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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 206, June 2016

Picture Postcards: Materials from the Special Purpose Reading Room for Books

Akiko Hiruta
Book and Serials Division
Reader Services and Collections Department

This is an abridged translation of the article in Japanese
in the NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 657 (January 2016).

In this article, we present some examples from the NDL collection of approximately 2,100 picture postcards. While most of the collection comprises postcard booklets issued during the 1980s or later, some were published before World War II. These older postcards, especially, show scenic landmarks and places of historic interest as well as markers commemorating the completion of new shrines and buildings or significant historical events such as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and wartime events. In contrast, more recently issued cards exhibit a wide variety of subject matter which seems to reflect the varied tastes of individual hobbyists, including animals and plants, famous paintings, beautiful landscapes, characters from animated cartoons, and pictures for coloring. You can search for these materials using the NDL-OPAC Classification No. YKD.

<<Image 1: How to search for picture postcards on the NDL-OPAC>>

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Some of these picture postcards were published by public institutions. Kobe Shiritsu Toshokan Ehagaki (神戸市立圖書館繪葉書, lit. Picture Postcards of Kobe Municipal Library) [NDL call no.: YKD-146], include vivid descriptions of the library users at that time such as adults and children gathering at the book counter, people concentrating on their reading (Images 2 and 3), and students chatting over a cup of coffee at the café, all of whom look to be enjoying the library.

<<Image 2: Book stacks and Main Delivery Hall>>

<<Image 3: Librarian’s office and Main Reading Room>>

Additionally, we can see what the library office and library stacks looked like, the head librarian’s gorgeous office, and the beautiful lighting of the library building at night (Image 4). There is a five-card set of photo postcards with their original design, and monochrome, sepia, or blue-tint pictures, in which seagull patterns, which are representative of the famous Port of Kobe, can be seen in the background.

<<Image 4: Reference Room and View at night>>

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Hokkaido Nouji Shikenjo (北海道農事試験場, lit. Hokkaido Agricultural Laboratory)[NDL call no.: YKD-152] comprises eight photo postcards that appear to have been made for use in public relations. Monochrome pictures of not only the exterior of the buildings but hard-working staff members at research facilities for agricultural products, a chemical laboratory, a silk-culturing room, and a hothouse (Images 5 and 6). The strong lighting seems to have washed out some of the images, but this also makes them more interesting.

<<Image 5: Research facilities for agricultural products>>

<<Image 6: Silk-culturing room and Insect laboratory>>

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As for Asakanomiya-ke Shozou Ehagaki-cho (朝香宮家所蔵絵葉書帳, lit. Picture Postcard Albums previously owned by Asakanomiya-ke)[NDL call no.: YKD-115], there are in total 5,450 various picture postcards in 10 sets of picture postcard albums. Asakanomiya-ke is the house of an Imperial prince that was founded in 1906 by His Highness Prince Yasuhiko, the eighth Imperial prince of KUNINOMIYA Asahiko. This house continued till 1947. Since Prince Yasuhiko studied in Europe for military research from 1922 to 1925, it seems that he himself collected many of these postcards by himself during his stay. While most of the pictures feature the major sightseeing spots, the scenic spots and places of historic interest in Europe, some of them include sterner subjects (Image 7); soldiers gathered from European countries with their colorful military uniform, warships, debris and ruined buildings seen in France with the caption "after the German retreat (March 1917)," laborers engaged in dye works, and workers at the salt mountain, with German captions. They might have been collected while he was having an inspection tour in European countries.

<<Image 7: Sterner subjects in Europe>>

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There is one set of postcards that includes pictures of only horses, from which we can imagine he might have been fond of horses (Image 8). Artifacts in the Louvre Museum and the British Museum, picture postcards which depict the beauty of the details of the ornaments seen in churches; all of them attract our interest. After returning home, he built and designed his residence in Art Deco style which is now used as the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. It is interesting to guess that the architecture and the interior decoration might have been affected by such pictures.

<<Image 8: Brave and beautiful horses>>

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Ogura Toku, a cartoonist, produced Manga Hagaki Gallery (マンガはがきギャラリー) [NDL call no.: YKD-43] in which 200 postcards are bound into one album. They include caricatures that deal with the social problems, events, fads and so on which occurred from 8 July 1972 to 1 September 1989. (Refer to the Japanese NDL Monthly Bulletin for pictures.) In "the era without fathers," he depicted a mother pulling her child by the hand away from an amusement park. "The beginning of Chernobyl" has the scene showing that a serious accident happened when a delivery guy rang a door bell. One of the biggest features of them is that postmarks of post offices in Tokyo are stamped on the back of each postcard. There are around 150 kinds of postmarks, including some repeats. I take my hat off to his effort in that he collected them by going back and forth in Tokyo post offices for about twenty years. At the end of the book there is a list as an appendix which enables us to compare such postmarks to corresponding caricatures, according to the date of sorting. I am sure these postcards are very much intriguing especially for people who are interested in the postal service.

All of these postcards materials are available in the Special Purpose Reading Room (Books), Tokyo Main Library. Because they could easily get scattered and lost, we do not accept requests for interlibrary loan services. Picture postcards are of great beauty in themselves and it is so much fun to appreciate them. I think it would add more pleasure when you consider the interest of the collectors and their eagerness to organize their collections.

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