Sunday, June 19, 2011

There are some of them here yet

This postcard was mailed from Noboribetsu on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on May 12, 1914 and addressed to E. J. Thompkins in Albany, NY. The inscription on the back reads "These people inhabited Japan before the Japanese came here and there are some of them here yet." The name of the sender seems to have been Henry Russell. Was he in Japan on business, as a tourist, or for some other reason? (Intriguingly, a Henry Russell, who had a Japanese mother, was born in Yokohama in 1880, but that may be pure coincidence.)

The town of Noboribetsu (the name is derived from the Ainu language and is said to mean something like "dark river") is today known for its hot springs. It also boasts an Ainu museum village. Though the photograph doesn't necessarily represent Noboribetsu itself -- it could have been elsewhere in Hokkaido -- I wonder whether the scene depicted might not have been a tourist trap even then.

The card, which was undoubtedly part of a series, was probably published by the Tomboya company in Japan. It lacks the little dragonfly in the front right-hand corner that was Tomboya's emblem (tombo or tonbo means dragonfly in Japanese), but there is a dragonfly on the back next to a row of characters. The photographer could have been Takaji Hotta, whose work was often published by Tomboya. The caption below the photograph (its true color is blue-green) has been printed so firmly that an impression can be felt on the back.

The block on Hamilton Street in Albany where E. J. Thompkins lived apparently no longer exists.

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