About the Exhibit and Project
This exhibit samples the vast number of images, stories, performances, and accounts of Japan that circulated in the United States at the turn of the twentieth centruy. At no time has the interest in and significance of Japan for Americans been greater than between 1890-1913, a rich and complex historical period for both nations. Marked by the emergence of broadly available media (including motion pictures and mass-circulation magazines), the early twentieth century was also a time when the United States expanded into the Pacific and became increasingly aware of Japan's modernization and its new geopolitical role, particularly after its victories in the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. It is, in fact, difficult to overestimate how Japan's military successes, rapid modernization, and emergence as a global power captivated and troubled the imagination of Americans. At the same time, this era also saw ongoing controversy about Japanese immigration to Hawaii and the West Coast, the appearance and immense popularity of Madame Butterfly (as novella, opera, play, and film) and the continuing fascination with an exoticised, non-Western Japan, a heroic, traditional Japan, and a racially "pure" homogenous Japan.
"Japan-in-America" is, therefore, a complicated and multifaceted phenomena, very much connected to historical events, public opinion campaigns, war scares, Japanophilia, and Japanophobia, and not limited to only a few positive or negative stereotypes. This exhibit displays a wide array of images and artifacts from the popular culture of the period - paintings, poetry, and travel literature, but also postcards, illustrated books, sheet music, magic lantern slides, editorial cartoons, motion pictures, missionary tracts, children's literature, advertisements, circus acts, magic shows, and a range of other forms.
Gregory A. Waller, Project Director
The Media School
Indiana University at Bloomington