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Japan - gymnastics. 体操教範 [Taiso Kyohan - Manual of Gymnastics]. Ministry of War, 1884 (Meiji 17). 150x110mm in what appear to be original cloth backed boards (spine a touch nibbled); 37 double folded leaves (ie 74pp) and 73 full page illustrations (5 folding) numbered to 32 with several bis. A little worming, nothing notable, and a couple of small stains; a quite good fresh copy. Possibly lithographed throughout. Au$300

The Japanese first got in French experts on military physical training in the late 1860s and the first Japanese book I've been able to trace was a translation of part of an 1847 manual the French visitors brought with them. That is I've traced mention of it, not the book itself. This manual also has the look of coming from a French manual but, being light on in French gymnastic manuals of the mid nineteenth century here, I don't know which one. Certainly it models the fine mustachios that became de rigueur for dashing Japanese officers. The Taiso Kyohan apparently also became the model for gymnastics in secondary schools as the idea of physical education was introduced into Japan. There were many editions of the Taiso Kyohan, presumably updated and changed as the decades went on but I'm unable to trace any copy this early in a library catalogue.


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Suguroku. 飛行機戦争双六 [Hikoki Senso Sugoroku]. Tokyo, Tanoshiki Danshi 1928 (Showa 3). Colour illustrated broadside game, 40x55cm. Folded, a nice copy. Au$650

A near breath-taking tour de force display of the Japanese talent for blending infantile cuteness, mayhem and sinister threat. Most bellicose nations produced books, pictures and games of and for toddler soldiers but they were usually dressed up kids playing at soldiers. Here we race, using dice, with our child pilot from his farewell ceremony to his triumphant return, destroying any number of enemy ships and planes along the way. Telling is the implication in the last triumphant scene that most important nations of the world supported Japan's war aims; not the US perhaps but Texas was in their corner. Miyazaki is too young to have owned this when new but I can't help believing that images just like this lodged in the child and captivate the adult.


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Yukawa Shodo. War Nurse from the series 今古風俗百美人 [Kinko Fuzoku Hyaku Bijin - 100 Beauties Past and Present]. [Osaka, Wakita Ainosuke?] c1903. Colour wood block print, 42x28cm. A little browning; with full margins. Au$375

Shodo's series is mostly dress up. He put his beauties into costume, gave them a prop or two, maybe a hint of background. And the majority are decorative and little more. But here and there are exceptions. A weaver hold us with her confident gaze, gripping her shuttle like a club, and a couple of his modern women are truly modern rather than mannequins put into trousers. A young student in hakama - men's wide trousers - reading while she leans against the window has the true defiant insouciance of a young woman going places and this nurse is nothing less than majestic with her implacable calm. This is a woman with a job to do. This is not a woman to be ordered about. Most but not all prints I've seen from this series have the red numbers in Arabic and Japanese at the top which don't relate to the print's place in the series. Is this that French invention - a numbered limited edition? I've seen numbers up to about 130. Some also have a caption in the bottom margin; those I've seen have been both numbered and unnumbered.


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Photography - Japan. Portraits from photographs scrupulously hand painted to impersonate lithographs. n.p. [c1880-1890?]. Two sheets, 54x41cm and 60x48cm, with nine portraits all but one oval; each about 25cm - ten inches - high. Au$450

Are these the ultimate modern one-up-manship in family portraiture? Painted over photos are common enough and paintings from photos equally so but these are large scale, done from scratch purposely to mimic the grain of lithography. The stippling is so painstaking and exact that it would have been easier to make and print lithographs. By the 1880's reaction to modernity and the west, by nationalists watching their tradition vanish, was strident and often powerful. Don't forget the western design of the residence of the new Imperial Palace was abandoned after earthquake damage to brickwork and the official carpenter took over. No small victory for superior Japanese traditions. The arguments over portraiture and photography are often unexpected, confusing and contradictory to me. Schools that I would think traditionalist welcomed the camera and realism - though some disliked photo portraits for moral or ethical reasons - but whatever the argument the photograph and its wedded industry - portraits painted in oils over or from photos - became ubiquitous essentials for the family shrine. Our well to do family is not only on the side of western modernity, they go one step further by embracing the foreign technology of the lithographic print. So why hand painted on such a scale? Maybe partly because that's what a prominent family can afford but likely because portraits like this were still private family affairs. According to Conant (Challenging Past and Present), the painter Takahashi - portraitist of the Emperor - was thwarted in his 1880s project to paint portraits of the heroes of the Meiji by families refusing him use of their photographs. The smaller set of portraits here is signed and sealed Hokushu. The other, clearly later, has an illegible, to me, seal.


