Updated: Jan. 26, 2016

What is PhotoReviews?

It is the name of PhotoGuide Japan’s book review page for Japanese photo books and magazines reviewed during the late 1990s to 2006. It is no longer updated with new book reviews. The old book reviews have been largely integrated with photographer bios at PhotoWho’sWho. Most of the books are out of print.

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.

Explain the book information.

Reviewed on is the date when the book was first reviewed by PhotoGuide Japan.
Last modified
 is the date the book review was last modified.

Published is the book’s “issue date” as stated in the book. The book is usually available in bookstores two or three weeks before this date, so it is not the exact release date of the book.

Publisher is the name of the book’s publisher.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique numeric code that the publisher assigns to a book. It is recognized internationally and helps to identify books and facilitate inventory management and order fulfillment. It is also convenient to use when you are searching for a particular book in an online book catalog. Use it when you don’t have time to specify the book’s title, author’s name, publisher, etc. The ISBN can be found on the back cover of the book. Note that in PhotoReviews, the hyphens have been eliminated in the ISBN.

Price in Japan is the price (in yen) you would pay if you bought the book in a bookstore in Japan. It includes the 5 percent consumption tax which is like a sales tax. (The price printed on the book usually does not include the consumption tax.) If the book is out of print or commands a premium price, this is the book’s original price when it was first published.

Qualities indicates the book’s physical properties: Hard or soft cover, color and/or B/W photos, and any inserts such as CD-ROM, trading cards, etc.

Size indicates the book’s paper size and number of pages. Note that the number of pages is not the same as the number of sheets in the book. One sheet is counted as two pages (one page on the front and one on the back of the sheet).

The book’s size is indicated by a standard paper size such as A4, A5, B4, and B5 commonly used in Japan and Europe. These are ISO (International Standards Organization) paper sizes. Sometimes the book’s actual paper size is not a standard one. In such cases, the standard paper size closest to the book’s actual size is stated. (A4 and B5 are the most common in Japan for books and magazines.) The measurements of the most common ISO paper sizes are as follows:

A3: 297 x 420 mm (11.69 x 16.54 in.)
A4: 210 x 297 mm (8.27 x 11.69 in.)
A5: 148 x 210 mm (5.83 x 8.27 in.)
B4: 250 x 353 mm (9.84 x 13.9 in.)
B5: 176 x 250 mm (6.93 x 9.84 in.)

A4 is the most common size, and it is similar to letter size (used for business letters) in the United States. A3 is twice the size of A4, and A4 is twice the size of A5. Similarly, B4 is twice the size of B5. All books are in the vertical format unless “landscape” is noted next to the book size. For example, “A4 landscape” means that the book is A4 size in the horizontal format.

Language indicates the language(s) used in the book’s text (if any). If English is provided, it could be a complete translation of the Japanese or only a partial translation.

Is it possible to buy an out-of-print book?

Out-of-print books may appear at Yahoo! Japan Auctions.

How long do you keep the book reviews in the PhotoReviews and when do you delete them?

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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Philbert Ono

Owner, operator, and Webmaster of PhotoGuide Japan ( and PHOTOGUIDE.JP.

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