Photo/IllutrationAd Museum Tokyo displays exhibits on the history of advertising in Japan from the middle of the 17th century to modern times. In this photo, visitors view the transition of advertising design in postwar Japan. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

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"Look at these tiny boxes--“kawaii!” I wonder what’s inside?” shrieked one of the women, who looked to be in her mid-20s. “It says here that they’re matchboxes,” one of her friends said. “Matchboxes?” followed another. Then, in unison, multiple voices uttered, “heeehhh.”

Come to think of it, long gone are the days when restaurants and bars had matchboxes for the taking placed next to cash registers.

Artsy matchboxes were on display at the entrance of the only advertising museum in Japan, Ad Museum Tokyo, located in the Caretta Shiodome shopping, entertainment and business complex.

The museum is educational and a blast from the past, no matter what generation one hails from.

The famed management guru Peter Drucker once said that marketing was invented in Japan by Mitsui Takatoshi of Echigoya, the forerunner of Mitsukoshi department store.

In 1683, he introduced a new sales method--fixed-price tags and in-store cash sales, which he advertised on "hikifuda," the first ever flier in Japan. Colorful "nishiki-e" woodblock prints depicting beautiful women in the latest kimono fashions, sumo wrestlers and celebrity actors of the day came next.

On rainy days, numbered umbrellas with “Echigoya” written in huge characters on them were loaned out to customers, making people walking advertisements. How ingenious! The word "bangasa" is said to have been coined from this practice.

You can see these items and more at the museum.

In the Meiji Era (1868-1912), with modernization and cultural enlightenment reshaping society, ads served as a vehicle for the dissemination of information.

Yukichi Fukuzawa started the Jiji Shinpo newspaper, and in an editorial, he stressed the importance of newspaper advertisements as a means of “opening clients’ eyes to the boundless benefits of ‘kokoku’ advertising.” Did he really say this? He sure did.

Personally, it’s the ads from the Taisho (1912-26) and early Showa (1926-89) eras that do it for me. The uncluttered, amazingly gorgeous Japanese Government Railways poster of 1937 by Munetsugu Satomi took my breath away.

From wartime propaganda to the peacefulness of the middle Showa years and into the Heisei Era (1989-present), the hands-on exhibition is a feast for the senses. Hundreds of delightful TV commercials of yesteryear can be viewed on a cool tabletop screen.

Talk about a stroll down memory lane!

Personal viewing booths with commercials curated according to feelings that they evoke had me giggling one moment, weeping the next, and then shaking my head in disbelief seconds later.

I, too, found myself uttering “heeehhh”--followed by “hmm” and “wow!” Go to the museum and you will as well.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the January 1 and 7 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.