Professor of Japanese Art History

Identifiers (Article)


Photography and East Asian ports formed an inextricably tight relationship during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Initially launched by Western photographers, photography in East Asian treaty ports captured exotic customs and landscapes of East Asia and was an indispensable part of the newly emerging culture of port cities. In Japan, the tourist photography industry was established in the mid-nineteenth century at treaty ports and flourished as an ever growing industry until the beginning of the twentieth century. Catering exclusively to the non-Japanese audience in the West, this photographic industry cultivated a parallel image culture to the indigenous photography scene with its distinctive iconographic repertoire and its particular visual aesthetics.

Conditioned by transport technologies, the profile of the foreign clientele of this image industry was never monolithic, and experienced a radical shift in the course of its history, especially since the rise of the globetrotter tourism in the early 1870s. This very fact invites us to question how tourist photography as a commercial commodity responded to its changing circumstances and how the industry’s reaction was reflected in its visual imagination. My analysis focuses on clarifying the complex web of movements of people (photographers, customers of photographic images) in port cities and visual products (photography) within the context of the port city tourist industry, showing how this dynamic was embodied in the intricate strategy of its photographic imaginations.

By taking the tourist photography industry in Yokohama as an example, this paper illustrates how it was launched as a business emblematic of nineteenth-century European and American entrepreneurship in East Asia, and how it developed a unique image culture that spread from the port city of Yokohama to Europe, the US, and Australia. It also looks into its visual language and illuminate how this commercial image industry consciously related its geographical, historical, economic, and cultural specificity to its visual products. By doing so, I aim to demonstrate that photography, in this regard, proves to be a cultural artifact mirroring complex interconnections taking place in the nineteenth-century port city of Yokohama.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Japanese Studies, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Art History
Japan, Photography, Maritime History, Yokohama, Felice Beato, Kusakabe Kimbei
How to Cite
Wakita, M. (2013). Sites of "Disconnectedness": The Port City of Yokohama, Souvenir Photography, and its Audience. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 4(2), 77–129.