ten Japanese photobooks for ICP

Your standard 10x10 header

What I look for in a photobook are . . . good photos, well reproduced, with (if appropriate) text that’s illuminating, intelligent or both. I also appreciate books, and no a good photobook isn’t just the sum of its photos and text, and yes some excellent photobooks have been made out of somewhat humdrum photos. I’m not against innovation in photobook design, old (I enjoy Ipy Girl Ipy) or new (I enjoy Socotra). But I’m primarily looking for photos worth lingering over. And though Jörg Colberg writes of “how the medium ‘photobook’ has moved way beyond the simple gallery-show-on-paper format that was so prevalent not that long ago”, a “simple gallery-show-on-paper format” strikes me as the best one for most of the photos that I want to look at. (By contrast, the much-lauded design and packaging of Diamond Matters, say, is mildly diverting for a couple of minutes and no doubt is good cocktail-party chat fodder, but to me it detracts from the photos and the whole book-as-jewel metaphor seems pitched to those who appreciate the obvious.)

So what you get below are, primarily, swell receptacles of photos I enjoy. Mindlessly ordered by height, here they are:

ten from Japan

We’ll start at the top of the pile and work downwards.

All Japanese people’s names are in the original order: surname first.

Kurata Seiji, JapanKurata Seiji, Japan [O] (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1998). 倉田精二、『ジャパン』(東京: 新潮社, 1998). In the series “Photo Musée”. Left-opening, designer not specified, printed by DNP. About four hundred pages of photographs of Japan; the first seven-eighths of which are in B/W and the rest in colour. ISBN 4-10-602433-0. CiNii, Worldcat.

Within the first, much larger part of the book is a B/W version of what’s also in colour on the front cover, leading me to wonder what else that I already know in B/W may later emerge in colour too.

Of course the seediest parts of Tokyo and their denizens have been amply photographed by others. Some photographers concentrate on the atmosphere, others deliver portraits. All too often the atmospheric photos are mere atmosphere and the portraits are unimaginative (at their worst, they’re of preening and posing). Entire, respectfully reviewed books have been made from this kind of thing. It pales beside Kurata’s work, which, incomprehensibly, hasn’t been reprinted since this fat paperback of fourteen years ago. True, there’s some preening and posing here too (the photo on the front cover isn’t one of the best, while that on the front of Flash Up is one of the least interesting in that book) and more than enough views of traffic accidents. But even when he wasn’t emulating Weegee, Kurata had an eye for face, expression and gesture. The right-wing thugs, transsexuals, gangsters, tattooed exhibitionists and so on don’t quite manage to pull off their acts: the gangster’s henchman looks a bit too stupid, the gang boss looks as if he wished he could just go home, put his feet up and watch the telly, a Siamese cat jumps off a sofa on which a tattooed man displays himself. There’s more going on in most photos than you first realize. And then Kurata suddenly throws in massed Buddhist (?) fervour, the Japanese cabinet and even the imperial family.

Kurata Seiji, Japan
Kurata Seiji, Japan
Kurata Seiji, Japan
Kurata Seiji, Japan
Kurata Seiji, Japan
Kurata Seiji, Japan

The binding of this fat little paperback isn’t bad but it’s not good enough for the job. A pristine copy may be pricy and you might worry about opening it wide. So instead get a cheaper, tatty copy (unfortunately, likely to be upward of ¥5000) and enjoy it unreservedly. (My general tips for buying books are below.)

Kitai Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatariKitai Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari [N] (Osaka: Chōseisha, 1981). 北井一夫, 『新世界物語』(大阪: 長征社, 1981). B/W photos of Shinsekai, central Osaka. Unpaginated, right-opening: “landscape” photos take the whole of double-page spreads; “portrait” photos the whole of single pages. No captions, and no text in any language other than Japanese. Designed by somebody whose name (吉成信男) is probably pronounced Yoshinari Nobuo, printed by Mitsumura. CiNii, Worldcat.

Despite its name (whose literal meaning is “new world”), Shinsekai was then (and is now) an ageing entertainment quarter of central Osaka. (Thanks to the occasional view in the book of Tsūtenkaku, visually too it’s immediately recognizable.) Though in Osaka, just about any quarter has real character and could generate a photobook.

