What is PhotoReviews?
It is the name of PhotoGuide Japan’s book review page for Japanese photo books, magazines, and CD-ROMs reviewed during the late 1990s to 2006. It is no longer updated with new book reviews. I’m starting to integrate the old book reviews with photographer bios at PhotoWho’sWho. Most of the books are out of print, but it’s possible to obtain them at Japanese auction sites through our ProxyShop service.
A help page providing more information is also available whenever you see the Help (question mark) icon . Click on it and the help page will usually pop up in a small window.
How did you select the photo books to be added to PhotoReviews?
Any one or more of the following criteria was used to select books (including magazines, CD-ROMs, etc.) to be reviewed and added to our catalogs:
* The book’s subject is well-known or popular.
* The book’s photo theme is interesting.
* The book seeks to teach you something about Japan.
* There are customers who would buy the book from PhotoGuide Japan.
* The book created a major sensation or received significant media attention in Japan.
* The book’s photographer is well-known or interesting.
* The book has nice photos.
* The book is worth having either as a collectible item or excellent reference.
* The book has historical significance.
* The book is of personal interest to PhotoGuide Japan.
Can I order a photo book not included in your book reviews?
Yes, you can inquire about any Japanese photo book and we will check if it is available. Tell us the idol’s name, book title, photographer’s name, and/or ISBN number. If it is available, we will send you a price quote (which includes shipping) and ship the book after your payment is confirmed.
We can also search for the book at auction sites. Read about our ProxyShop.
(For more FAQs about ordering, see iStore FAQ.)
Is it possible to order an out-of-print book or buy a book at a Japanese auction site?
Yes, you can request an out-of-print book. We will first search for it at Yahoo! Japan Auctions. If one is up for bid, we will give you an estimate price. After you pay the price via PayPal, we will place a bid.
In case we lose the auction, you will receive a full refund. For details, read about our ProxyShop.
How do I use the site search engine to search for books?
You can search for photo books by typing any of the following key words: book title, photographer’s name, ISBN (no hyphens), or publisher’s name. The search results page will appear in a separate window. (2005.04.10)
Why do you include the shipping cost in your prices? How about keeping the product price and shipping cost separate?
It’s because the international shipping cost usually accounts for a major portion of the total price. (Also see the answer to the next question below.) We don’t want to give a false impression with a “low” price and then shock you with a high total price that includes the shipping cost. We think it is better to give you the combined price from the start so you are not misled. It is more convenient for everyone. (2000.5.29)
Your book prices are somewhat high. Why is this?
Believe it or not, despite the high prices of our books, we are hardly getting rich from this business. We make enough to cover Web site expenses and phone bills. That’s about it.
To begin with, photo books and magazines are often more expensive in Japan than in any other country in the world. This is due to high-quality (and high-cost) printing and the higher cost of everything here. International postage rates in Japan are also quite high. (Don’t forget that all our book prices include standard shipping.)
For example, to mail Nippon Camera magazine (Japan’s most popular camera magazine) which weighs 850 grams (equal to about three Popular Photography magazines), it costs 1,590 yen ($15) by priority air mail, 980 yen ($9) by low-priority air mail (SAL), or 770 yen ($7) by surface mail. The magazine itself costs only 900 yen ($8.50)! (These postal rates apply to printed matter mailed to most Western countries.)
And then you have to figure in the commissions that must be paid to credit card companies, etc., consumption tax (5%), and the expense of currency conversion. The final price can easily be double or triple the original price of the book or magazine. We don’t want to scare you, but that’s the reality in Japan.
Also, you may have noticed that all the information you are seeing is in English. You may take it for granted, but it takes specialized skills, knowledge, labor, and time to present information in English. So you are also paying for the English. (2002.11.30)
If it’s a secondhand book, shouldn’t the price be cheaper?
Yes, normally the price of secondhand books is cheaper. However, sometimes secondhand books are premium books that increase in value after they go out of print.
Fortunately, the premium books sold at online auction sites in Japan are usually cheaper than prices at used bookstores in Tokyo. (2002.11.30)
Some books in the PhotoReviews catalog are “out of print” but they are still in the catalog. Why not delete them?
PhotoReviews also serves as an information resource for the best Japanese photo books. There are many interesting book reviews. And even if the book is out of print, you might be able to find it at Japanese auctions through our ProxyShop service. (2005.04.10)
How long do you keep the books in the PhotoReviews catalog and when do you delete books from the catalog?
Books reviews of the most interesting photo books will be retained in PhotoReviews indefinitely.
Most photo books remain in print for at least 3 or 4 years. The more popular books may remain in print longer, about 10 years. But you never know when a book will go out of print, so if you see what you want, buy it now especially if it was published 2 years ago or longer. (2005.04.10)
Besides the book’s cover image, I want to see a few sample photos from the book. Can you scan a few pictures and send them to me?
