While at VCFA in October, I curated a micro-exhibition of books and printed ephemera that charted the development of Japanese Modernist Graphic Design called Japanese Modernism Unearthed that accompanied my lecture The Winners and Losers of History: The Emergence of Graphic Design in Japan.
This tabletop exhibition was a project in providing a tactile analogue to a lecture, allowing students to handle the materials (without gloves!) and to make observations about the material discussed outside of how it was editorially framed in the lecture.
The media included:
Elementary English Course
This 1910 book was printed by Japan’s first type foundry, and is an example of the high quality of typography provided by the Tsukiji Type Foundry, the brainchild of Shōzō Motoki. Shōzō developed Japan’s first sustainable system of moveable type technology for printing (and Japan’s first typography school) in 1869, with the assistance of the Irish American missionary William Gamble in Nagasaki.
A geometry text book with a stunning two-color title page circa 1926. This book is proof that Japanese graphic designers and typographers had a thorough early understanding of Classical title page composition and localized the form with exceeding results.
高等小學 毛筆畫手本 男生用 第三學年 / Koutou Shougaku Mouhitsuga Tehon Dansei You Dai san Gakunen
文部省 (Ministry of Education)
A lovely annotated manual of illustration which shows the rigor expected of budding illustrators in 1905. Some images are traced and others are broken into perspective grids by the previous owner, most likely a boy aged 10 to 14.
寳塚 少女歌劇脚本集 / Takarazuka Revue Playbook
宝塚歌劇団 (Takarazuka Revue)
A look at the “Moga” / Modern Girl aesthetic from a 1932 magazine for the famous Takurazaka Revue and Theater School in Hyōgo Prefecture, noted for it’s all-female casts women of that time. The Playbook features unique lettering throughout, images of women and women’s fashion from that era of feminization in Japan, and a beautiful, if off-kilter cover illustration.
テァトロ / La Teatro
An immediate post-World War II theater magazine published in Tokyo that shows the vertical orthographic form that Japanese typesetting took in 1948. Wonderful cover lettering that shows the post-War turn toward showcard-influenced lettering.
現代商業美術全集 / The Complete Commercial Artist
Sugiura Hisui, editor
Published from 1927 to 1930, this was one of Japan’s most important graphic design publication at that time, providing commercial art and design in all its forms from both Japan and the world. Foreign and domestic application of design trends and theories were catalogued within. One cannot fathom how important this journal was to Japanese graphic designers, as it brought the world to their local bookshop.
中學圖畫 / Art Text for Middle School
美育振興會 (Government Publishing House)
Chugaku Zuga is a fine art textbook from 1931. It is notable for its last page, introducing lettering and commercial art to students via lavish bilingual lettering.
Mikawa Silk Manufacturing
A label for a package of raw silk from approximately 1890. The silk was manufactured in Mikawa no Kuni (Mikawa Province)—a now-defunct area that comprises the eastern half of Aichi prefecture.
伊呂波引紋帳大全 / Irohahikimonchoudaizen
1885 manual of “kamon” / 家紋, traditional family crests, acceptable ornament, and usual application to Japanese clothing of that time.
洋酒まめ天国 / A piece of liquor heaven
Yanagihara Ryohei, editor, designer
Suntory’s house ‘style guide’ for the swinging gentleman of the mid-to-late 1950s and 1960s. Yoshu Mame Tengoku featured sexploitative illustrative covers by Yanagihara himself, as well as racy nude photography and explicit sexual illustration (with j-u-s-t the right amount of detail left out to not enrage censors) by Yokoo Tadanori to illustrate the bawdy tales within.
横尾忠則 / The Complete Yokoo Tadanori
横尾忠則 / Yokoo Tadanori, editor, designer
A collection of Yokoo’s work up until 1978, immediately prior to his near-death experience and decision to stop producing graphic design for much of the 1980s. This book is notable because it was edited and designed by Yokoo himself and bears traces of the darkness, vanity and egoism that permeates so much of his work. It is a beautifully, lovingly designed book and an amazing work that sums up the best of Yokoo’s career from the mid 1960s.
商業デザイン全集 / The World’s Commercial Art
Aai Sen, Hara Hiromu, Hijikata Teiichi, Imatake Shichiro, Katsumi Masaru, Kamekura Yusaku, Kono Takashi, Koike Shinji, Takiguchi Shuzo, Yamana Ayao; editorial board
Within Shogyo Design Zenshu, foreign work and domestic Japanese design work were placed side-by-side, creating a literal in-step reference for how Japanese design fit into the global continuum. This is a collection of the first four issues from 1952 through 1954, published in 1955.
造型思考ノート / (literally, Notes on Making and Looking) / Thinking Eye
This 1974 book is a loose design theory book by Modern master Awazu Kiyoshi, one of the founders of the Metabolist movement of graphic design and architecture—a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth. Awazu is notable for his persistent leftist/Labor-oriented political leanings throughout his career.
カメラ / Camera #7
A notable 1939 photography magazine that exhorted readers to investigate both photojournalism and Moholy-Nagy-style “typo-photo”. Camera is notable for its display lettering in advertisements and “slice of life” examinations of the upper class following the explosion of photography as a leisure pursuit in Japan.
のらくろ伍長 / Corporal Norakuro
Literally “Corporal Blackie the Stray Dog”, Norakuro is the tale of an amiable, aloof and earnest stray dog who attempts to pitch in to support his country by joining the Fierce Dogs Brigade, a stand-in for the Japanese Army. This lavishly designed 1969 reprint of a 1933 volume. Norakuro’s creator, Takamizawa Michinao, was a member of the revolutionary avant garde art/design/architecture group MAVO in the early 1920s, a little-discussed link between proletarian graphic design and the then-nascent form of manga. Interestingly, despite widespread appeal and the nationalistic message the manga conveys, Norakuro’s production was forcibly ceased in 1941, immediately pre-war, due to it’s message being “frivolous” by the Press Unit of the Army of Japan. The importance of this manga cannot be understated, as it was the main influence on Tezuka Osamu, “The Father of Manga”, in his childhood, and what pushed him to be a manga cartoonist.