Shinsekai monogatari is similar to some of Araki’s earlier, better books of Tokyo street scenes, those he made before he became an instantly recognized celeb. But even Araki’s better books tend to have far too much filler — unsurprisingly, in view of the speed at which they were thrown together. No filler here. You won’t linger on every photograph, but each has some interest.
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari (front and back)
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari
Kitao Kazuo, Shinsekai monogatari

There are plenty of copies of this book. Mine cost me ¥4,000 or so. If you can’t find a copy, then perhaps some of its content will reappear within the catalogue that’s sure to accompany Kitai’s upcoming exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Jūmonji Bishin, Kansei no bakemono ni naritaiJūmonji Bishin, Beyond the senses [O] (Tokyo: Kyūryūdō, 2007). 十文字美信, 『感性のバケモノになりたい』(東京: 求龍堂, 2007). A retrospective collection. ISBN 978-4-7630-0730-8. Over five hundred pages, most of which are taken up by photographs. Captions in both Japanese and English; other text in Japanese only. Left-opening, designer not specified, printed by Okamura Printing Industries. CiNii, Worldcat 1, Worldcat 2.

four fat shorty Japanese photobooksAnother fat stubby photobook. The format’s popularity waxes and wanes but never quite disappears (Nakahira Takuma’s book of old photos of Paris is a recent example). There are several more that are worth a mention. Here, Tōkyō 1934–1993 by Kuwabara Kineo (a good number of his photos per hundred yen if otherwise a disappointing production); and Shōsetsu Sōru = Seoul to Rain by Araki Nobuyoshi: Araki is good in Korea (where I suppose he benefits from not being a widely recognizable celeb).

But back to Jūmonji’s fat paperback and what’s within it. The English title is inconspicuous; the Japanese title translates as something like “I want to be a monster of sensibility”. There’s one widely different photoset after another, of course including Kubinashi (literally “neck-less”, but here just “Untitled”), the square portraits of people with their heads outside the frame; the views of the Grand Canyon done (after a surfeit of Ansel Adams and acolytes) with a Minox; the oddly formal “Honeymooners” (whose men mostly have neckties); and many more. In this century many photographers artists might adopt one of these, amass four times as many photos (on average less interesting), and put out the resulting book in an elegant edition of five hundred or a thousand. Save your budget and shelf-space with this one book instead.

Jūmonji has primarily photographed for advertising. Back when the economy was (or seemed) good, Japanese companies could afford to take risks with advertising, indulging or even encouraging playfulness from art directors. How large a contribution was the creative/art directors’ and how large was Jūmonji’s I don’t know; but whoever should be credited, this is advertising photography that’s actually fun.
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses
Jūmonji Bishin, Beyond the Senses

Jūmonji’s most satisfying book is his very first, Ran no fune (蘭の舟) = Orchid Boat (1981), a study of elderly Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. That book, alternating between B/W portraits and lush colour for the scenery, has plenty of explanatory text that’s in Japanese only; a bilingual (or just English) edition would be worthwhile and, in Hawaii at least, ought to have a readership far beyond just that of photobook fans. For that matter, Jūmonji Bishin no shigoto to shūhen (十文字美信の仕事と周辺) is a lot better than Beyond the Senses for the advertising work — and it has some photographs from Hawaii as well. Here are all three books:
three books by Jūmonji Bishin
three books by Jūmonji Bishin

Beyond the Senses is still in print. Copies of Ran no fune = Orchid Boat are plentiful; those in “excellent” condition cost ¥6000 or so upwards. Jūmonji Bishin no shigoto to shūhen is still available new and might have been remaindered; certainly as-new copies are common in used bookshops (my own has “800″ neatly pencilled in).

Akiyama Ryōji, Tsugaru: Ryōji-sensei gyōjōkiAkiyama Ryōji, Tsugaru: Ryōji-sensei gyōjōki [N] (Hirosaki: Tsugaru Shobō, 1978). 秋山亮二, 『津軽 聊爾先生行状記』(弘前: 津軽書房, 1978). A photobook with B/W photos of Tsugaru taken 1975–1977, published in Tsugaru. Right-opening. Designer not specified, printed by Seikōsha. CiNii, Worldcat 1, Worldcat 2.

There’s a page in the back with text in English about Akiyama and also by Akiyama about the book; it has a small photo of Akiyama with a Leica hanging off his shoulder. But the 63 (I think) photographs in this book are all square. Each double-page spread has a photograph on the left and an explanatory text on the right. The text is in old-fashioned, literary Japanese (only); and in the traditional way, every kanji, no matter how humdrum, has ruby attached. Akiyama has spared us pre-reform kanji and old kana use but I’m still too lazy/incompetent to read the texts, which Mrs microcord enjoys.

