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The back page of every issue of Fūzoku gahō 風俗画報, a Tokyo-based illustrated magazine of Japanese life and customs, featured a pairing of some cultural practice “before” and “now.” Several of these layouts included dogs, and I’ll be blogging them as I get a chance to raid the archives.

Each spread was presented with inscriptions from the magazine’s editors, calligraphers, and other journalists. My ability to decipher brush script isn’t great, so I’m not going to comment on the text (though sadly, that means I will fail to credit the illustrator[s] until I get a chance to follow up). As my greater interest is in documentary images, I focus on the visuals for now.

These layouts remind me of the constructed boundaries of tradition, and how this category is always formed in dialectical opposition to an emergent sense of the modern. Neither should ever be treated as stable categories. Both words frequently make me twitchy when uncritically applied to monstrous, complicated bodies of knowledge and experience. In my field, there is often much at stake depending on who (or what) gets to act in the name of preserving “tradition,” and who gets to participate in the making of “modernity.” Therefore, I am seldom inclined to treat these words as self-evident descriptors of historical truth. It behooves us to be much more precise about what we mean whenever we use these terms, or at least double back on our own assumptions and ask just where we’re coming from when we label something as traditional or modern.

… End digression. Here’s a pretty picture (click for enlarged view):

Artist unknown (for now), Fuzoku Gaho no. 9 (September, 1889) p. 24

Japanese falconry (takagari 鷹狩) is contrasted against rifle hunting (jūryō 銃猟) as elite sports. While it is the hawk that bears categorical equivalence to the gun here, I can’t help but notice the proportional weight given to the dog in this layout. I especially like the way the hunter is caught with his hand mid-stroke on the back of the dog’s neck. Perhaps the samurai is expressing his appreciation for his animal companion in his own, dispassionate way.

So who do you suppose bagged the dead duck between them?

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