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Japanese Studies Spotlight: On a Recent Acquisition by the Harvard-Yenching Library: Fūzoku zasshi

by Paula Curtis on 2023-04-19T10:44:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

The NCC is collaborating with institutions and scholars to release a monthly series on our blog entitled Japanese Studies Spotlight. These features showcase exciting online collections available to researchers and students in Japanese Studies, introducing the archive or project, describing their contents, and demonstrating how they can be usefully engaged in research or in the classroom. If you are interested in submitting something to the series, please contact Paula R. Curtis, NCC’s Digital Media Manager, at

Luciana Sanga, Visiting Research Scholar, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University


Whereas many previous NCC Japanese Studies Spotlights have introduced expansive collections of rare books or ephemera, in this article I would like to focus on one prewar magazine titled Fūzoku zasshi (Magazine of Manners and Customs 風俗雑誌). Using this magazine as an example, I will consider larger issues such as the book obi 帯 (belly band) in Japan, book format, modernism, and the value of engaging with print books and magazines.

Fūzoku zasshi was a short-lived monthly magazine published by Heibonsha from July to September 1930. It was edited by Fujisawa Morihiko 藤澤衛彦 (1895-1967), who was at the time president of the Japanese Association for the Study of Manners and Customs (Nihon fūzoku kenkyūkai 日本風俗研究会). Fujisawa edited many magazines, including postwar kasutori カストリ (pulp) periodicals, and his name occasionally appears next to that of Umehara Hokumei 梅原北明(1901–1946), a key figure in the world of ero-guro エロ・グロ (“erotic grotesque”) and kasutori culture.1 According to the editor’s address in the inaugural issue, the magazine had as its purported aim to “record and classify” the perpetually changing trends in society.2 The word fūzoku in the title refers both to the latest fashions and to long-established customs, ranging from the more respectable to the sordid and disturbing. The magazine is a kiku-han 菊半 size (469 mm × 636 mm), containing about 140-150 pages, and retailed for 1 yen per issue, a steep price for a periodical at the time.3 The price was nevertheless justified given the high production value: quality paper, numerous photographs, and color illustrations.

Figure 1. Front cover of the first issue with accompanying obi.

I first asked Kuniko McVey, the Librarian for the Japanese Collection at the Harvard-Yenching Library, to purchase the inaugural issue of this magazine for the paper obi that still envelops it (Figure 1). The early history of this now ubiquitous object in the Japanese publishing culture remains largely unknown, both because the obi is fragile and easy to misplace, and because libraries do not typically preserve obi when processing their collections. This particular obi is one of the earliest examples I could find in Japan. Given its multidirectional design and variation of font size, it suggests that by 1930 obi design was quite well developed and the obi was a common part of the bookstore landscape. After acquiring the first issue of Fūzoku zasshi, we were intrigued by its format and content, so McVey also acquired a separate set of all the issues (a total of three), meaning the collection now has two copies of the first issue, one in very good condition complete with obi, and one showing signs of perusal. All issues are accompanied by supplements (fūzoku shiryō 風俗資料, no. 1-3), which provide data on food prices in Tokyo and crime statistics. To the best of my knowledge, this magazine has not been digitized or released as a reprinted edition (fukkoku ban 復刻版).

Paper and Print

The obi advertises Fūzoku zasshi as a “fragrant magazine, singing magazine, edible magazine” (niou zasshi/ utau zasshi/ kuu zasshi 匂ふ雑誌 歌ふ雑誌 食ふ雑誌). This was indeed a magazine that wanted to appeal to all senses. Its first issue was “fragrant” because it included aromatic paper (its scent now long gone), it remains a singing magazine because of a pop-up paper balloon that can produce a whistling sound. And it is probably still edible because of a cinnamon paper insert. (By now the cinnamon essence has penetrated the pages between which it was inserted.) Both copies of the July issue in the Harvard collection still contain the cinnamon paper, suggesting that readers did not rush to munch on the magazine. Through the edible paper, the magazine foregrounds its status as an object of consumption, to be devoured both figuratively and literally. This magazine is also a reminder that a book does not address sight only, but also stimulates the reader’s senses of sound, smell, and even taste.

Figure 2. Front covers of the three issues.

Figure 3. Back covers of the three issues.

But the one sense this magazine best elicits is touch: all three issues employ different types of lace to envelop each cover (Figures 2 and 3). The lace wrapping on the first issue adds volume to a bidimensional feminine figure, creating the sensation that the reader is touching an actual body through a thin fabric. The cover of the second issue shows a woman in kimono holding a candle in her hand. The lace gives the impression that the reader is admiring the woman through a kaya 蚊帳 (mosquito net) and suggests that perhaps the woman might join the reader in bed, under the kaya. The cover of the third issue is the most successful: it presents a mermaid, with the enveloping lace creating the illusion that the reader has caught the mermaid in a fishing net and is holding her captive. Thus the use of actual fabric stimulates the senses and the imagination of the reader in a way that a simple drawing might not. And it is only through holding the actual magazine in one’s hands that the reader can experience these sensuous effects.