And the photographs: Mention Tsugaru and the first photographer to come to mind is probably Kojima Ichirō (小島一郎). The attention recently paid to his work is deserved, but Akiyama’s is more enjoyable. Imagine that Bill Owens were Japanese and had lived for a couple of years in an area about as remote as any within Japan’s main island, a poor area dependent on agriculture and fishery, with strong communal culture, behind the times and perhaps aware of this. Every page is a delight.
Akiyama Ryōji, “Tsugaru”
Akiyama Ryōji, “Tsugaru”
Akiyama Ryōji, “Tsugaru”

Tsugaru was Akiyama’s first book. Two years later came Nyūyōku tsūshin (ニューヨーク通信), often referred to in English as New York Reports (offhand I don’t know if the latter title appears within it). Unfortunately the used-arty-book biz has discovered this, so if you want a copy you must either be very lucky or have deep pockets. It’s quite unlike Tsugaru but very much worth a look (and indeed worth a second edition).

Akiyama Ryōji, “Tsugaru” JCII bookletCopies of Tsugaru aren’t numerous, but my own copy is in excellent condition and cost ¥4,000 or so at an auction earlier this year.

If you can’t find a copy, there’s a surrogate. “Tsugaru: Ryōji-sensei gyōjōki”: Akiyama Ryōji sakuhinten (「津軽聊爾先生行状記」 秋山亮二作品展), no. 118 of the JCII Photo Salon Library booklets, was published in 2001 but (like virtually all of these JCII booklets) is still in print (see this and this, though both web pages are, like the booklet itself, in Japanese only). There’s unusually good use of the limited space in a JCII booklet, showing a few photos well rather than shoehorning in mere thumbnails.

Akiyama Ryōji, “Tsugaru”: booklet (L) and book (R)

But Tsugaru — the entire book — deserves a new and wider audience. When Japanese fashions in photobooks have changed, maybe it could get a second (and bilingual) edition.

(A tip of the hat to Nguan — himself the photographer/publisher of a good book of photos of Tokyo — for steering me toward Akiyama Ryōji last year.)

Nagano Shigeichi's Hysteric bookNagano Shigeichi, Hysteric Fourteen [O] (Tokyo: Hysteric Glamour, 2005). 長野重一, Hysteric Fourteen (東京: ヒステリックグラマー, 2005). Photographs 1949–59, 2001–2004. Captions in Japanese and English. Clothbound, left opening, designed by Shiratani Toshio (白谷敏夫), printed by Daishinsha. No ISBN, not in CiNii, not in Worldcat.

The very first photobooks, or anyway photobooklets, to which Nagano (and Tōmatsu) contributed were in the huge “Iwanami Shashin Bunko” series: workmanlike affairs, for whose photography the editors proscribed anything unorthodox, and whose photographs are overprinted with text and otherwise editorially abused. Unremarkable though they may seem, Nagano’s first contributions came out a couple of years before The Decisive Moment. Nagano’s latest book of new work was published just four years ago. The last I heard, Nagano, then 86 and himself rarely photographed without cigarette in hand, was still out and about and photographing.

Nagano’s photographic career can be simply divided into two: mostly more or less documentary work until the mid sixties, and mostly (or exclusively?) personal work from the eighties. The first real photobook was Dorīmu eiji (ドリームエイジ) = Japan’s Dream Age of 1978, a look back to 1960 or so (and itself made redundant by the better-printed book 1960 of 1990).

And there have been two general retrospectives: the 1995 exhibition catalogue Jidai no kioku 1945–1995 (時代の記憶1945–1995), and this in the “Hysteric” series (some sort of tie-up between Hysteric Glamour, which sells bags and frocks to young ladies, and a photogallery or two). The former is more representative of his career, and good in its way, but charmless as a book (and also with no text other than in Japanese) [After a second look (28 Sept): while the design is utilitarian, most of the photos are presented pretty well, printing quality is good, and the captions in the back are bilingual]. The “Hysteric” book has 140 or so photos, of which the first four fifths are on near-white paper and are from the fifties; then there’s a leaf of tissue paper, and the last fifth are on creamier coloured paper and are from the naughties. Lovers of books-as-objects should delight in this, and in the block stamping of the front and rear of the cloth cover, a cover that artistically eschews photographs. All very pretty, and here it complements the photos well. So: good photography, good book production, reasonable price.

