Asahi Camera mag ceasing publication

The COVID-19 pandemic is also hitting Japan’s photo publication industry with Asahi Camera magazine (アサヒカメラ) ceasing publication with its July 2020 issue (on sale on June 19 in Japan) after 94 years in business. It is (or was) Japan’s oldest camera publication since April 1926. (Including a hiatus during World War II in 1942–1949.)

Due to chronically low circulation (averaging 31,500 during spring 2020) and the pandemic drastically shrinking its advertising revenue, the magazine has decided to quit. The many cash-strapped companies in the camera industry no longer have generous advertising budgets. Japan also has many camera/photo magazines all competing for advertisers.

Asahi will continue to publish camera/photo articles in another corporate group publication called AERA dot. Also, the prestigious Kimura Ihei Photo Award (木村伊兵衛写真賞) will continue to be awarded by the magazine’s parent company, Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Otsukaresama to Asahi Camera magazine. Hopefully Nippon Camera and other camera mags will survive these hard times.

Reference: https://publications.asahi.com/news/1385.shtml

Tsuwano, Shimane: Photo museum and more

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the small town of Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture turned out to be a real delight. Surrounded by mountains, it feels like a Swiss resort in the Alps. It has traditional buildings and the famous Taikodani Inari Shrine. Very photogenic place easily accessible from JR Tsuwano Station (JR Yamaguchi Line).

Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum

Right near the train station is the Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum (桑原史成写真美術館) that exhibits photos by documentary photographer Shisei Kuwabara who is from Tsuwano. The museum also houses the local tourist information office. So it should be your first stop when you arrive. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/r8cR2ueCayM2

Shisei Kuwabara (b. 1936) is most famous for his Minamata disease photos (like W. Eugene Smith).

Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Inside Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum.

The Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum has only one exhibition room, not huge, but it’s large enough. The museum was originally a documentary photo museum and they asked Kuwabara if they could rename it in 2004. So it exhibits mainly his photos, although it does not preserve or possess his photos. So it’s just an exhibition space. The exhibited photos change periodically. Open 9 am–5 pm, closed on the third Thursday in Jan., April, July, and Oct. when they change the exhibit. Admission ¥300 for adults.

Website: http://www.town.tsuwano.lg.jp/kuwabara_photo/info.html

Anno Art Museum
Anno Art Museum

Right across the street from the photo museum is an art museum dedicated to another local artist (illustrator) named Mitsumasa Anno. Anno Art Museum (安野光雅美術館) opened in 2001 to show artworks by Mitsumasa Anno who was born and raised in Tsuwano.

The first floor is the main exhibition space of Anno Art Museum. The second floor has an old-style classroom (from 1920s design), planetarium, and library.

After seeing the museums, enter Tono-machi road (殿町通り) lined with traditional buildings. You can enter a few of the buildings like the Japan Heritage Center (small local museum) and the Tsuwano Catholic Church (津和野カトリック教会) dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier who visited Japan as a Christian missionary in 1549–50.

Japan Heritage Center’s display of Sagimai White Heron Dance.
Tsuwano Catholic Church (津和野カトリック教会)

At the end of Tono-machi road, there’s a road going to Taikodani Inari Jinja, one of Japan’s Top Five Inari Shinto shrines noted for many vermillion torii gates along the path to the shrine. This is Tsuwano’s main attraction.

Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja

Similar to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Taikodani Inari Shrine has many vermilion torii gates on the way up to the shrine. If you cannot walk up, there is a road for cars that goes to the shrine as well. The path of toriis zigzags up the hill. It’s fun to climb up and enjoy the views.

Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja’s Haiden Hall.

The shrine worships Uka-no-Mitama, a deity associated with food and agriculture, and the goddess Izanami. It is Shimane Prefecture’s second most popular shrine after Izumo Taisha. 

If you’ve come this far, you might as well also see the remains of Tsuwano Castle which is a short hike from the shrine. Or walk to novelist Mori Ogai’s birth home across the river.

