Drawn by images: control, subversion and contamination in the visual discourse of Tokyo metro

Thumbnail Image
PADOAN_Drawn_by_Images.pdf(839.15 KB)
Published version
Padoan, Tatsuma
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Università di Torino
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
This paper intends to investigate the active role of images in shaping contemporary urban life, by exploring the trail of strategies, actions, counteractions and transformations produced by a particular corpus of subway posters. Since September 1974, the Tokyo Metro subway company has been distributing a series of posters which invites, in a humoristic style, to respect the “good manners” inside its stations and trains in service in the Japanese capital. The name assigned to these adverts is Manner Poster. The three editions from 2008 to 2010 are particularly striking for their irony and visual impact. Produced by the graphic designer Yorifuji Bunpei, they depict — in a comic–strip style and using white, black and yellow colours — narrative situations inside the subway stations and trains, where one or more persons perform, under the astonished eyes of the other passengers, actions considered as “ill–mannered”. The images present a large variety of such situations, ranging from occupying priority seats for elderly people and pregnant women, to rushing to board as the doors are closing, from throwing waste tissues on the ground, to blocking entrances with suitcases and backpacks. They actually suggest paradoxical narrative sequences, visual hyperboles which exaggerate actions considered as impolite, trying to emphasize the negative effects on the other passengers. And the messages written above the images do not leave any doubts about the target (Enunciatee) of the posters: “Please do it at home”, says the one above the instant ramen (noodles soup) devourer, “Please do it at the office” says the message over the businessman engaged in writing notes while talking on the phone in the train. According to the author Yorifuji, the messages convey “the repressed frustration of the typical commuter” who is emotionally affected by the impolite behaviour. These posters, in other words, construct a form of subjectivity for the metro passengers, posing everyone under the gaze/judgment of the other commuters, and prescribing situations and places which are appropriated to take specific courses of action. They are “regulators of the social life”, which charge everyday actions with thymic — i.e. positive or negative — values, according to their spatial–temporal localisation. However, the analysis of this “subway etiquette” discourse and of its development along the three editions, reveals a particular linguistic and visual differentiation of identity, which points to models of behaviour and sociality very different between each other, according to the Japanese or foreign origin of the passengers to which the poster’s persuasive action is directed. I will therefore try to demonstrate, on the one hand, how the interactions between poster–actors and human actors try to define distinct regimes of political enunciation (Latour 1999), on the other hand, how parodic translations of the Manner Posters — which immediately proliferated on web–sites and magazines in Japan — also lead to modes of negotiation of the values and social bonds prescribed.
Visual discourse , Behaviour , Enunciation , Semiotics , Actor–network–theory
Padoan, T. (2014) 'Drawn by Images: Control, Subversion and Contamination in the Visual Discourse of Tokyo Metro', Lexia: Journals of Semiotics, 17-18, ' Effective images', pp. 579-599. doi: 10.4399/978885487680428
Link to publisher’s version
© 2014 Centro Interdisciplinare di Ricerca sulla Comunicazione (CIRCe)