We do not send sample photos. Sometimes our book reviews might include a link to sample images (usually at the publisher’s site). (2004.03.12)
I’m a photographer and I have published my own photo book. How about reviewing my photo book in PhotoReviews or iStore?
I won’t review it, but I can announce here at PhotoBulletin if it is Japan-related and interesting enough.
What about selling Japanese books and magazines not related to photography?
If you know the exact title and publisher of the book or magazine, we can get it for you if it is still available in bookstores or online auction sites.
Do you also sell videos and DVDs?
Yes, we sell them upon request through ProxyShop. We don’t have any videos or DVDs in our online catalog, but if you know the specific title, we can get it for you. Note that Japanese DVDs might not work with your DVD player outside Japan.
How about selling camera equipment?
Yes, through our ProxyShop we can sell small camera equipment and accessories, But we won’t sell camera bodies and lenses.
Is there a Japanese version of PhotoReviews?
There is no Japanese version of our book reviews, but there are brief comments in Japanese in the book reviews. Japanese photographer names are also in kanji characters.
Explain the book review format for Special Themes books.
The book review format is explained in detail in the Help pages. Just click on the Help icon on the book review page. The relevant Help page will then pop up in a small window.
What academic qualifications or credentials do you have for reviewing all these books?
I have none. I don’t have any college degree in book reviewing nor in art criticism. I don’t pretend or want to be an academic or an art critic. What you are reading are just general (but informed) comments and impressions from one person on the street who happens to be me.
It’s always more interesting to hear what the ordinary man or woman or consumer on the street thinks. Art critics don’t do a very good job at helping the masses understand art. In fact, I can’t stand how art critics write. They try to sound really intelligent or want to show off their linguistic abilities or vast knowledge with incredibly fancy phrases and words or obscure quotations and references. They love to speak over the heads of the layman.
The result is that you don’t understand what they are trying to say. Not very many people care about what an art critic thinks about a work. Most photographers also prefer to know what ordinary people think about their work. So you should regard my reviews as the voice of a man on the street or the word-of-mouth review. (2002.11.30)
I read your review of the book and it misses the mark. You do not seem to understand the meaning of the photographs or the photographer’s intention.
Fine-art photo books can be difficult to understand. What I write is mainly my own impressions. They may or may not match the ideas or feelings that the photographer wanted to convey.
If the photographer does not provide a comprehensible explanation of his/her photographs in the book, then I can only draw my own conclusions. I don’t ever proclaim my reviews to be correct. They are just my own comments and opinions mixed with any facts that I know to be true.
But since you seem to be very familiar with the photographer and his/her work (maybe you know him/her personally or have talked to him/her), you are welcome to submit your own review or thoughts about the book and I’ll add it to my review on the same Web page. (2001.2.9)
How do the book publishers, photographers, subjects, and your sponsors influence your book selections and reviews? Or do you have total freedom in what you select and write?
There is no pressure from these people. I am completely independent, and I don’t have any special ties with the vast majority of these people. However, meeting the photographer in person does influence my book review, usually in positive ways because it enables me to understand his/her work better and therefore I can write about the book better.
If a photographer friend gives me a complimentary copy, I may likely review it. Mainly though, customer demand and purchasing patterns influence my selection of books to be reviewed here. I also often browse the photo book section at major bookstores in Tokyo and pick up whatever interests me personally, especially with regard to serious or art photo books. I don’t necessarily write a book review in order to sell the book.
In fact, I don’t really care if my book review will sell the book or not. I won’t hype a book that does not deserve it. But more often than not, I usually have a few good things to say about each book because I usually select books which I like and those I think would sell.If you don’t see a book in the PhotoReviews catalog, it does not necessarily mean that it’s not good enough.
There are a lot of photo books that deserve to be included (especially fine-art photo books), but time and money limit the number of books I can acquire, review, and include in the catalog.
I have total freedom in selecting the books to review and sell. Also total freedom in rating the book the way I see it. If I criticize something, I try to be constructive and not insulting. As of this writing, no book publisher, photographer, author, female model, or pop idol has ever complained or protested to me about any of my book reviews.
I should also add that I respect the publisher’s or photographer’s copyrights concerning the book cover images and sample photos provided in PhotoReviews. If the copyright holder requests that his images be deleted, I will comply immediately. But so far, no one has ever complained to me about the sample images provided in PhotoReviews. If there was a complaint, I would delete the image(s) and the entire book review as well (and all other book reviews for that publisher or photographer). I would never review or sell that photographer’s or publisher’s books again. (2002.11.30)
I don’t know anything about Japanese photo books. What kinds of photo books are there?