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Kamishibai. Kijima Takeo. 債券往来 [Saiken Orai]. Kobe, Yokusan Bunka 1943 [Showa 18]. 20 sheets (27x39cm) of card with colour illustrations on one side and text on the other. A small piece from a corner of the last card; signs of use but decent enough. Without a card envelope these usually came in but complete. Au$450

This is a head scratcher. At first glimpse a wartime kamishibai in cartoon form telling the story of the bonds business seems so bizarre that it is irresistable. On second thought it makes sense; selling war bonds was a big deal in every country. On third thought it gets bizarre again. I may be merely uneducated but of all the forms of Japanese graphic art, kamishibai are the most peculiar in that the vast bulk of all that I've seen are godawful. Even given the preponderance of sickening morality and national good in kamishibai stories it is astonishing how few good artists - a particularly versatile bunch in Japan - set their hand to them. This one is a happy exception. Which is where it gets head scratching again. Produced by the cultural arm of the Yokusan - the press ganged ruling party of wartime Japan - who weren't known for taste, humour or delicacy and who usually produced numbingly awful war propaganda kamishibai ... how did this get through? Kamishibai are public stories usually told by kamishibai men who set up a folding stand on the back of their bicycles and enacted the dramas illustrated on the cards. Held up with the plates in order, the text for the first picture is on the back of the last. The sheets are transferred to the back as the story continues; the text for the second picture is on the back of the first, and so on.


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Kurofune Kawaraban. Perry and the Black Ships in Japan. 海陸御固附 [Kairiku Okatame Tsuke]. [Tokyo? 1854 (Kaei 6)]. Woodcut broadside 41x62cm on two sheets joined in the middle. Folded, a small repair in the bottom margin, a couple of pin holes; a remarkably good copy. Au$2400

These illicit illustrated news sheets - kawaraban - for the streets were produced by the million for a couple of hundred years so of course few survive. They were produced for anything more interesting than the drop of a hat and the arrival of the Black Ships, the American squadron commanded by Perry, in 1854 eclipsed any and all tiresome earthquakes, fires, plages, famines, murders and scandals. For most Japanese this was the same as a squadron of alien space ships arriving on earth now. These prints are the kurofune kawaraban. Perry's ships in the bay and the defensive array of clans with tens or hundreds of thousands of troops along the shorelines was a popular kawaraban subject; this and one similar are the largest and busiest I've seen. The other version I've seen of this - titled Shinkoku Taihei Take Mori Mata Akira - is the same size, looks similar and features the American sailor in the corner, but is printed from different blocks with the ships in a different spot.


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Yokosuka. 横須賀港一覧絵図 [Yokosuka-ko Ichiran Ezu]. Tokyo, Matsunosuke Nishimura1879 (Meiji 12). Engraved broadside 38x52cm. Folded as issued, with the original coloured wrapper (fukoro) - somewhat grubby and used but complete. A remarkably good copy. Au$600

Ideal for the detail fanatic: not much is missed and most of it is neatly labelled. This is the new Yokosuka naval base and shipyards where Japan's first modern warships were produced.


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Sugoroku. 輝く日本双六 [Kagayaku Nihon Sugoroku]. Tokyo, Seugaku Sophomore, Ist January, 1938 (Showa 13). Colour printed broadside 53x79cm, folded as issued. Minor signs of use, one short marginal tear; with the playing pieces intact in the margin. Au$350

The New Year treat from the magazine Seugaku Sophomore (for the second year of primary school) and come 1938 the fun is gone. Our globe trotting young couple from earlier sugoroku look frighteningly serene and the world, and war, and life, is no longer a riotous cartoon. When 'Shining Japan' - Kagayaku Nihon, the name of this game - became a motto for war in Asia I'm not sure. The Shining Japan Exposition - a military display no matter how many white doves fluttered over the battleships - was in 1936 and Japan was long a crusader fighting for Pan-Asian peace, liberated from colonialism. The name surfaces still, used by ultra nationalists in Japan.


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