Here are some samples from the earlier pages:

Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14
Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14
Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14
Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14
Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14

And one from the later pages:

Nagano Shigeichi, Hysteric 14

It has to be said that the later photographs as collected in this book (after the tissue paper) aren’t so strong; they seem like out-takes. So think of the second, much smaller section of this book as merely a bonus for the first section.

Nagano’s later work is distinctive: detached and rather panoramic, tending to show people alone against modern and anonymous backdrops — yet, with its startling gestures and juxtapositions, still recognizably “street”. The first book to collect it was A Strange Perspective in Tokyo = Tōi shisen: 1980–1989 Tokyo (遠い視線:1980–1989 Tokyo) of 1989 (whose English title only appears on its dust cover): lavishly large-formatted but terribly designed to break each photo across the central gutter. Tōkyō kōjitsu (東京好日, 1995) is sensibly designed; the page format of Distant Gaze = Tōi shisen (遠い視線, 2001) is too small (though you do get a lot of photos); and Distant Gaze: Dark Blossom of Winter = Tōi shisen: Gentō (遠い視線 玄冬, 2008) adds to rather than replaces its predecessors. There should be a fuller and better collection of the material that’s in the first three of these four books.
the five collections of Nagano Shigeichi’s “Tōi shisen” series
Broken in half, or tiny? Options in the existing “Tōi shisen” books

A fine short introduction to Nagano’s later work — and to Kikai’s portrait series (see below), to the “Zoo” series by the unjustifiably overlooked Hayashi Takanobu, and more — is in the 1995 Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography catalogue Tokyo/City of Photos (写真都市 Tokyo). This can’t have cohered as an exhibition and it doesn’t as a book; still, the book can be enjoyed for its parts; plenty of copies are available cheaply, and the printing is excellent, even if the cover soon detaches itself.

Anyone in awe of the sensibilities of the photobook-buying public in the land that brought the world Karasu, The Map, Soul and Soul, etc, should note that although this “Hysteric” book was published seven years ago in an edition of 800 (numbered, for those that care), it is still in print, stocks of most of Nagano’s other books hung around in bookshops a long time, and used copies are cheap. (This is the kind of thing the porkpie-hat demographic craves, while this is for the masses.)

Dodo Shunji, ŌsakaDodo Shunji, Osaka [O] (Kyoto: Seigensha, 2010). 百々俊二, 『大阪』 (京都: 青幻舎, 2010). A book of B/W photos of, yes, Osaka. Left-opening hardback (card), designed by Suzuki Hitoshi (鈴木一誌) and Sugiyama Sayuri (杉山さゆり), printed by SunM Color. Texts, captions, and almost everything else (see below) in both Japanese and English. ISBN 978-4-86152-255-0. CiNii, Worldcat.

Dodo Shunji’s first book was Shinsekai: Mukashi mo ima mo (新世界 むかしも今も), a 1986 production by the same Osaka publisher that had put out Kitai’s Shinsekai monogatari. It’s good (but elusive). After that, a number of books that I suppose are good in their way but neither much excite me nor show Dodo’s native Osaka, where he has been working as a teacher of photography and for over a decade has headed the school. (As head, he’s the stylish gentleman shown as signatory of this message.) And then, suddenly, this ample portrait of Osaka. Dodo started taking the photos (B/W, 8×10) in 2007, after an illness and fearful that if he didn’t start soon, sheet film would become prohibitively expensive or disappear, or age would prevent him from carrying around the camera. He must then have worked hard: the book has about 140 photos. Dodo’s text may suggest that he was trying to show images of Osaka he’d had for decades, and that the book is thus an exercise in nostalgia. But it’s an unsentimental view of this somewhat down-at-heel city: as girls celebrate under the cherry trees, a man drags away a bagful of empty cans (probably for sale for pennies to some syndicate); a young boy and his father view a grand panorama from Yodogawa River Park, which despite the official description seems a wasteland and home to the “homeless”. Lighting is excellent (the cover photo couldn’t have been bettered by Winston Link), and good use is made of twilight and dusk: at 34°42′ north, Osaka lies south of Tangier, and so when night comes, it comes fast; but Dodo must often have been in position and waiting for it.

