Japanese Crepe-Paper Books
the late 19th century, books about Japan written in English were
becoming very popular. Takejiro Hasegawa took advantage of its
popularity. Beginning in the mid-1880s, he produced a series of
Japanese Fairy Tales translated into English. Initially, he intended
the books to be directed towards Japanese people who wanted to learn
English, but he later discovered that the items were more popular with
The first volumes were printed
on plain paper illustrated with black and white woodblock images. When
he decided to move into printing the books for non-Japanese consumers,
he wanted to use color illustrations in the books to attract buyers.
Hasegawa wanted his books to be distinctly Japanese, while at the same
time familiar to Western tourists. The books were printed to be read
from left to right, and the image and text were printed in separate
areas. In Japanese printing, the text would have been printed over the
images in most cases.
The popularity of
the fairy tales came when Hasegawa started to print the books on
crepe-paper. He made the decision to use crepe-paper because it was
"distinctive, exotic, and most appealing to Western tastes." Westerners
loved the paper because of its unique texture and the fact that the
crepe-paper was durable enough to be used by children.
was written in 1888 by Mrs. Thomas H. (Kate) James. Mrs. James was
married to a lieutenant in the British Navy who had an appointment in
Japan . She became enamored with the Japanese language and literature
through the influence of Basil Hall Chamberlain, her husband's
colleague. Chamberlain and Lietenant James were writing the first
English language guide on Japan when Mrs. James was introduced to
Hasegawa. Mrs. James was known for translating Japanese fairy tales
into English to entertain her children, and Hasegawa, being aware of
her translation abilities, contracted her to translate fairy tales for
his crepe-paper series. She ended up being his most prolific author by
producing 13 books from 1886-1903.
McCain Library & Archives owns two Japanese Crepe-Paper Books – Schippeitaro (1888) and The Wonderful Tea Kettle
(1890). For more information, contact Jennifer Brannock at Jennifer.Brannock@usm.edu or 601.266.4347.
For more information on Japanese Crepe-Paper Books:
Sharf, Frederic A. Takejiro Hasegawa: Meiji Japan 's Preeminent Publisher of Wood-Block-Illustrated Crepe-Paper Books
. Salem : Peabody Essex Museum , 1994. (This title is not owned by USM
libraries, but may be borrowed through Document Delivery in Cook
Text by Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian