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Old-timey footage of Japan

Personally, I've always been fascinated by Japanese history. While far from an expert on the issue, there's just something mystical about the society as it blossomed throughout the Edo and Meiji periods in particular. From a young age, I was a fan of Mito Komon 水戸黄門, a Japanese period drama based in the Edo era following the adventures of feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni. Here’s a taste:

Pretty amazing. Each episode essentially revolves around Mitokomon and his samurai henchman traveling around Japan, solving mysteries incognito. Installations end in a massive brawl with a gang of bad guys irrefutably humbled when they discover they are in the presence of the former vice shogun. It was another time.

Nevertheless, since the end of World War II, Japan has undoubtedly changed its culture. Allied occupation effectively led to a restructured government, and a societal development scheme that changed the Japanese constitution as well as the underlying economic structure of the country. Sadly, it seems, something was lost in the transition. Perhaps this cultural shift explains the ongoing popularity of nostalgic jidaigeki 時代劇, historical dramas like Mitokomon.

Japanese Life Circa the 1910s

So, for old time's sake, I thought it would be fun to head into the vault and look at some old-timey footage from Japan. The first piece is a restored and edited film from Eye, the national museum of film in Amsterdam. It shows scenes of everyday life in Tokyo from 1913-1915. Eye speed-corrected the footage and added audio ambiance.

As you can see, the video captures what appear to be summer scenes in commercial districts. Many children are wearing yukata 浴衣 garments and geta 下駄 clogs while they stare curiously at the camera filming them. After all, it's unlikely they have seen many cameras before.

The film also provides a taste of what markets were like 100 hundred years ago. There are shots of bustling shopping districts and a shot of a toy retailer carrying his kiosk. In some aspects, such as signage, it's amazing how little things have changed.

Young Mothers and Young Children

The next piece was uploaded by Huntley Archives, a team of film archivists founded by John Huntley. I’m not sure whether intentional or not, but it focuses mostly on the female experience.

The opening shots center around childcare. We see a mother and baby in a bath, and an older sister playing patty-cake with her younger sibling strapped to her back. Scenes of shrine-goers follow portraits of nursemaids.

Next, we are back in the market. Again there is a toy seller; however, street performers steal the show. Young boys perform a strange headstand dance, and a group of young girls does a dragon dance accompanied by shamisen strumming.

The video ends with the lessons of a mistress. Young girls learn a dance and etiquette. Under their teacher's direction, they eat a meal and prepare their futons for bed. The narration notes how there is no protest as they lay down for the night.

Kobu Tori: a 1929 Animation

While live footage is impressive, the early days of Japanese animation are also amusing. YouTubers have posted restored footage of Kobu Tori, The lump, a 1929 animation based upon a Japanese folktale. Unfortunately, there are two versions: one with subtitles and another with an audio track. I'll post both below.


Audio track:

As you can see, Kobu Tori is the story of two older men with tumors hanging from their face. Tarobei is hardworking and diligent, and Jirobei is a lazy scoundrel. One day, while out working, Tarobei is caught in a storm. He hides in the hollow of a tree and awakes to the sound of music. He is drawn to a performing group of demons. After dancing with the group, they instruct him to return the next day. Mistaken, they believe he values his tumor, so they take it to ensure he will come back.

The next day, Tarobei, with a trick in mind, goes to the gang in the place of Jirobei. The older man plans to woo the demons with his dancing and swipe the gift. However, he dances too woefully. He attempts to take the gift but is immediately caught. The minions take back their present, and "return" the lump to Tarobei. He is left in dire straits, hanging from a tree with two tumors attached to his face.

By - Luke Mahoney.

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