The printing is excellent and the book design is very good too. We’re shown what’s where (though the contents page and map are only in Japanese script); photos are clearly numbered and captioned (the caption not only specifying the area, but, where helpful, also explaining what’s going on). Again, this is a book whose appeal should go beyond just the photobookish (a suggestion I put forward hesitantly, as I suspect that appeal to the uninitiated is a turn-off for the photobookish).

Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”
Dodo Shunji, “Osaka”

Osaka is still in print. If somebody in Tokyo wanted a copy, the best place to get it would be Totem Pole Photo Gallery, which the last time I looked still had at least one new copy, neatly signed, at a slight discount from the regular price of an unsigned copy.

Rhapsody of Modern TokyoTokyo Metropolitan Culture Foundation and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, eds, Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo [O] (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 1993). 東京都文化振興会, 東京都写真美術館編集,『モダン東京狂詩曲展』 (東京: 東京都写真美術館, 1993). (「狂詩曲展」 is given the ruby 「ラプソディ」.) Catalogue of an exhibition held April–June 1993 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Never distributed as a conventional book and thus lacking an ISBN. Captions and main texts in both Japanese and English, some other material in Japanese only. CiNii, Worldcat 1, Worldcat 2, Worldcat 3, Worldcat 4.

As in many “western” countries, the larger exhibitions held in Japan’s larger galleries (“museums”) tend to be accompanied by energetically prepared and informative catalogues. Their design and printing quality vary. (Indeed, they vary even for a given gallery: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, for one, runs some shows itself and outsources others.) And the exhibitions themselves (and thus the catalogues) can often be rudderless. Here, though, everything worked out well. (Or anyway did for the catalogue: I didn’t go to the show.) Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo shows 1930s Tokyo as seen by six photographers: 30 photos (one per page) by Hamaya Hiroshi (濱谷浩), 25 by Kuwabara Kineo (桑原甲子雄), 19 by Morooka Kōji (師岡宏次), and 23 by Ōkubo Kōroku (大久保好六); as well as miniature reproductions of page spreads from 1931–1933 by Horino Masao (堀野正雄) and Watanabe Yoshio (渡辺義雄). The work by Horino and Watanabe is reproduced smaller than if it had come via an Errata “Book on Books”, so it’s better to think of this book as the work of just the first four.

Ōkubo’s work from the 1920s had been hazy and impressionistic, as was still the fashion. The dynamism of the city called for a new style:

by Ōkubo Kōroku, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”
by Ōkubo Kōroku, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”

Ōkubo died young and a posthumous tribute published in 1937 (which I haven’t seen) is as far as I know the only other substantial collection of his photographs.

Morooka was rather too thrilled by cars, but also photographed pedestrians in Ginza, night life, and so on:

by Morooka Kōji, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”

In the 70s and 80s several collections were published of Morooka’s work of the 30s. The two I’ve seen were edited too indulgently and printed indifferently. Morooka merits a good, compact exhibition (perhaps at Setagaya Art Museum, which holds a lot of his work), but until that happens this is the best selection.

Kuwabara was long known as a photo editor. As a photographer, he was something of a proto-Araki (minus nudity, bondage, miniature dinosaurs, or obsessiveness), photographing everyday life:

by Kuwabara Kineo, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”
by Kuwabara Kineo, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”

There have been several books of Kuwabara’s work of the 30s. Probably the best is still the first, Tōkyō Shōwa jūichinen (東京昭和十一年), written up in Kaneko and Vartanian’s Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s. But that’s in Japanese only, and the printing in Rhapsody is better.

Kuwabara’s old friend Hamaya would go on to work through Magnum. Here, he’s already a news photographer, delighting in night scenes:

by Hamaya Hiroshi, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”
by Hamaya Hiroshi, from “Rhapsody of Modern Tokyo”

Having already annexed Luchu and Korea, Japan grabbed Manchuria at the beginning of this period and then continued military adventures elsewhere in China. But it’s not obvious from the photographs that Japan was then at war. (Indeed, magazines such as Camera and Asahi Camera would stay fat and jolly, bulked up with ads for new gear, till after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.) Much of the Tokyo we see in this book would soon be destroyed.

There are plenty of copies of this book in used bookshops. It shouldn’t cost more than ¥3000. (A sticker in my own, very slightly sunbrowned copy reminds me that it cost half of that.)

