When Japan opened its borders to trade with the West in the mid-19th century, the country’s unique aesthetics enjoyed a surge in popularity throughout Europe and the Americas. Postcards were added to the cultural exports in 1900, when an update to the Japanese postal code finally allowed citizens to send privately produced postcards for the first time.
Within a few decades, postcards were replacing woodblock prints as the most popular medium for Japanese artists, and artist-made postcards helped disseminate popular Japanese themes to the West. While many of these cards captured traditional landscape scenes, historic shrines, kabuki theater, or ikebana (the art of flower arrangement), they also featured images of the country’s modernization, from American-style jazz clubs to the nation’s growing military prowess.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government continued producing its commemorative postcards for certain events, like the war with Russia from 1904 to 1905 and the enthronement of Emperor Taisho in 1915, helping to establish a community of collectors for the limited-edition cards.