News & Topics（Mitsuo Nitta）
Messege from Yushodo
This year marks the 160th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa between Japan and the United States, represented by Commodore Perry. While the relation between the two countries was strained for some time during the Second World War, it would be fair to say that the international partnership as we see it today was established at this signing. Upon his return a year after his first arrival in 1853, he brought along an abundance of lavish gifts for the Japanese government. Records detailing this exchange and these lavish gifts have been preserved over time up to this day, even published in book form. And since the camera was not invented yet, the large hans such as Edo bakufu and Sendai han commissioned artists and sent them to Kurihama, Yokohama, and Uraga to document the arrival in sketches. These sketches were then transcribed and ended up in possession of libraries and institutions pertaining to the Commodore.
Let’s take a look at some of the gifts the Commodore brought along:
* Miniature steam engine 1/4 size with track, tender and car
* 2 telegraph sets, with batteries, three miles of wire, gutta percha wire, and insulators.
* Telescope and stand
* Barrel of whisky
Also included in the list is artillery such as pistols, but more notably, the list included documents such as government publications, maps, and congressional records printed with what was considered at the time to be state of the art printing techniques. And among these documents was a nine-volume set of books whose enormous size took everyone in the world by surprise. This set of books, as it turns out, was The Birds of America by Audubon. Consisting of 435 plates, each describing a type of bird at its actual size, The Birds of America weighed more than 100 kg which makes it one of biggest of its kind. While the producer of The Birds of America is said to have limited its distribution to museums and libraries mainly located in the United States, along with a number of collectors who had reserved a set prior to production, some copies ended up in England and other European countries as gifts from the American government. Approximately ten of these countries house these copies in their national libraries as national treasure.
What significance did The Birds of America have for Commodore Perry that prompted him to give a set to the Japanese government? And more importantly, where did it go? The set has been sought after, along with the other gifts that were included in the list by many journalists and researchers, but to no avail. It is widely accepted that it was lost in the fire at the end of Edo era, but it has yet be determined.
Today, about 80 sets of the original remain in the United States, 25 sets in Europe, and a set at the National Library of Australia. Meisei University purchased a set at an auction in the United States as recently as 25 years ago, where it still remains today.
In celebrating the aforementioned anniversary, Yushodo Books is reproducing The Birds of America based on the original copies currently in possession of Meisei University, limited to 100 sets using a ultra high-definition camera with 80 megapixels purchased specifically for this project by Dai Nippon Printing Co. Ltd, and a type of paper that was designed and produced in order to recreate the original texture, garnering attention and high expectation from around the world. Another reproduction project Yushodo is embarked on in the celebratory spirit is Kinkai Kikan, an original scroll in possession of Waseda University that is thought to describe the arrival of Commodore Perry as well as some of the gifts he presented to the Japanese government.
In regards to the first project, what I ask of the libraries and institutions that have in possession either the originals or facsimiles printed forty years ago using offset printing, is to compare the Yushodo reprint with the copies at hand and witness firsthand how printing technology has evolved over time.
While the push for digitization within the publishing industry is contributing to the steady decline of the sales of printed materials, Yushodo recognizes the importance of printing culture, and is dedicated to leaving behind great books to future generations. If you have any thoughts on our projects, I would love to hear from you.
August, 1, 2014