Fukuhara Shinzō and Fukuhara Rosō, Hikari to sono kaichō = The Light with Its Harmony

Kanazawa Hitoshi, ed, The Light with Its Harmony: Shinzo Fukuhara / Roso Fukuhara: Photographs 1913–1941 [O] (Tokyo: Watari-um, 1992). 金沢一志編集, 『光とその諧調:福原信三・福原路草:1913年–1941年』 (東京: ワタリウム美術館, 1992). Left-opening paperback, designed by Kondō Ryōichi (近藤良一), printed by Mitsumura. ISBN 4-900398-17-9. (There’s also a hardback, described on the web as having the same ISBN as the paperback.) CiNii, Worldcat 1, Worldcat 2, OpenLibrary. Text in Japanese and English.

The book has 57 pages of photographs (mostly one per page) by Fukuhara Shinzō, and about 35 (ditto) by Fukuhara Rosō. Shinzō and Rosō (not their real names) were brothers in the (real) Fukuhara family. (There was also a third and rather lesser photographer brother, who signed his work Namiki Tōru.) Their father had founded the cosmetics company we know as Shiseido, and the boys were born rich, certainly with the means to indulge their artistic tastes. No doubt their circumstances were far more comfortable than those of most photographers, then or since; but they had to work for the company and photography was something for which they only had limited time.

The brothers are truly from another age of photography and another aesthetic, one outmoded by 1941, let alone 1950. Shinzō started in the 1890s, and photographed extensively in Paris in 1913, rather in the mode of Alvin Langdon Coburn. After this period of abstraction and fuzziness he moved on to shallow-focus clarity:

by Fukuhara Shinzō

Beauty did not have to be conventional:

by Fukuhara Shinzō

I’m particularly intrigued by the work in his last book (1937), titled (in English) The Sunny Hawaii. Sunny, yes, but curiously dark, even menacing:

by Fukuhara Shinzō

Shinzō’s first publication, in its first edition, is a tremendous rarity; but his other books (e.g. The Sunny Hawaii) can be found in libraries and can even be bought by non-plutocrats. (After all, it’s not easy to link them with the Pavlovian stimulus-term Provoke.) They’re well done and worth searching out. The notion that the attention-worthy Japanese photobook started at some point after the war is a delusion.

Shinzō’s brother Rosō had more austere tastes. When he had an idea, he’d work on it:

by Fukuhara Rosō

Perhaps most remarkable are his photographs employing a corrugated metal fence:

by Fukuhara Rosō

There is no book devoted to Rosō’s photography and indeed it wasn’t until 1977 that he got the first of several half-shares in a book. This 1977 book is Fukuhara Shinzō, Fukuhara Rosō: Hikari to sono kaichō: no English title, and NB the ease of confusion with the book shown here (title and subtitle are simply inverted). The printing is mediocre in the 1977 book (distributed by Nikon to the members of the Nikkor Club). And for photography like this, printing quality matters. In the 1992 book, it’s up to the task.

The book’s out of print. [PS (28 Sept): Amazingly, the bookshop in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has new copies (and for the original price).] It’s not at all rare, and used copies cost ¥4,000 or so upwards. If you can’t find it, then, for Shinzō, look for The World of Shinzo Fukuhara: Poetics of Light = Hikari no shijō: Fukuhara Shinzō no sekai (光の詩情:福原信三の世界) (1994), whose reproduction quality isn’t bad and whose (bilingual) text is good.

“Poetics of Light” (L) and “The Light with Its Harmony” (R)

I haven’t seen and know nothing about either Shinzo et Roso Fukuhara (Paris, 1994) or Shinzo and Roso Fukuhara: Photographs by Ginza Modern Boys 1913–1941 (New York, 2000); perhaps one or other might render any Japanese book redundant, at least for a reader of French or English.

Kikai Hiroo, PersonaKikai Hiroh, Persona [O] (Tokyo: Sōshisha, 2003). 鬼海弘雄, 『Persona』 (東京: 草思社, 2003). Left-opening. Designed by Mamura Shun’ichi (間村俊一), printed by Tōkyō Inshokan. To quote Kikai’s article at Wikipedia, “Between an additional plate at the front and back, there are twelve plates in a prefatory section (photographs taken well before the others), and in the body of the book twenty-eight plates four to a page and 138 plates on their own pages.” Captions and texts in both Japanese and English. The book cost ¥9500 (plus tax) when new (at the high end, aside from stuff marketed for corporate gifts and libraries’ year-end budget-burning) and I’ve heard that 2000 copies were printed. ISBN 4-7942-1240-2. CiNii, Worldcat.

