A Look Back at Japan's Transformative ‘Showa Era’

showa mini truck

A Showa-era utility truck in Fukui Prefecture. Image by Nevin Thompson

As Japan heads into high summer, it's a reminder that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is just three years away. While there are worries the Tokyo summer games may be too expensive and may leave the Japanese capital cluttered with “white elephants,” this will be in fact the second summer Olympics that Tokyo has hosted.

Tokyo hosted its first Olympics in 1964, and the summer games that year were intended to showcase the economic miracle of Japan as it rose from the ashes of the Second World War.

One blog and Twitter account, “A Tour of Spots from the Showa Era” (@昭和スポット巡りShowa Spotto Meguri), preserves this postwar history, combing encyclopedias, photo magazines, guidebooks and other sources for nostalgic images from Japan's postwar recovery:

Advertisement for a Daihatsu “Fellow” in 1967.

The Showa era in Japan stretched from 1926 to 1989 and the death of Emperor Hirohito, and covers Japan's descent into military dictatorship, war and subsequent defeat until the country's economic rebirth and growth into the world's second-largest economy in the 1980s.

1964: Edobashi Junction. From the guidebook “Japan.”

The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo were a defining symbol of this period. Tokyo, already obliterated and rebuilt following the war, was once again reshaped ahead the games, notably with new elevated expressways.

The Showa era of the mid-60s to mid-70s. Kabuto-cho, Nippponbashi in Tokyo. Image from Encyclopedia Nipponica.

Besides massive new infrastructure projects such as highways and high-speed rail lines, the Japan of the 1960s and 1970s had become a consumer culture with its unique style.

The television weather report with typhoon updates in 1960.

The decade around the 1964 Olympics also provided some striking designs.

Trains of Japan National Railways around 1968. Image from Encyclopedia Nipponica.

The “A Tour of Spots from the Showa Era” Twitter account doesn't just explore the Tokyo of the 1960s. There are photos from the 1950s, when Japan was already rocketing to economic recovery, and from different cities, such as this nostalgic image of Osaka:

Dotonbori (an entertainment district in Osaka) in the 1950s.

The 1970s was also an iconic time in Showa-era Japan, with its own unmistakable style.

Kitchen tiles in the 1970s.

“Fuji,” a Western-style cake shop.

“Pinocchio,” a coffee shop and restaurant in Kamo City.

The rear ends of various domestic-model cars in the 1970s.

The Twitter account also captures the look and feel of Japan's postwar cities. Most were built in a hurry, with cheap, utilitarian ferro-concrete architecture that is still a defining characteristic of Japan's fading regional cities in 2017:

“Brick Road” shopping street in Gifu City. For more photos, click here: http://showaspotmegri.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2016/11/post-a2c3-15.html

“A Tour of Spots from the Showa Era” also captures parts of Japanese postwar culture that have mostly vanished in 2017:

1963: A man sleeping in a luggage rack on a long-distance train is admonished by a train conductor (Japan National Railways). Image from “Asahi Graph.”

To provide a glimpse of how Japan has transformed since the 1964 summer games, earlier in July, Kyodo, a news agency and wire service based in Tokyo, published an online gallery of images that compare Tokyo in 1964 with images of the city in 2017:

More photos of Showa-era Japan can be viewed Twitter and on the Showa Meguri Spotto blog.

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