The sheer variety of paper used within one issue is also noteworthy. The first issue employs more than twenty types of paper, and the second issue of the magazine lists all the types of papers, printing methods, and photograph techniques used in the first issue. Likely this served both as an informative article for bibliophile readers and as a commercial for the printing company that executed the work. Again, a digital version of the magazine would flatten the differences in texture or gloss between the various types of paper.

Figure 4. Floral radiography art from issue no. 2.

All the issues contain diverse photographs, including floral radiography art (Figure 4) and pictures of neon lighting. Such artistic methods or topics might appear trivial from our contemporary perspective, but at the time both X-rays and neon were still relatively new technologies and symbolized the modern, the “cutting-edge.”


In fact, the magazine was also described (on the obi and elsewhere) as “on the cutting edge, setting trends, creating customs” (sentan wo yuki/ ryūkō wo tsukuri/ fūzoku wo umu 先端を行き 流行を作り 風俗を生む). The word sentan has a particular significance, as it hints at the magazine’s modernist bent. As William O. Gardner explains, “Crucial to modernism is conscious innovation, the sense of being on the leading edge in cultural activity.”4 Also foundational to modernist aesthetics was the city. The magazine captures urban life through objects (neon lights, shop signs, ramune ラムネ soda), neighborhoods (from the established Ginza and Asakusa to the emerging Shinjuku (Figure 5)), and people (from modern boys to old-fashioned and marginal figures such as geisha, beggars and yashi 香具師, itinerant salespeople at fairs).

Figure 5. Fold-out from the second issue depicting Asakusa (Issue no. 2).

The magazine covers many themes that scholars have identified as modernist, such as the “modern girl,” her Western fashion (including the length of her skirts), her jobs, and interests (Figure 6). The terms ero and nansensu ナンセンス also often appear in the magazine. These are all examples of vernacular modernism.

Figure 6. Fold-out from the first issue depicting Ginza (Issue no. 1).

The magazine also included elements of high modernism. A striking example is the page below from the first issue (Figure 7). Described as a cinépoème in the table of contents, it consists of a poem by Kawaji Ryūkō 川路 柳虹 (1888-1959) accompanied by a collage illustration by Hamada Masuji 濱田 増冶 (1892-1938). Both Kawaji and Hamada are household names in prewar Japanese culture. Kawaji is known as the first Japanese poet to publish a free-verse poem.5 His contribution to this magazine testifies to the prestige of the publication and the significance of this inaugural issue. Hamada was an illustrator who helped codify and canonize “commercial design” through the Association of Commercial Artists, which he co-founded in 1926, and the 24-volume The Complete Commercial Artist (Gendai shōgyō bijutsu zenshū 現代商業美術全集), which he edited between 1928 and 1930.6 Hamada’s principles of commercial design are reflected in the font and illustration accompanying Kawaji’s poem. For instance, the title of the poem “The Crane” (Kijūki 起重機 ) uses striking geometric font, with parts of the Chinese characters taking an unusual circular shape. The elongated stroke in the last character of the title mimics a crane’s arm. Next, I will offer a translation and brief analysis of the poem and its accompanying illustration.

Figure 7. Picture of the cinépoème by Kawaji Ryūkō 川路 柳虹 (1888-1959) with collage illustration by Hamada Masuji 濱田 増冶 (1892-1938) from issue no. 1.




The Crane

A giant’s steel arm
A ribcage of dark, strong beams
The crane gnashes its teeth
Rising up to the sky and throwing down iron filings.
The river brims with water
Spring clouds cast quiet shadows.
You, jet-black iron giant!
In the rhythm of the screaming engine
You produce the city.
And the bridges between towns
Transmit its every beat
Workers covered in sweat and dust move around
The clangor of their iron hammers punctuates the clear sky.
Waste dumped in the tidal mud
Stray dogs dig their noses in it searching for something.
The afternoon light falls with rain. The machine gnashes its teeth.


What is a cinépoème? Previous research has revealed that cinépoème was a debated term for a poetic genre around the 1930s. An often-cited definition is that of Kambara Tai 神原 泰 (1899-1997), who wrote in 1930 that “the cinépoème is a mechanical method which uses words to organize reality as film.”7 Taking as example a cinépoème by Kitagawa Fuyuhiko 北川冬彦 (1900-1990), Gardner claims that Kitagawa’s “poem evokes a ‘machine eye’ free to assemble montage linkages between disparate objects and points in space, independently of a human subject position.”8 Yet perhaps the cinépoème should be understood not simply as a written text, but as a combination of text and image. A cinépoème is not complete without its accompanying illustrations and only engagement with magazines from the same period can lead to a better understanding of this genre. Fūzoku zasshi offers one such example.

The poem foregrounds the machine, which appears anthropomorphized: it is a giant with gnashing teeth. Natural landscape takes secondary place in the composition of the poem, followed by humans that occupy only a tertiary, peripheric position. In a typically proletarian move, the poem introduces workers as a collective group, lacking in individual traits. Both machine and humans contribute equally to building the city. In the accompanying collage, Hamada combines photographs of industrial sites along rivers with hand-drawn images of ripples in the water and a dog. The human figure appears only as a silhouette of the same color as the metal structures in the surroundings. This cinépoème reflects both the modernist interest in the beauty of machines and a proletariat concern with the working class. In fact, it captures leftist inclinations within modernism.

Modernism is not one thing: it covers avant-garde high-modernism, vernacular modernism, and even proletarian modernism. Fūzoku zasshi includes all these aspects of modernism. Beyond its content, the physical magazine itself is a modernist experiment in the format and function of the book form; it contains collage images, pop-ups, foldouts, it incorporates unconventional material such as lace, and it stimulates all senses. Reading, touching, feeling, and sniffing this magazine is a form of embodied learning that enhances our understanding of modernism and prewar Japan. Through perusing this magazine, we experience modernism as people would have experienced it in the 1920s and 1930s: not as an isolated artistic movement, but as one dimension of commercial publishing. As such, this magazine is also a reminder that we need a magazine-centered history of modernism, and that despite the many advances being made in digitization and accessibility in our libraries, there is still much to be said for the value of collaboration with our information specialists and physical engagement with the materials we research.

The author would like to thank Kuniko McVey, Paula R. Curtis, Kyle Peters, and Danica Truscott for their feedback and editorial input.


Abel, Jonathan E. Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.

Fu, Florence. “From the Collection: The Complete Commercial Artist,” Accessed March 24, 2023.

Gardner, William O. Advertising Tower: Japanese Modernism and Modernity in the 1920s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006.

Gardner, William O. “Japanese Modernism And ‘Cine-Text:’ Fragments and Flows at Empire’s Edge in Kitagawa Fuyuhiko and Yokomitsu Riichi.” In Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, edited by Mark A. Wollaeger and Matt. Eatough, 571-597. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fujisawa Morihiko, “Fūzoku zasshi Hakkan no aisatsu,” Fūzoku zasshi 1, no. 1 (1930): 33. Heibonsha. Heibonsha hyakunenshi: 1914-2013. Honkan. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2015.

Heibonsha. Heibonsha hyakunenshi: 1914-2013. Bekkan. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2015.

Mehl, Scott. “The Beginnings of Japanese Free-Verse Poetry and the Dynamics of Cultural Change.” Japan Review, no. 28 (2015): 103–32.

Ōbi Yūko. Chika shuppan no media-shi: ero, guro, chinshoya, kyōyō shugi. Tokyo: Keiō Gijuku Daigaku Shuppankai, 2022.

Terade Michio. “‘Sakei’ no jidai: 1930 nendai no shakai to geijutsu.” Mita gakkai zasshi 96, no 3, 2003: 345-363.

[1] Ōbi Yūko, Chika shuppan no media-shi: ero, guro, chinshoya, kyōyō shugi (Tokyo: Keiō Gijuku Daigaku Shuppankai, 2022):10; For more on Umehara Hokumei, see Jonathan E. Abel, Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012): 89-111.

[2] Fujisawa Morihiko, “Fūzoku zasshi Hakkan no aisatsu,” Fūzoku zasshi 1, no. 1 (1930): 33.

[3] For reference, Heibon (also published by Heibonsha between 1928 and 1929) was a thick publication of over 500 pages and retailed for 50 sen, while the April and May 1930 issues of Gekijō bunka contained over 150 pages and retailed for 40 sen. See Heibonsha. Heibonsha hyakunenshi: 1914-2013. Honkan. (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2015), 443.

[4] William O. Gardner, Advertising Tower: Japanese Modernism and Modernity in the 1920s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006), 35.

[5] Scott Mehl, “The Beginnings of Japanese Free-Verse Poetry and the Dynamics of Cultural Change,” Japan Review, no. 28 (2015): 103.

[6] Florence Fu, “From the Collection: The Complete Commercial Artist,” Accessed March 24, 2023. Fu’s Youtube presentation contains details about various fonts. In my description of Hamada’s design, I rely on the vocabulary she provides in her recorded presentation.

[7] Terade Michio. “‘Sakei’ no jidai: 1930 nendai no shakai to geijutsu,” Mita gakkai zasshi 96, no 3 (2003): 355.

[8] William O. Gardner, “Japanese Modernism And ‘Cine-Text:’ Fragments and Flows at Empire’s Edge in Kitagawa Fuyuhiko and Yokomitsu Riichi,” in Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, ed. Mark A. Wollaeger and Matt. Eatough (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 579.

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