If you ignore the colour imbalance (blame my appalling photography, not the book), this is the kind of thing that you get:

Kikai Hiroh, Persona (two editions) and Asakusa Portraits

Yes, this book is the third of (depending on how you count) the four to six collections by Kikai of his Asakusa portraits. The first (Ōtachi no shōzō) was slim, the second (Ya-chimata) cheaply printed; this one has a much bigger (and better) selection than the former and is printed much better too. The photo series would later be known to the wider world via the Steidl book Asakusa Portraits. (If you’re unfamiliar with this, try this review in “Lens Culture”.)

Kikai Hiroh, Persona (two editions) and Asakusa Portraits

Left to right: Asakusa Portraits (Steidl); Persona (first edition); and Perusona (ぺるそな), the second edition (2005) of Persona. “Perusona” of course simply means “persona” (and its u is unstressed; it and “Persona” are pronounced identically within Japanese) but let’s refer to it as PerUsona in order to avoid confusion. Here it is, next to (the original) Persona:

Kikai Hiroh, Persona (two editions)

The photos are the other way around because PerUsona, unlike Persona, is right-opening. Persona is printed in tritone; PerUsona is not (though its printing quality is still better than many recent, favourably reviewed Japanese B/W photobooks). And PerUsona adds a lot more photos, complete with captions (if nothing else) in English. PerUsona is still in print, is modestly priced, and, depending on whether or not you’re lucky enough to find an affordable copy of the earlier book, either supplements it or tolerably substitutes for it.

What about Asakusa Portraits? Below it’s on the left, Persona on the right:

Kikai Hiroh, Persona (1st ed) and Asakusa Portraits

The Steidl book is very good indeed and (unless you insist on captions and text in Japanese) is the one to get first. If it doesn’t much interest you, look no further. If you do enjoy it, you’ll find considerable overlap with Persona, which is printed darker and (to my mind) even better. And for which, as here, a different negative is often used (if this is not obvious, look more closely at the coat). Copies of Persona in good nick go for ¥15,000 upwards.

Takanashi Yutaka, MachiTakanashi Yutaka, Machi [N] (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1977). 高梨豊, 『町』 (東京: 朝日新聞社, 1977). A monster photobook, whose title means “town”. Right-opening. About 31×43 cm, with (by my quick count) 63 double-page horizontals and 64 single page verticals. The photos are full bleed: all you get in the book itself are a title page, the photos, and a tipped-in colophon. A brochure supplied with the book identifies the precise address of every photograph — although not which photograph is of which address. The brochure also has an essay by Ikenami Shōtarō (池波正太郎) on the shitamachi of Tokyo. There’s not a word anywhere in any language other than Japanese. The book is designed by Kamegai Shōji (亀海昌次), printed by Toppan. No ISBN. CiNii, Worldcat.

In the early 1970s, Takanashi was much in demand for commercial work (mostly fashion, if I remember correctly). In his free hours, he’d go to Tokyo’s older residential/trade areas with his 4×5 view camera, and photograph vernacular architecture: alleys, house-fronts, entrances. There may be an emphasis on the old, on patina and on wood (and some artful, Walker Evans–style rearranging), but brightly coloured plastic buckets, newish motorbikes and so on are not excluded: this is the area as it was, with views selected, of course, but hardly idealized. What you see was normal. Though small pockets of this kind of thing do still exist, most had gone even twenty years after the book was published.

Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, MachiTakanashi Yutaka, Machi
Takanashi Yutaka, Machi

As Machi cost ¥20,000 when new, not many copies are likely to have printed; however, they’re not hard to find. They cost ¥40,000 or so upwards: a lot, but hardly enough to have kept up with inflation. It’s a big slab of a book, so postage will be expensive. If you can’t get hold of Machi you’ll see some small reproductions within the cheaply printed but cheap and handy (and Japanese/English bilingual) 2009 catalogue Field Notes of Light, and I believe also in the very recent book on Takanashi from RM.

