The term "chirimen-bon" refers to books that were made by crinkling "washi" (i.e., Japanese paper) printed with the contents
(i.e., text and/or pictures) before binding them Japanese-style as pages. They are called "Crepe-paper books" in English. They arose in the Meiji period, with the publication of translations, made by Westerners residing in Japan, of old legends and tales. Typically, the text was illustrated by a Japanese illustrator in accordance with the plot, and hand-carved woodblocks were used for manual printing on high-grade "washi," which was crinkled before binding. Besides those relating legends and tales, there were some "chirimen-bon" written about Japanese culture. They come in a diversity of languages, mainly including English, German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Their success led to the publication of some stories, albeit few, set in other countries. With the help of sales contracts concluded with overseas bookstores, "chirimen-bon" found increasing favor in Europe, North America, and other Asian countries.
＜Takejiro Hasegawa and Hasegawa Kobunsha, the first publisher of "chirimen-bon"＞
Takejiro Hasegawa conceived, and was the first person to publish, "chirimen-bon." He was born as the second son of the Nishimiya family in the Nihonbashi district of Edo (i.e., present-day Tokyo) in 1853 (Kaei 6). In the early Meiji period, the family was apparently engaged in import of foodstuffs, and this may have been partly due to his enlightened attitude about other countries and their people. His mother's family, which was named Hasegawa, lacked a male heir, and Takejiro took this surname to assure her family's continuation. He learned English at a mission school while also studying business laws. In 1880 (Meiji 13), at age 27, he was baptized and became a Christian.
Hasegawa's involvement with publishing began four years later, in 1884 (Meiji 17). Around the same year, he established the firm Hasegawa Kobunsha. In 1885 (Meiji 18), he published his first "chirimen-bon", Japanese Fairy Tale Series, consisting of Momotaro (i.e., Little Peachling) and other stories. He followed this with Japanese Fairy Tale Series Enlarged Edition, E de Miru Nippon no Hitobito no Seikatsu (i.e., Japanese Pictures of Japanese Life), and many other publications on Japanese culture. This business was subsequently carried on by Yosaku Nishimiya, his second son, and other relatives who had collaborated in the making of "chirimen-bon" with him.
＜Foreign translators who worked with Takejiro＞
The people who translated Japanese fairy tales and introduced Japanese culture in foreign languages can be divided into three general categories: 1) Christian missionaries living in Japan, 2) educators who had been invited to Japan by the Meiji government, and 3) resident foreign diplomats and military personnel. Takejiro probably formed strong ties with them and made careful preparations for translations while closely coordinating the work by illustrators. The "Japanese Fairy Tale" Series was published with translations by David Thompson, a U.S. Presbyterian missionary who had baptized Takejiro; James C. Hepburn, another U.S. Presbyterian missionary who is well-known as the architect of the romanization system bearing his name; Basil Hall Chamberlain, a British educator who was invited to teach at Tokyo Imperial University; and the wife of Thomas James, a British naval officer.
Lafcadio Hearn, who is better known in Japan by his Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo, also retold five volumes of stories in English. In addition, Takejiro published translations by Karl Florenz, who was also on the faculty of Tokyo Imperial University and produced elegant German translations that conveyed traditional Japanese culture, and Jules Adam, who was a member of the French legation and profiled popular life and customs among the inhabitants of downtown Tokyo. Takejiro was therefore connected with a veritable galaxy of talented foreign nationals who made translations and otherwise supported his publication work.
＜The Japanese illustrators who illustrated Takejiro's "chirimen-bon"＞
Until around 1885 (Meiji 18), when the first "chirimen-bon" was published, Japanese painting was still dominated by the schools of the Edo era, and their tradition-steeped brushwork further enhanced the value of the books. Many of the stories in Japanese Fairy Tale Series, the first of the "chirimen-bon" series, were illustrated by Eitaku Kobayashi, who elevated the very
status of illustrators for "chirimen-bon" as highly artistic literary publications. He was followed by Yoshimune (Shujiro) Arai, the last son of Yoshimune Utagawa; Kason (Sotaro) Suzuki, who later became famous for his pictures of birds, flowers, and landscapes; Shoso (Yunosuke) Mishima, who made his name by producing illustrations for newspapers and magazines; Sadahiko (Sadajiro) Eda, Gyokusho Kawabata and Hanko (Teitaro/Teijiro) Kajita, one of Japan’s foremost painters in the Meiji period. Their works were included in Higashi no Kuni kara no Shi no Aisatsu which contained works of a number of illustrators and was published in 1894 (Meiji 27). At the end of the English version, which is entitled Poetical Greetings from the Far East, is a glossary of the illustrators.
＜Takejiro's partners in his overseas sales network＞
It is not certain whether or not Takejiro had booksales outside Japan in mind right from the start of his publication activities. His books came to acquire recognition for their cultural value in other countries after some foreign residents took copies with them on their return voyages. In time, he concluded a sales contract with the firm Kelly & Walsh, which had an office in Yokohama and was headquartered in Shanghai. This contract enabled use of Kelly & Walsh's network for sales in other countries. Takejiro also formed sales partnerships with Amelang (a German firm in Leipzig) and Griffith Farran in London for promotion of sales in the West. The names of these firms are noted in the colophons of many "chirimen-bon" which attests to their international popularity.
＜Other "chirimen-bon" publishers＞
As Hasegawa Kobunsha found favor with its series, some publishers followed its lead and came out with "chirimen-bon" series of their own. These are best exemplified by the series of Japanese folk tales published by Yachizo Matsumuro with English translations by Hiroyuki Hayashi. Not much is known about the publishing house involved. Only the cover was printed in color, and there were very few illustrations. The books did not credit the illustrator, and are regarded as having a low artistic value. In each case, the text is long and appears to be an English translation of the stories in the folktales retold in Japanese by Sazanami Iwaya and published by Hakubunkan in 1894 (Meiji 27). As compared to those by foreign nationals in the Hasegawa Kobunsha books, the translations follow the traditional plots and are faithful to the originals, but the sentences tend to be stiff and awkward, and contain many misspellings.
Aside from Yachizo Matsumuro, some other publishers are known to have published "chirimen-bon", but they are few in number.