Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society Limited Edition (2012)

{Ed. Note: Being a fan of pictorial books, I was excited to see the announcement for Japan, from The Folio Society. I asked for and received some additional pictures and information for the edition, which is published within the article below.}

In the 1890s, the J. B. Millet Company of Boston published one of the most beautiful pictorial books in history, entitled Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese. Over 250 hand-coloured photographs showing people, buildings and landscapes give the viewer a full window into life in Japan during this fascinating period of Japan’s history. When compared to the Japan of today, the transformation (for better or worse) is astounding. The Folio Society, as a latest entry into their Limited Edition program, has  reproduced this photographic work in its entirety.

The photographs in the original edition were all hand-coloured (with an estimate that 350 individual colorists would have had to work for a year to get this done), including ten full-page collotypes of Japanese flowers by the renowned photographer Ogawa Kazumasa (1860-1929). The book itself was printed letterpress. The challenge facing Folio Society was how to re-create a photographic book of this stature, retaining high quality without the tremendous expense that would result in attempting to match the methods previously used (the original was estimated to cost $200,000 to produce at the time, translating to millions today). According to Folio’s Production Director Joe Whitlock Blundell:

To attempt a project on this scale would be impossible today – even if the skills were available, the cost would be astronomical. Happily, printing technology has moved on to the point where we can obtain a similar result at a fraction of the cost… To obtain the best possible reproduction of both, we decided to buy another copy of the book (at considerable expense) to scan directly. This had the additional advantage that we were able to choose between two different versions of every one of the 279 images in the book, and select the one with the best handcolouring, since this varies quite amazingly from copy to copy. Some of the pictures had to be lightly restored, and we have dispensed with the mounts, doublefolded pages and tissue paper. Otherwise, nothing has been taken away or replaced: the photographs and text are exactly as the original collectors saw them, but in two volumes rather than the original unwieldy ten.

As to how well Folio Society succeeded in the reproduction as compared to the original, I unfortunately cannot say as I have not seen the original. Certainly on its own, the reproduction seems marvelous. I find the pictures mesmerizing.  As for the textual content of the edition, The Folio Society provides some other interesting background on the work.

To edit ‘Japan’, the J. B. Millet company chose Captain Francis Brinkley, an Irish-born soldier who had become an adopted citizen of Japan, even marrying the daughter of a samurai. Brinkley gathered a group of Japanese writers to write a text explaining Japan to Westerners, under headings such as ‘The Early Japanese and Their History’, ‘Creeds and Castes’, ‘Observances and Pastimes’. Most of these writers are not named, and their text was heavily edited to appeal to a Western audience. The result was a book described in the introduction as ‘an ambassador extraordinary sent by the Japanese to the American people’. It remains a fascinating reflection of Japanese–American relations at a pivotal moment in both countries’ history, and one of the most remarkable publishing ventures of the 19th century.

Who should consider purchasing this? Certainly a no-brainer for fans of the original who cannot find a fine or near fine copy for less than 3x-10x the cost of this reproduction. I would suggest also that those with interest in history, be it Japanese history, sociological history or even photographic history, should strongly consider this edition. More generally, lovers of fine books, collectors of pictorial studies and collectors of The Folio Society LE’s all would not go wrong with picking up this fine work.

About the Edition

  • Includes all 259 original photographs, together with the text, 10 flower collotypes and 10 art prints, at their actual size
  • Bound in full cloth, blocked in three colours with a design by Neil Gower, based on that of the ‘Emperor’ edition of 1897
  • So to to achieve the exact colors required, the cloth used to bind each volume was specially made for FS by FiberMark Red Bridge in Manchester
  • Chiyogami endpapers hand-printed in Japan; two sheets of paper are used to give the endpaper extra weight – one decorative and one plain. Here, one side is chiyogami paper and the other is plain grey
  • Gilded on all three page edges
  • Presented in cloth-bound slipcases; The slipcases are in alternate colours (red slipcase for the black volume and vice versa); Each slipcase is blocked with the title of the edition.
  • David Perkins, who has conducted extensive research into Japan at the University of Manchester, has contributed a historical essay
  • Hand-numbered on a special limitation page
  • Volume I: 304 pages, Volume II: 312 pages
  • Both volumes measure 16″ x 12½”
  • Limited to 1,000 sets

Pictures

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Covers
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Macro of Cover
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Macro of Cover #2
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Endpapers
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Title Page
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #1
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #2
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Flower Collotype #1
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #4
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #5
Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society LE, Sample Illustration #6 with Text

5 thoughts on “Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, Folio Society Limited Edition (2012)

  1. Once again I have to disagree. This edition is one I wish I could add to my library. Although I find several of the Folio Society LEs not to my taste (dlphcoraci, I would say they are hitting about .400 with a .667 slugging percentage), Night Thoughts, and the Complete Pepys, which I have, and the Roberts The Holy Land, Egypt and Nubia reproductions are simply wonderful.

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  2. Havn ig spent two years in Japan in the 50s, you would think I would be interested in this book. But I am not. This book, rather than being colorful, is somewhat garish, The Folio Limited Editions, to my mind anyway, are overdone and overpriced. I have bought one Folio L E thus far: the Eric Gilll, Four Gospels. Probably the only one I will ever buy.

  3. The Folio Society has outdone themselves with this publication. Since they have entered the Limited Editions sweepstakes they have hit several home runs and this is one of their finest LEs to date. The thought and care they have put into this reproduction speaks for itself.

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