In large bookstores in Japan, photo books (called shashin-shu in Japanese) are usually categorized as either aidoru shashin-shu (idol photo books) or geijutsu shashin-shu (fine-art photo books). The idol photo books would be in a separate (but usually adjacent) section from the fine-art photo books.
Idol photo books feature a celebrity, usually an actress (or actor), adult-video actress, singer, TV/game show personality, pro wrestler, etc. She could also be a yet-unknown starlet (a wannabe celebrity). The model can be posed nude, in a bikini, or in regular clothes. Idol photo books are mainly produced to promote the idol or her image and to gain public attention. Usually, the photographer is much less important than the female subject.
A subcategory of idol photo books is the “hair nude shashin-shu” which are nude photo books that also expose pubic hair. Showing pubic hair in photographs was banned in Japan up until 1991 when a miracle happened. Celebrity photographer Kishin Shinoyama published Japan’s first “hair nude” idol photo book with water fruit (featuring Kanako Higuchi) and then Santa Fe (with Rie Miyazawa). The authorities did not deem those books obscene, so the dam broke and photographers and publishers feverishly produced hundreds of “hair nude” photo books in the years following. Suddenly, the photo book and magazine market was awash with pubic hair pin-up photos and we saw big-name celebrities one after another putting out a hair nude photo book.
Today, a lot of hair nude photo books continue to be published, but the novelty has worn off. These days, we hardly see any big names posing nude. Idol photo books is a major subculture probably unique to Japan.
The other category is fine-art photo books. This includes all other types of photo books (landscape, documentary, travel, nature photography, etc.). They are the so-called “serious” photo books whose main purpose is to promote the photographer and his/her work or art.
The photo diary book is a major and popular subcategory here. A photo diary is a highly personal and private collection of random snapshots of people (boyfriends, girlfriends, family), things (pets, bowl of cereal, flowers, etc.), scenes (sunset seen from the bedroom window, clouds outside the airplane window, etc.), and activities (brushing teeth, putting on make-up, etc.) as seen or experienced by the photographer. It gained mass appeal beginning in the mid-1990s when a few young Japanese female photographers (such as Yurie Nagashima and Hiromix) won major photo contests and gained a lot of attention for their private snapshots, especially nude self-portraits.
Nobuyoshi Araki is the most famous Japanese photographer working in this category (since 1970) and he has inspired many younger photographers to take photo diary pictures. In Japanese, photo diary books are called shashin nikki. In PhotoReviews, these books can be found in the Photo Diary Books category.
Besides new books, there are also many secondhand photo books for sale at used bookshops in Japan and at Yahoo! Japan Auctions. If the book is out of print and in demand by collectors, it becomes a premium book sold at a higher price, sometimes in the hundreds of dollars or even $1,000. (2004.03.12)
In Japan, which bookstores do you recommend to buy photo books?
Kinokuniya is a major bookstore chain and they have an excellent selection of both idol and fine-art photo books at their two big stores in Shinjuku, Tokyo. (See Shinjuku PhotoMap.) Maruzen is another major bookstore chain in Japan, and they have a lot of imported fine-art photo books.
In Tokyo’s Jimbocho, famous for many bookshops, Shosen Grande and Shosen Book Mart have a large stock of new idol photo books, and Sanseido has a good collection of fine-art photo books by Japanese photographers. In Jimbocho, you can also find bookshops selling used photo books and premium photo books. Prices of premium photo books can vary widely, so shop around to check prices.
Also, in Hachimanyama on the Keio Line starting at Shinjuku, Tokyo, a shop called Culture Station stocks a large, world-class collection of secondhand and premium idol photo books, magazines, posters, and videos.
See PhotoBookshops for a list of bookstores in Japan and overseas that sell Japanese books. (2002.04.05)
How do I find out about new photo books that come out in Japan?
In Japan, the best way is to often go to a bookstore having a large photo book section. Usually the newest photo books are stacked on a low table to catch your eye. See PhotoBookshops for a list of bookstores in Japan (mainly Tokyo) which have a large photo book section.
Photo book publishers also have their own Web sites where they announce and list their photo books. See Publishers Catalog for a list of links to their sites.
You can also browse through weekly magazines and men’s magazines (Friday, Focus, Shukan Post, Penthouse Japan, Shukan Playboy, etc.) which always have a nude or bikini pictorial. The pictorial usually promotes the female model’s upcoming or latest photo book (whose publisher is usually the publisher of that magazine as well). You can see sample photos from the photo book in the magazines.
For serious photo books (fine art, documentary, landscape, etc.), read the major camera magazines such as Asahi Camera and Nippon Camera which have a column reviewing such books.
For FAQs about ordering, payment, and shipping, see iStore FAQ.