Takejiro Hasegawa and the Production of Crepe Paper Books
Takejiro Hasegawa was born on October 8th 1853, one year before Japan reopened to trade with the rest of the world. He came from a family of merchants in Tokyo involved in the importation of food and tobacco. As a teenager, Hasegawa chose to study English, which led him to prominent people and opportunities to succeed. By 1880, he had established a thriving business importing Western books and goods from France. In his work, he became familiar with A. B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan (1871), containing a section of nine traditional fairy tales. He was inspired to publish seven of these stories in his own series (Franci, 25). Hasegawa realized that as Japan was opening its doors to foreign commerce, a new market was emerging in Japan for educational books in English, French and German. In 1884, he started his own publishing business to help Japanese students learn western languages. The first 12 volumes of his Japanese fairy tale series were published in in the mid-1880s, with the cover title printed in English to reach a Western market. Hasegawa’s work was well-received due to the growing Western market for published material about Japan.
Additionally, at the time of the series’ publication, Western interest was drawing from Japanese aesthetics, ideas, and artistic techniques, resulting in a genre known as Japonisme. Artists in the West pulled from and reflected Japanese culture in their interpretations on canvas. The trend was appreciated and consumed by the higher society of the Western hemisphere (Ives, 11-12). Hasegawa took advantage of this blossoming appreciation for Japanese imagery in his children’s books. Originally, he used standard brown paper in the books marketed in Japan, but later, Hasegawa replaced this paper with crepe paper to add exotic appeal and attract Western buyers (Sharf, 12). His publications of these folktales featured traditional woodblock printing on crepe paper material, evoking Japonisme for Western readers.