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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 217, April 2018

A nishiki-e calendar sent overseas from Japan: Kawamata kenpu seiren kabushiki gaisha meiji yonjusannen karenda

Chihiro Fujita
Library Support Division
Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library

This article is a translation of the article in Japanese of the same title
in NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 681 (January 2018).

Kawamata kenpu seiren kabushiki gaisha meiji yonjusannen karenda (Year 1910 Calendar of Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Limited.). 1909, 13 pages, 37×25 cm, NDL Call Nos. VF6-F1-48 to 60. * Available in the NDL Digital Collections

Calendars are among what many people purchase in welcoming a new year. Since calendars are used and seen on a daily basis, companies and organizations in Japan often produce their own calendars and distribute them to their clienteles.

The topic of this article is an example of such calendars. This calendar, featuring vividly colored nishiki-e (colored woodblock prints) accompanied by a calendar table both in English and Japanese, was sent from Kawamata Kenpu Seiren Kabushiki Gaisha (Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd.), a manufacturer of habutai silk, to its overseas customers along with its export goods.

The factory of Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd. in Kawamata Town of Fukushima Prefecture. This factory manufactured silk products for export.
Ogurusu, Kohei. Fukushimaken shashincho (Album of Fukushima Prefecture). Fukushimaken, ed. September 1908. NDL Call No. 406-21.
* Available in the NDL Digital Collections

The town of Kawamata in Fukushima prefecture was historically famous for sericulture and textile manufacturing. In the Meiji era, silk textiles produced in Kawamata came to be exported overseas via the Yokohama Port. However, since the town did not have a large factory where impurities could be systematically removed from raw silk, there were often complaints that the quality of the exported products was not stable.

Accordingly, Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd. was established in 1899 by a merchant named Kutsuna Korejiro, who frequently visited Kawamata Town to trade silk fabrics. He established the company in response to requirements from the town mayor, with a capital of 25,000 yen collected from businessmen in Yokohama. Kutsuna was born in Iyo (Ehime prefecture) in 1864, and engaged in trade business in Yokohama after being apprenticed to a kimono retailer in Osaka. He later started his own business, and eventually made a success in the silk trade.

Trade mark of the Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd.
Illustrated at the left is a deer, and a stag is at its right.

The silk fabric produced at a large-scale factory of Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd., with the same "shika jirushi (deer mark)" trade mark as printed in the calendar, gained a good reputation overseas for its high quality. In 1904, it was awarded at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in the silk refinement field for the first time in Japan.

The nishiki-e calendars began to be published in 1909 with the initiative of Kutsuna, and continued for four years. It can be assumed that the popularity around at that time of hikifuda (advertising handbills) for the New Year1 and exported calendars made of chirimen paper (crepe-paper) underlaid his idea.

Featured in each month of the calendar of 1910 are bijin-ga (portraits of beautiful women) with the seal of Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915). These prints resemble the ones in Hanamoyo, one of Kiyochika’s past bijin-ga series. It is assumed that Akiyama Buemon of Kokkeido, one of the publishers of Hanamoyo, reused the same printing blocks in creating the calendar of Kawamata Silk Refining Co., Ltd. It is, therefore, likely that the material introduced in this article was made in the same way, but it is uncertain. There were other years when bijin-ga by Mizuno Toshikata and Ikeda Terukata were used. The trade mark and calendar are placed in the margin, and the company’s name and advertising statement are at the bottom, both of which are printed in blue ink.

The front cover of the calendar including an advertisement. It is written here that the Crown Prince (later Taisho Emperor) visited the factory in 1908, and enumerates the superior characteristics of habutai silk produced by the company.

The weight of habutai silk is represented by a unit called "momme (m)," and integrated in the design of the trade mark are the antlers of a deer.

The cover page, on the other hand, was newly drawn in producing the calendar, accompanied by a stamp of Mizuno Hidekata (1875-1944). The lady holding a strip of paper with the words "shika jirushi (deer mark)" is Koteko, the empress-consort of Emperor Sushun, who is known for the legend that she propagated sericulture and weaving to Kawamata. The harmonious portrait of stag and hind was drawn on the background as well as the trademark.

Several versions of calendars seemed to have been produced in the same year, and another 1910 calendar with a bijin-ga by Yoshu Chikanobu (1838-1912) is owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.2

These calendars with "deer marks" must have widely appealed the habutai silk of the Kawamata brand, embellishing the daily lives of people living overseas with these beautiful nishiki-e.

Calendar of March, August, and November, 1910. Each of them has Kobayashi Kiyochika’s stamp.

Some of our readers may wonder: "Why is this calendar owned by the NDL?" This material, in fact, was part of a collection donated to the NDL by Hotta Ryohei in 1987. Hotta was the fourth owner of Hotta Clock & Watch Co., Ltd. (now Hotta Corporation) which was established in 1879 in Nagoya. The Hotta collection consists of around 6,000 books and resources including a luxury catalogue of the collection of watches3 and a huge amount of various advertising calendars and old calendars like the Ise-Goyomi calendar.

Some of the calendar collections of the NDL can be viewed in the digital exhibition "The Japanese Calendar". At the beginning of a New Year, it may be nice to turn your attention afresh to calendars which are always at the side of our daily lives.

(Translated by Aiko Umeno and Shihoko Yokota)

Reference (in Japanese):

  • "Kawamata kenpu seiren kabushiki kaisha." Tokyo asahi shinbun, May 28, 1899, morning edition, p. 2.
  • "Shika-jirushi seiren habutae no meiyo." Yomiuri Shinbun, October 29, 1904, morning edition, p. 4.
  • Yokohamashi. Yokohama shishi 4(1) (Meiji koki no yokohama). 1965.
  • Kawamatamachi. Kawamata choshi vol. 3 (Shiryohen 2 kindai/gendai) . 1979.
  • Onosawa, Ubara. "Kizo niwa." National Diet Library Monthly Bulletin No. 319 . 1987.
  • Iwakiri, Shinichiro. "Media to shite no kindai hangashi (dai 5 kai) Meiji no tairyo shuppanbutsu – koyomi to karenda." Hanga Geijutsu, 39(3) (150). 2010.
  • Kawamatamachi. Koho kawamata. 2014. 6.
  • Kiyochika. Kiyochika: Kosenga no mukoni. Machida shiritsu kokusai hanga bijutsukan ed. 2016.

  1. Advertising prints distributed by retailers to their customers during the New Year’s holidays. Auspicious drawings were printed in vivid colors, and sometimes accompanied by a calendar.
  2. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/calendar-printfor-december-1910-woman-in-a-blue-kimono-holding-aball-155612
  3. Catalogue of the collection of watches, the property of J. Pierpont Morgan; compiled at his request by G. C. Williamson, LITT. D. London: Priv. print. at the Chiswick press, 1912, NDL Call No. VF6-Y1.