Home > Publications > NDL Newsletter > No. 198, February 2015

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 198, February 2015

Japan's image transmitted abroad:
Picture books by Hasegawa Takejiro

Nanae Otsuka
Library Counsellor
Administrative Department

This article is a translation of the article in Japanese of the same title
in NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 644 (November 2014).

Images Japonaises
Illustrator: Kwasson (Suzuki Kason);
Text: Emile Verhaeren;
Publisher: T. Hasegawa
[NDL call no.: W193-B1]
Published in May 1896
One volume 21 × 29 cm

Have you ever heard of the Belgian poet, Emile Verhaeren? In modern-day Japan, his name is seldom recognized by people other than scholars. Verhaeren's poems, however, were first introduced to Japan in 1905, in a book written by UEDA Bin entitled Kaichōon. Ueda wrote: The mode of poetry which glimmered in Baudelaire and emerged in Verlaine has finally become of a new style: symbolism.1 Modern Japanese poets, for example, YOSANO Tekkan and TAKAMURA Kōtarō were greatly inspired by Verhaeren's symbolic poems.

Ueda Bin
[NDL call no.: 98-192]
Published in October 1905
One volume 19 × 13.5 cm
*Available on the NDL Digital Collections
*The image is of a copy held in a private collection.

As noted above, Verhaeren was first introduced in Japan by Ueda in Kaichōon. In the West, however, a book entitled Images Japonaises, which contained Japanese wood-block illustrations by SUZUKI Kason (Kwasson) accompanied by Verhaeren's original poems, was published in 1896, nine years earlier than the Japanese were first acquainted with his poems.

Yosano Tekkan wrote about this book after he had visited Verhaeren in the suburbs of Paris in 1912. Verhaeren, who had a taste for ukiyo-e, especially the works of SUZUKI Harunobu, told Yosano that he had once published the small book in Tokyo, at the request of a Japanese publisher. Yosano wrote that no-one he knew had ever heard of this.2 Likewise, the book had scarcely been recognized in Japan until recent years.
Perhaps Images Japonaises went unnoticed in Japan because it was originally published for readers overseas, and was held by only a few libraries inside Japan.

Recent studies have revealed that Verhaeren presumably received a request to write these poems from HASEGAWA Takejiro, who sent the existing wood-block prints to France in order to exhibit Images Japonaises at the Paris Expo in 1900; and that the book's actual year of publication apprears to be 1900. It has also been said that the wood-block illustrations in this book are the same as those used in two other English-language books of poems and illustrations, The smiling book and Glimpses of Japan, both of which were published in 1896.3

Glimpses of Japan
Illustrator: Kwasson;
Publisher: T. Hasegawa
[NDL call no.: W166-B3]
Published in May 1896
One volume 21 × 28 cm

It seems that Images Japonaises gained a favorable reputation and was reprinted several times, and there is some variation in the illustrations used in the various editions. Also, the front cover illustration of Mt. Fuji and a lady in kimono being pulled in a rickshaw along a lakeside was assumed to be a typical image of Japan. The same illustration is used as the front cover of gold lacquered albums called the Yokohama shashin.4

The smiling book
Editor: Takeziro Hasegawa
[NDL call no.: B-248]
Published in 1896
One volume 17 × 22 cm, 26 pages
*Available only on microfiche
The same illustration transmitted into the front cover of a Yokohama shashin, using the fine techniques of urushi nuri maki-e (gold lacquer)
*The image is of a copy held by the Open University of Japan Library.
*Any reproduction, modification, or secondary use of this image is strictly prohibited. (Copyright © Open University of Japan)

The NDL holds a copy of The smiling book as part of the collection of the former Imperial Library, and purchased a copy of Images Japonaises in 2011 and of Glimpses of Japan in 2013. All three materials are now included to the NDL collections.

Out of the three materials, Images Japonaises and Glimpses of Japan are large wood-block print books made of hōsho-shi, or traditional uncreased Japanese paper, which were used in nishiki-e and gained popularity in the Western countries. The smiling book is smaller in size, and is printed on chirimen, Japanese for traditional crepe paper.5

The poems that accompany the illustrations differ among the three books, all of which are fascinating. As for The smiling book, Hasegawa's descendants have bequeathed a draft of a different edition. We hope to introduce them in a future article.

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  1. UEDA Bin. Kaichōon. Hongō shoin, 1905. [NDL call no.: 98-192] p.162 *Available on the NDL Digital Collections
  2. YOSANO Hiroshi, YOSANO Akiko. Paris yori. Kanao-bunen-do, 1914. [NDL call no.: 349-294] p.459
  3. ŌBA Tsuneaki. "Emile Verhaeren no Images Japonaises o megutte" Kanagawa Daigaku kokusai keiei ronshū (16/17) 1999.3. [NDL call no.: Z4-1130] pp.85-106
    MURAMATSU Sadafumi. "Ibunka kōryū no hitokoma Verhaeren to chirimen bon" Tokyo Seitoku Daigaku kenkyū kiyō (8) 2001.6. [NDL call no.: Z22-B69] pp.41-54
  4. From the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji period in Yokohama, premium photo albums were made to be sold as souvenirs for foreigners leaving Japan, and were also exported. Some of these albums, now called "Yokohama shashin," were decorated with gorgeous gold lacquer and raden (Japanese traditional art using mother-of-pearl), and were elaborately colored by professional artists.
  5. For more information on books made of chirimen paper, see the following article: Chirimen-bon: books made of Chirimen Paper (crepe paper) (No.135, February 2004)

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