[Last Update: December 2018]

Introduction: Determining the correct publishers for older Japanese postcards can be daunting because they sometimes omit their name or trademark (or in the case of some postally used cards, the name is printed in the location where the stamp is affixed). One method of identification is to trace the image on the obverse of the unknown card to a later version where the publisher is clearly indicated. This process is not fool-proof, however, as some images seem to have become common property of all publishing houses, especially older photographic stock (early Japanese laws only provided five to ten years of copyright protection, see Bennett 2006: 123). Nevertheless, this method may prove fruitful if done cautiously. Another method is to identify the distinctive printing designs on the reverse (atena-men 宛名面, “address side”) of a postcard and determining any plausible relationships between variants (e.g. examining fonts, printing colors, etc.).

Using a combination of these two methods I propose the following identification for Ueda (historically Romanized as “Uyeda”) postcards printed between 1907 and 1918 (corresponding to Period II of Urakawa Kazuya’s 浦川和也 chronology). I identify five variant “types” that appear to follow a general chronological sequence, arranged into two “phases,” though much more work needs to be done to determine if an earlier type or phase ends with the introduction of a new type or phase, or if they are printed concurrently. The basic principle follows that the final type in the second phase (see below), Ueda Corp. incorporates its crest/trademark [see Figure 1] atop the dividing line on the reverse of the card. Thus, if any connection can be established to older variants without the publisher’s mark, they too would possibly (or even likely) be Ueda products.

Figure 1: The Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. trademark/crest.


I have done this by matching cards with the same obverse image but different reverse designs (as seen here) and complemented this procedure by looking for overarching similarities among different exemplars in the printing and design on the reverse. The design of the reverse is the most distinctive aspect of mass produced postcards, and identifying the font, ink color, or overall desing may help in determining publishers (see a Hoshinoya exemplar here). For Udea, the multilingual printing on the reverse in umber brown (or burgundy) ink appears as one of its most easily identifiable hallmarks. An outline of the progressive changes (Type 1 to Type 5) for Udea’s reverse printing is found below.

Relative Chronology of Ueda Cerulean-Umber Design from 1907-1918

Chart 1a

Phase I

  • Type 1 (top card above): divided back; topped with German “Postkarte” header [TPQ 1907]
  • Type 2 (second card from top): divided back; topped with French “Carte Postale” header and imprinted with “Made in Japan” in dividing line [9][TPQ 1907]
  • Notes: Type 1 can be found on older Udea undivided back cards (Urakawa Period I) and is commonly printed in burgundy. Type II simply switched from the German to French headers. I have yet to find a Type II specimen on an undivided back, but the same sans-serif “Carte Postale” type (omitting the other languages) is found on undivided cards. Some sources claim that foreign language designations (i.e. non-Japanese) only appeared in 1905, but I have found that to be inaccurate.

Phase 2

  • Type 3 (middle card): divided back; topped with French-German-English header and imprinted with “Made in Japan” in dividing ling, capped by single bar [appears c.1910]
  • Type 4 (second card from bottom): same as Type 3, but with a double bar capping the dividing line; possibly coincidental, this resembles the trade mark for the Japanese Post Office (〒) [appears c.1910]
  • Type 5 (bottom card): same as Type 3, but with Udea crest capping the dividing line [appears c.1912]
  • Notes: These types all also contain the following ten languages in order: Italian, Estonian, Czech, Polish, Dutch, Austrian, Spansih, Sweedish, Norwegian, and Russian. Type 4 variants exist with “Made in Japan” imprinted on the short edge of the card.

Color Variations on the Reverse of Ueda Postcards from 1907-1918

The color of the ink on the Ueda reverse can vary between a burgundy red, light or dark orange, and cinnamon or umber brown (see below). It is difficult to determine if these distinctive hue variations were intended or are due to printing irregularities, fading, or aging. Regardless, these ink colors stand out in comparison to the blues and black used by several other contemporary publishers. Because a large portion of Ueda cards are brown or dark brown, I use the term “umber” as an umbrella term to include the variant warm color inks.

Chart 1a

Color Variations on the Obverse of Ueda Postcards from 1907-1918

Turning to the front of the card, captioning was a fairly common practice among many postcards publishers and is not a viable way, in isolation, to identify Ueda prints. In addition, not all Udea postcards are captioned, especially more generic images, such as those of geisha. Nevertheless, an immense amount of Ueda cards are captioned bilingually in English and Japanese in a cerulean or cobalt blue ink. Sometimes a caption is printed in another color, such as brown, but this is rare and most are printed in a light to dark cerulean blue (see below). After 1917, however, Ueda revamps its design and more captions are printed in scarlet red. This is just another factor to consider when assessing the origins of a postcard. Irregularly, some captions are printed with an index number on the lower left, but this was far more common among the Tonboya publishing house.

Chart 2a

After 1918…

When shifting to Period III of Urakawa‘s chronology, the postal regulations move the dividing line to the middle of the post card in 1918, and Ueda follow suit by shifting the crest-capped line to the center of the card. In this new period, I have seen this dividing line position with the Type 5 and Type 2 design, and have also seen a new design absent the multilingual translations.

Overall, I only offer this typology and chronology as a possible starting point for historical research, as more work remains to be done to ascertain a fuller history of Ueda postcard printing. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot more research on the Yokohama shashin 横浜写真 (“Yokohama photography”) industry which produced many of the oldest and most significant tourist photographs of Meiji Japan. Much more research will be necessary to identify the photographers of these inexpensive and mass produced postcards.

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