An elegantly dressed European woman delicately holding a single camellia blossom lies luxuriously on a chaise longue. Her lissome figure showcases a gorgeous sleeveless blue-patterned dress cascading luxuriantly off the chair onto the floor. This could describe a French image of a stylish Parisienne in her boudoir, but it is, in fact, a late 1920s Japanese advertisement for the whitening peroxide toothpaste sold by the cosmetics company Shiseido. There is no Japanese company whose advertising design better represents the aesthetic of cosmopolitan chic seen throughout the visual sphere in early 20th-century Japan than Shiseido. The Shiseido cosmetics company opened its Western-style pharmaceutical business in Tokyo in 1872 and a few decades later, under the banner of its stylish camellia logo and signature arabesque designs, emerged as one of the leading cosmetics manufacturers in Japan, a position it still holds over a century later.
While cosmetics may not have garnered the level of scholarly attention paid to other economic sectors, it was without question a critical part of Japan’s burgeoning consumer market. It provides an unparalleled window into the changing contemporary ideals of beauty and taste, not to mention being a valuable indicator of cultural trends in health and hygiene.
Shiseido’s innovative product and promotional production tells a distinctive story about Japan’s experience of modernity, including the impact on national culture of mass market consumerism, urbanization, and changing gender roles. As Kathy Peiss has convincingly argued, “beauty culture” should not only be understood as a type of commerce, but also “as a system of meaning that helped women navigate the changing conditions of modern social experience” as they increasingly entered public life.
It is not an overstatement to say that Shiseido and other consumer product manufacturers had a large hand in shaping the cultural landscape of modern Japan. They were not only innovative in terms of their product development and manufacturing, but also in their pioneering work in advertising design and marketing, which shaped the visuality of the public sphere. This period saw the dawn of modern commercial design around the world and Japanese corporate sponsors were in an international and inter-cultural dialogue with their colleagues around the world, particularly those in Europe and the United States.
The rest of the essay is at the source - really interesting stuff! They go on to talk about visual culture and WWII, as well as influences and business.
mothw1ng-deactivated20111017 asked: What's a good place to start learning about 19th and 20th century Shanghai? I ask, because I'm primarily Anglphone and I'm afraid of investing in books that will only be full of Orientalist twaddle and imperial apologism
Any time I want to approach a new time period in what is know as “Far East Asia” (Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia) or SE/South Asia (a little mix of any of those countries) I head straight to Asia For Educators.
Scrolling down will give you maps, art, primary sources, articles, excerpts, and essays. You’ll have to do a little sifting, but usually the findings are good, and if you can read Chinese, all the better. You can say, browse the Ling Long Women’s Magazine from Shanghai (That’s the 1930s) or search for articles on trade (which will probably tie into Shanghai.) I usually look for sources of these articles, or to see if they come from other books.
Other times, your best bet is to go through Amazon, and look for good, solid Academic books or well-received lay history books.
I do this:
Search: [Books] - Shanghai. Then I go to the left hand bar, and hit “History”. I can narrow it down further if I want Military history, or “Asia”, or whatever, but I’m going to look at the first hit I get, “Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City.” It’s written by Stella Dong, a 2nd Gen Chinese American. Clicking on the Reviews tells me it’s interesting, will probably teach me something, but probably isn’t going to impress highfalutin Academia. It might be a good book to start with, but I’m convinced I want a great book. (Plus I enjoy footnotes).
"Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early 20th Century" looks good, if not long. But sometimes that’s helpful - this gives us a view on street life, and it appears to be highly academic, and maybe a bit of a work to get through because it’s so detailed.
Shanghai Splendor: A Cultural History from 1843-1949 seems good. It covers the most amount of time, and is written by a Professor from UC Berkley. (California tends to put out a lot of Asian Studies books, and Berkley is no exception to the rule.)
I would choose the last book, even though it has the least reviews if I wanted the broadest spectrum of history covered. The second book appears to be meant for people who like a huge amount of depth, and the first is a good read but a tad sensationalist because of it.
I hope that helps!