Inakanotsuki Animal Prints – August 2017

One of my favourite books on my own bookshelves is a contemporary reprint of part of the Hokusai Manga. The Manga comprises sketches by the artist Katsushika Hokusai, reproduced in three colour woodblock prints. Woodblock printing was a popular art form in Japan from the seventeenth century onwards. Having arrived in Japan from China centuries before, it gained popularity during the Genroku period (between 1688 and 1703), in part due to the increased wealth and disposable income of the merchant classes. The art form was known as Ukiyo-e, or ‘pictures of the floating world’, in reference to the urban culture of Edo (modern day Tokyo). The ‘floating world’ was the term used to describe the city’s red light district, with its kabuki theatres, brothels and tea houses.

Ukiyo-e’s original subjects were the people and places found within that world. In later years however, the genre moved away from these roots. The Meiji restoration and opening of the Suez Canal in 1868 caused a rapid influx of Westernization. All of Japanese culture felt the impact of these changes, and within the art world there was a shift towards works with a more Western focus including images of the natural world, muted colour palettes and techniques such as shading.

While searching our catalogue, I came across a listing within our 19th Century Collection of rare books for a publication titled Inakanotsuki, which had been tagged with ‘Ukiyo-e’. Intrigued, I decided to seek it out from our stores to see what it contained.

Front cover of ‘Inakanotsuki‘ by Kōno Bairei, 1889 (19th Century Collection, 741 KON)

Inakanotsuki is a small book with a stitched binding, known as fukuru-toji. What appears at first to be a plain, beige cover is itself a very subtle print showing flocks of birds. Inside the volume are multi-colour woodblock prints of various animals. It was published in 1889 – the year the Meiji Constitution was adopted in Japan. The artist is Kōno Bairei.

Kōno Bairei was born in 1844 in Kyoto. As a young man he trained in classical Japanese painting under the tutelage of respected and established artists. He founded the Kyoto Art Association, and was a co-founder of the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School. His involvement with Ukiyo-e consisted of designing prints for illustrated books, often depicting birds. While this example of Kōno’s work does feature birds, my personal favourites are his depictions of animals.

Ukiyo-e depictions of the natural world are also known as kacho-e, and an array of wildlife appear on the books’ pages, including bats, foxes and turtles. Japanese art is renowned for the symbolism vested in its images – not just in the animal subjects, but a whole range of aspects including the scenery, colours and composition.

One of my favourite prints in the volume is a double page spread of cats fighting on a branch. It provides a nice excuse to share this treasure on International Cat Day (#internationalcatday).

Written by Alex Healey, Project Archivist

Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs – January 2013

Diagram of a Japanese Fire Bomb from Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs:
Diagram of a Japanese Fire Bomb from Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs: The First ICBM
Henry Morris, Bird and Bull Press, 1982 (Rare Books, RB623.451 MOR)

Necessity is often said to be the mother of all invention. Sadly, with war, this often came in the form of scientific advances devised to kill and spread panic with more efficiency and devastation. During World War II, Germany’s most important technical achievement was the development and use of the V-2 missile; an unmanned, liquid propellant rocket capable of reaching overseas targets and the first known man-made object to enter space. Completed by July 1944, they were responsible for the death of 2,754 civilians in England alone and had an even greater propaganda value as a weapon coveted by the allies and feared by citizens at risk. However, they were not the only Axis power to launch such terrible initiatives, with Japan even outdoing the V-2 in terms of spanning continents to become the first truly inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), albeit in a less successful, more rudimentary way…

This annotated sketch, enclosed in a book explaining the history behind them, depicts a prototype fire bomb or füsen bakudan, which Japan developed during World War II as a means of spreading terror, starting fires and inflicting casualties on North American soil. After the disastrous defeat of their Navy at the battle of Midway (4 – 7 June 1942), the Japanese Military were intent on causing a similar psychological victory over the U.S. Over the next two years, the Imperial Japanese Army’s elite Noborito Laboratory, staffed by over 1000 of the country’s top scientists, engineered and tested incendiary and anti-personnel devices attached to 32 foot balloons made of Japanese handmade paper. These were capable of travelling on the trans-Pacific upper wind currents or ‘jet streams’ over the Pacific Ocean.

Considerable research was carried out to allow the balloons to maintain the minimum altitudes needed during the estimated 60 hours and over 6,200 miles it took to reach America. An aneroid barometer detonated explosives to release sandbags when they descended too far. When all these ballasts had dropped, the weapon was presumed to be over its target and the bombs were released. Rubberized silk was trialled for the balloons, but found to be much too heavy, whereas the light but exceptionally strong paper was more successful.

From November 1944 to April 1945, more than 9000 füsen bakudan were launched. It is estimated 1000 reached America; roughly the success rate of 10% predicted by Japan. However, the U.S. authorities, fearful of the panic they would spread and not wanting the Japanese to know how successful they had been, ordered radio stations and newspapers to give no publicity to such incidents. Although damage was minimal, six Americans, a pregnant Pastor’s wife and five Sunday school children did lose their lives in Oregon on 5th May 1945 when they investigated a downed balloon and the still attached bomb exploded; the only deaths due to enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II. Ironically, this tragedy took place on land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, who were papermakers.

This diagram and the accompanying book was one of only 375 copies printed at the Bird and Bull Press, Pennsylvania, founded by Henry Morris, a printer and papermaker, in 1958, specializing in the art, craft, and history of papermaking.