Key:

  • [N] Nonce romanization (by me, for you) of a title that’s in Japanese script and unaccompanied by any alternative title
  • [O] Original title in roman script, provided (perhaps inconspicuously) on or in the book, usually in addition to a title in Japanese script
  • photobookish: (of a person or way of life) Devoted to looking for, acquiring, looking at and talking about photobooks rather than absorption in photos, the real world, etc.
Why only the swell and not the bestest? Asked for my top ten Japanese photobooks, I quickly came up with a number of constraints (most of them intended to avoid boring repetition) . . . and then was again constrained:

  • Published in Japan. (This ruled out Obara Kazuma’s Swiss-produced and -published Reset: Beyond Fukushima.)
  • Content by Japanese photographers, very broadly defined. (Actually most “Japanese” books of work by non-Japanese people living elsewhere are essentially books from overseas with Japanese text slotted in, and the originals I’ve encountered haven’t much interested me.)
  • Nothing that was in either of the (so far) two volumes of “Parr–Badger”. (Otherwise, Fukase’s Karasu and Kurata’s Flash Up would certainly merit inclusion.)
  • Nothing that was in a quasi-sequel, Parr’s list of his top books of the naughties. (This was easy. None was a contender.)
  • Nothing that was in Kaneko and Vartanian’s Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s. (I might otherwise have chosen two or three that are in it.)
  • No more than one by any one photographer. (I could happily add Kikai’s Anatolia and Nagano’s Tōkyō kōjitsu, and split Jūmonji’s Beyond the Senses to Orchid Boat and Jūmonji Bishin no shigoto to shūhen.)
  • Possession of a copy of my own, so that I could put it on my floor. (This of course ruled out a lot of excellent books, e.g. Kurata’s 80s family.)
  • And . . . no polite nudge from NYC to replace it with something else. So Shimin = Citizens by Abe Jun and Min’yō sanga by Suda Issei got tossed out of an early draft.

Want to buy a Japanese photobook, but live outside Japan? Start by using a search engine to look for it (an ISBN, where it exists, makes this easier). If you’re lucky, you’ll get hits at or (via abebooks.com, etc) for specialist bookshops; their descriptions and/or prices are often most interesting, if not in the way intended (example). And then try:

  • New or used: Japan Exposures (and particularly this)
  • New: Book of Days (though I haven’t tried it myself)
  • New: Amazon Japan (Though this packs about as stupidly as does Amazon US. Your book may be damaged in transit. If so, photograph the wreckage and file a claim.)
  • Used: Mandarake (though I can’t get its search facility to work)

If you’re in Tokyo, then between them Sōkyūsha and Junkudō cover most new books. Many of the books at Sōkyūsha (also a vendor of new books, a gallery, and of course a distinguished publisher) are signed — of course for no extra charge. Junkudō is a chain but has an intelligent selection, and unlike Kinokuniya, it offers you chairs where you can sit and consider and it spares you saccharine muzak. For used books, try Mandarake and Genkidō first.

Now you’ve glanced at my tips, try those of some other people. (Some of their recommendations I even agree with.) And after this post, you’ll certainly appreciate their concision.


4 Comments on “ten Japanese photobooks for ICP”

  1. Sean Breslin says:

    Wonderful selection. I might have to take myself down to the local Maruzen and get shopping.

    • Sean Breslin says:

      Actually, Maruzen probably isn’t the best place :-)

      • microcord says:

        If you’re in Japan, then one good option is the combination of the Yahoo Auction “alert” system and a rational strategy for anticipating the likely irrationality of your potential rivals. Look for an auction not ending on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, wait as late as you dare, bid as much as you’re willing to pay, and then walk away from the computer. It’s worked for me.

        I don’t want to knock the bookshops I haven’t mentioned. Many have good stuff, and at reasonable prices.

        I’ve got mixed feelings about providing shopping tips. I’d like to help people get stuff they’d really enjoy, and at a palatable price; but I hope what I write doesn’t help fuel any collecting frenzy.

        Well, I do provide links for library availability: Worldcat and CiNii (which seem to complement each other).

      • Sean Breslin says:

        Thanks. I’ll use Yahoo Japan from now on (I have an account). I ordered Dodo Shunji’s Osaka on Amazon.jp secondhand for ¥2800.

        I’m sure I saw the same book in a Shinjuku backstreet photobook store somewhere on the 2nd or 3rd floor of a tiny apartment. I wanted it then and have been kicking myself for not buying and forgot the name of the shop. I’ve lived near Nagoya for the last 11 years and only go to Tokyo once a year or so.


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