I am fascinated by this lengthy narrative of how Japan evolved from a nation where “scant clothing… was mainly an indication of manual labor” to one where “virtually all Japanese wear underwear.” (Warning: Most links in the article lead to old pictures of naked people which are likely to cause problems if viewed at the office.)
It’s an interesting story, not so much because of the scandalous bits (e.g. foreign journalists developing unhealthy fascinations with the neighborhood mixed-gender bathhouse), but also because of the government’s role in forcing these changes on the public as part of the general campaign to make Japan more European.
It isn’t too hard to see how this also helped usher in the current era of WaiWai and pornographic comic books. Standardizing fashion in a modest manner undoubtedly did wonders for the democratization and modernization of Japan, but it also seems to have led to a lot of the sexual repression that generates train groping and hidden camera fetishes today. (Not that I’m complaining: loincloths aren’t my style.)
By the way, there is a wealth of artificially-colorized old Japanese photographs available on Flickr courtesy of one “Okinawa Soba.” Among my favorites: