A unique record of a vanished world
At the end of the 19th century, a craze for all things Japanese spread over the Western world. After two centuries of self-imposed seclusion, the country had begun to open up to outside eyes, and its art and craftwork were eagerly sought after by collectors and artists. By 1878 'Japonisme' was being described by the writer George Augustus Sala as ‘a sort of religion’.
Because of its links with the tea trade, Boston, Massachusetts was an epicentre of the movement. In the 1890s, the J. B. Millet Company of Boston embarked upon an extraordinary venture: a complete pictorial record of the country, entitled Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese. Now, for the first time, this landmark photographic work is reproduced in its entirety by The Folio Society.
Japan is one of the most opulent photographic books ever produced. Over 250 hand-coloured photographs show buildings and landscapes – Mount Fuji seen from Kashiwabara, cherry blossoms at Koganei, temples, bamboo groves, rice fields and bridges – as well as Japan's inhabitants, including street vendors, calligraphers, lantern-makers, farmers, schoolchildren, geishas and Buddhist monks. There is even a picture of an actor representing a samurai warrior. For curious Westerners, who were already captivated by Japan’s art, turning these pages was the next best thing to visiting this mysterious and fascinating country. Japan was often referred to as a ‘sealed book’: now, for the first time, the book was being opened.