Japan Day by Day? : William Henry Metcalf, Edward Sylvester Morse and Early Tourist Photography in Japan

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Edward Sylvester Morse occupies a pre‐eminent position as one of the key proponents of Japanese studies in late nineteenth‐ and early twentieth‐century America. A prolific essayist and collector, Morse’s account of his first visit to Japan, published forty years after the event as Japan Day by Day, presented the author as an avid, albeit nascent observer of Japanese culture. A close examination of the original unpublished manuscript, however, reveals the presence of a compatriot traveller who accompanied him on his excursion to Nikkō. The Milwaukee businessman and amateur photographer William Henry Metcalf has received virtually no critical attention; an obscurity that stands in stark contrast to the copious scholarship devoted to his travel companion. This article explores his photographic activities during his four‐month visit to Japan, establishing his significance as a nineteenth‐century amateur photographer and the earliest to make extensive use of the dry‐plate process in Japan. By shifting the analysis to his visual and textual documents of Japan, and placing them in critical dialogue with those of his more renowned travel associate, this article intends to suggest the motivations that prompted his later excision from Japan Day by Day. This essay argues that the removal of the photographer’s presence from the published account is symptomatic of the marginal status of photography in Japanese visual studies. Morse’s removal of his travel companion from his account reflects a general discomfort with photography as a medium with close associations to tourism and sightseeing rather than the sombre image of the Japanese Area specialist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-146
Number of pages12
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


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