Yonosuke Natori and Nippon Studio, Kawasaki City Museum

If you happen to be in Tokyo area I would highly recommend a side trip to the Kawaski City Museum to see the exhibition about “Yônosuke Natori and Nippon Studio (1931-1945)”The English translation of the Japanese exhibition title (on the exhibition poster or at Tokyo Art Beat for example) is only half done. The full English translation would be “Yônosuke Natori and Japan Studio”. (until Sept. 3).

Yonosuke Natori and Nippon Kobo

Yônosuke Natori (1910-62) was a professional photographer, founder of “Nippon Studio” (“Nippon Kôbô” in Japanese) and publisher of the international, multilanguage magazine “Nippon” (Japan). With his studio and the magazine Yonosuke Natori introduced to Japan cutting-edge photographic techniques and design that he studied in Germany.1)As far as I know there is not much information available on Natori outside Japan. There is some basic information published on Natori, his studio and “Nippon” in The History of Japanese Photography.


At the end of the 1920s beginning 1930s there were several epicentres for modern photography in Japan, in cities with Avant Garde culture like Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Ashiya. All photographers – mostly amateurs – were organized in groups like the “Tanpei Shashin Club” (Osaka), “Ashiya Shashin Club” (Ashiya) or “Shinkô Shashin Kenkyûkai” (New Photography Research Society), Tokyo.

Yônosuke Natori didn’t belong to any of these groups. 1928 at the age of 18 he went to Germany, where he studied arts an crafts in Munich. From 1931 he worked as a photo journalist for German newspapersI don’t know any of Natori’s early photographs. The books on Natori I have only contain works taken after Natori’s return to Japan – hopefully the publication to the exhibition will fill this gap. and returned to Japan as a contract photographer for Ullstein Verlag, a publishing house behind several newspapers and magazines in Germany.

Yônosuke Natori: Japan from above, 1935

Following the Japanese habit not to work alone he founded the group “Nippon Kôbô” in 1933 (after an assignment in China). “Nippon Kôbô” became a core group of modern photo journalism in Japan, with photographers like Kimura Ihei (who left in 1934 to found a new studio with other photographers), Ken Domon and Masao HorinoMasao Horino published a fantastic book “Camera: Eye x Steel: Composition” in 1931, about which I will give some more details in another post. (both joined in 1934).

In 1934 Natori founded the magazine “Nippon” (Japan). The magazine was designed to promote Japanese culture to the West and was published in English, French, German and Spanish until 1944. Utilizing designs and techniques from German magazines “Nippon” was much higher in quality than other magazines of the same kind in prewar Japan, but became a very rare item soon, since most of its copies were distributed overseas.“Nippon” magazine is very hard to find in Japan, even in specialized libraries, but all 36 issues are available in Japan as a high quality and accordingly expensive facsimile edition.

Cover of Nippon, 1937

The exhibition is the result of a joint research of curators from Fukushima, Tokyo and Kawasaki. It gives the first comprehensive overview over of the careers of Yônosuke Natori and his young photographers and designers in the 1930s-40s, with 400 magazines, printed works, photographs and documents on display.2)After Kawaski, this exhibition will go to the Ashikaga Museum of Art (Sept. 30-Nov. 19, 2006) and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (Nov. 28-Dec. 28, 2006).

Nippon Magazines

———
Recommended books:
Natori Yonosuke and Nippon Studio (1931-45) [Jap.]
Natori Yonosuke. Japanese Photographers Vol. 18 [Jap.]
Also:
NIPPON vol. 1
NIPPON vol. 2
NIPPON vol. 3

References   [ + ]

1. As far as I know there is not much information available on Natori outside Japan. There is some basic information published on Natori, his studio and “Nippon” in The History of Japanese Photography.
2. After Kawaski, this exhibition will go to the Ashikaga Museum of Art (Sept. 30-Nov. 19, 2006) and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum (Nov. 28-Dec. 28, 2006).

7 Comments

  1. Hi William,

    yes, the reprints of Nippon (published in three volumes) are for sale and I would love to have them, too.

    The reprints are available at Amazon Japan for 325.000 ¥ (~ 3.800 US$). That’s why I don’t own them ;-).
    NIPPON vol. 1
    NIPPON vol. 2
    NIPPON vol. 3

    To oreder the reprints of “Nippon” at Amazon.co.jp you must be able to read and write basic Japanese, or you might ask someone who could do it for you :-).
    I presume that the reprints are not available outside Japan, but depending on where you live you might contact the overseas stores of Japanese book shops like Kinokuniya. Kinokuniya should be able to order “Nippon” for you, but it will be even more expensive…

    I hope I could help
    Ferdinand

    Reply

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    1. Hi Maggie,
      yes there is a catalogue to the Natori exhibition, but its in Japanese. There is some more information about Natori available in Japanese, but not much in English, if I remember right. You will find these publications almost probably in the library of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography or in the JCII library in Tokyo.
      Good luck with your research.

      Ferdinand

      Reply

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