Hanga Treasure Chest: Print #20

I have used a wide variety of source materials for the images in this Treasure Chest series; single sheet prints, woodblock books, painting guides, even a photograph. But so far, I haven't made use of any 'advertising' material in my hunt for interesting images - something that is rectified now, with the inclusion of this pretty little bonsai maple tree.

In 1882 a German man opened a plant nursery business in Yokohama, exporting Japanese plants to customers overseas. At one point, he had the idea of producing a colour catalogue for customers, one that would give them a basic introduction to the most common flowers and plants in this country. To create this, he enlisted the help of Takejiro Hasegawa, the Meiji-era publisher of a number of books that featured woodblock illustrations combined with Western language texts.

In the year 1901 they produced a beautiful book - it seems hardly fair to call it a 'catalogue' - illustrating the Japanese 'year' in flowers: The Favorite Flowers of Japan, illustrated by kuchi-e artist Mishima Shoso, with text written by the wife of the nursery owner. Each page of the book went through two completely separate printing processes: the text was done first on a modern letterpress, and the printed sheets (high quality Japanese hosho paper) were then sent to traditional printers to add the illustrations.

It seems that the book was quite successful, as a number of editions were produced, and it can still be found sometimes in bookshops overseas, although copies in good condition are not cheap at all. I purchased my copy from a dealer in England, and was happy to bring it 'home' back to Japan!

As I sit and look through this book I can't help but ask why it is no longer possible to create new modern books of this type, but I guess I know the answer - it was only practical when craftsmen's wages were at developing country levels. These days, we have all become so rich ...


Monday, October 31, 2005