OGAWA, Kazumasa

(Japan 1860 – 1929)


(Japan  – )

Chirimen book: Illustrations of Japanese Life, vol.1

Not on display
Further information

This book belongs to a set of three books, published by Kazumasa Ogawa (1860-1929) in 1896. Volume 1 contains twelve handcoloured photographies reproduced in collotype on crepe paper. The photos are portraits of various types of people – a geisha, servant in a teahouse, ladies of a bourgeois household, maiden, a blind shampooer, Buddhist monks, a samurai, etc. Each image is accompanied by a short text by Suteta Takashima, Professor in the Higher Commercial College Tokyo. Translated in English, the style of the texts clearly indicated that these types of books targeted a Western audience, explaining particular pastimes and customs of the Japanese people and especially praising the virtues of Japanese women. The photographs are not signed, but from Ogawa’s preface it can be assumed that they were by K. Tamamura (probably Kozaburo Tamamura, 1856?-1923), S. Kajima (probably Seibei Kajima, 1866-1924) and a Professor Burton (probably William Kinnimond Burton, 1856-99).

Chirimen books were invented in around 1885, when Hasegawa Takejiro, originally a businessman who turned to the import, publishing and selling textbooks for learning foreign languages, launched a series of English translations of popular Japanese folktales. The Hasegawa fairy tale series was such a success that chirimen books on other themes like Japanese poems, regular annual events, traditional performing arts, lives of the common people, often written by foreigners living in Japan, were also published. Catching the wave of Japonisme, chirimen books were extremely popular as souvenirs for foreign visitors to Japan. They were also produced to represent Japan at the various World Fairs in Europe and America around the turn of the 20th century. With the development of mass publications in the Taisho (1912-26) and early Showa eras (1926-89), publications using this special paper diminished dramatically to only a small amount of calendars and other special products, as the paper could not be printed with the current technology and above all as the production of chirimen paper is too complex to be mass produced.

Kazumasa Ogawa (1860-1929), also known as Kazuma or Isshin Ogawa, was a photographer, printer and publisher. He is considered today as the pioneer of photography in the Meiji period (1868-1912) and of photomechanical printing. He was first instructed by Hideo Yoshiwara and from 1882 to 1884 travelled to America to study portrait photography and dry plate process. He also studied collotype printing process at the Albert Type Company in Boston. On his return to Japan in 1884 he first opened a photo studio in Tokyo and in the following years successively established various businesses to manufacture dry plates and to produce photo engraving. By 1889, Ogawa was active as editor of the 'Shashin shinpo' (Photograhic Journal, the first of its kind in East Asia and the only one in Japan at that time) as well as of Japan’s oldest art magazine 'Kokka'. For these magazines, he used collotype printing for the illustrations. Ogawa was also a founding member of the Japan Photographic Society (Nihon shashinkai, founded 1889). Ogawa was not only an outstanding photographer, but also a visionary printer and publisher. His books on the life and customs in Meiji Japan, often in collaboration with Western scholars, contributed greatly to the understanding of Japan, which just opened its door to the world after three centuries of seclusion, by the Western world.

About the production of chirimen paper, see article from the website of the National Diet Library: http://www.ndl.go.jp/en/publication/ndl_newsletter/166/666.html
'The process of crinkling the paper is as follows. Several sheets of Japanese paper printed with illustrations and texts, slightly moistened, are rolled into a cylinder, which is then placed with the long side vertical, and compressed from above. The same process of reopening the sheets, rolling them again, and pressing, is repeated more than ten times, changing each time the direction of the sheets when re-rolling. In this way, the Japanese crêpe paper finally comes out.'

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, Ocotber 2011.

Print, Book
12 handcoloured collotypes on crepe paper
25.0 x 19.2 cm
Gift of Lesley Kehoe Galleries 2011
Accession number