Tsuwano Castle
Tsuwano Castle on a mountain.
Mori Ogai'
Mori Ogai’s birth home (森鴎外旧宅).

To see the main sights of Tsuwano, give yourself at least one full day. You should arrive in Tsuwano and stopover the night before. I loved Tsuwano. Laid back and not crowded. Really worth a visit.

More Tsuwano photos here: https://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=351

Japan’s first nude poster

by Philbert Ono

In 1922, Torii Shoten (鳥井商店), the forerunner of Osaka-based beverage maker Suntory, made this poster to promote its “Akadama Port Wine” in Japan. Dubbed “Japan’s first nude poster,” it became an instant sensation.

It has become one of Japan’s most iconic and classic images. Any book about Japan’s advertising history or photographic history would include this historical poster. The nascent start of the “sex sells” concept in Japan. Needless to say, thanks to this poster, they sold a lot of this wine.

The poster was also very controversial during a very conservative period in Japan. The “nude” model was Emiko Matsushima (松島栄美子), a stage actress. A young woman posing like this was unthinkable and taboo in those days, and she was subject to police questioning for obscenity and other public harassment. She was even disowned by her siblings and all her relatives. Poor girl.

Emiko was the prima donna of a musical troupe (赤玉楽劇座) created specifically to promote Akadama Port Wine. The troupe went around Japan for a year to entertain wine retailers and customers. She was originally from Tokyo and worked as a stage actress before her famous gig.

Afterward, she moved back to Tokyo, married an NHK employee before World War II, had a son, and lived out her final years quietly in an apartment in Takadanobaba, Tokyo. Shortly before she died in 1983 at age 90, her nephew took a picture (below) of her posing with her famous poster at home.

Emiko Matsushima in 1983 with the famous 1922 poster of herself. Source: Sankei

Not much is known about the process of making this iconic shot. Torii reasoned that no matter how good a product was, it would be no use if people didn’t know about it. And so apparently he was in favor of a sensational PR campaign.

The photographer was KATAOKA Toshiro (片岡敏郎) who worked in the company’s PR department. Kataoka was already well-known in the advertising business as exceptionally talented, progressive, and innovative. He was the one who formed the musical troupe to promote the Akadama Port Wine.

He rented a photo studio in Osaka for a total of six days in May 1922 and took many shots of Emiko starting with her dressed in a kimono. Then he posed her in her underclothing, and eventually topless. Kataoka took about 50 to 60 shots per pose.

The final poster was made in a sepia tone with only the red wine standing out in color. The poster later won 1st place at a world poster contest held in Germany.

Akadama Port Wine displayed at the Yamazaki Whisky Museum in Osaka.

Suntory was founded in 1899 as an imported wine shop named Torii Shoten (鳥井商店) in Osaka by Shinjiro Torii (鳥井 信治郎). It mainly sold Spanish wines, but they didn’t sell well in Japan. So Torii produced his own sweet wine named “Akadama Port Wine” in 1907 (still sold today as “Akadama Sweet Wine”).

Akadama Port Wine was the first product made by Suntory. “Akadama” means “red ball” in reference to the sun (like on the Japanese flag). Helped by this nude poster, Akadama Port Wine sold well in Japan and Torii used the profits to try and make whisky. And the rest is history. Suntory now makes just about anything you can drink besides alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks, coffee, and even mineral water.

The company was renamed Kotobukiya in 1921, and then “Suntory” in 1963 after its main whisky. The name “Suntory” comes from “Sun” and the founder’s name “Torii.” The “Sun” comes from the “Akadama” red sun.

If you are in Kyoto or Osaka, I highly recommend taking a tour (only ¥1,000) of the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, a short train ride from JR Kyoto Station. Reservations are required. The distillery also has a museum, whisky-tasting bar, and gift shop. Great for whisky fans.

Tour inside Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

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