Collecting postcards became a national craze in Japan in the first decade of the twentieth century – and caused at least one riot. Yokohama, home to many of the oldest and most important Japanese tourist photography studios, became a major center of postcard production and the Ueda Photographic Prints Corporation 上田写真版合資会社, founded by Ueda Yoshizō上田義三 in the famed city port, was one of a handful of premier Japanese picture postcard publishers. Ueda’s early sets of cards included photographs of the Kamakura Daibutsu, but they and their business rivals continued to produce new views of this ancient colossus.
Professional and amateur photographs had long shot the Daibutsu frontally from long and medium distances. A few took photographs from the southwest corner, or even from behind, but images of the Daibutsu from the southeast were uncommon (although not unknown) likely because the temple landscaping did not easily allow for a person to position himself. The grounds of Kōtoku-in 高徳院, the temple where the Daibutsu resides, had continuously undergone renovations since Western tourists discovered it in the 1860’s, slowly opening up the areas around the statue and providing better “picturesque” viewing. One unknown photographer from Ueda was able to take a position in the southeast corner and take a photograph [Figure 1] – one of the very few from this angle.
- Title/Caption: Daibutsu, Kamakura. 佛大倉鎌
- Year: c. 1912 [postally unused]
- Publisher: Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社
- Medium: collotype print on cardstock
- Dimensions: 5.5 in X 3.5 in
- Reverse Imprint: Carte postale – Postkarte – Post Card [Type 5], Made in Japan, 郵便はかき
This postcard image is also one of the few photographs that does not incorporate any people in its composition, a technique which typically assisted the viewer in gauging and appreciating the sheer size of the statue. Only the most astute observer would note that the photograph is not devoid of all beings – there is a dog resting at the stone base of the statue [Figure 2]. The dog’s distinctive head patterning and white body suggests this may be the same dog photographed in two older stereoview cards, who is seen mingling with temple visitors and tourists. Serene and relaxed, both the Daibutsu and dog appear to be enjoying the relative quiet of the scene.
The Ueda crest on the reverse along with the distinctive multilingual printing clearly reveals this card to be part of the Ueda Corp. stock published after 1907, possibly around 1912. It is difficult to determine when the photograph was taken, but the presence of the dog suggests it was taken sometime after the first few years of the turn of the century, when the stereoviews were taken. While this is one among a dozen or more Japanese picture postcards produced of the Daibutsu before 1923 (when the Kantō earthquake destabilized the Japanese postcard industry), it remains one of the most unique.
*This is part of a series of posts devoted to exploring the development of a visual literacy for Buddhist imagery in America. All items (except otherwise noted) are part of my personal collection of Buddhist-themed ephemera.