Every now and again, the Book Gods don’t just smile but grin upon you. This buried treasure found me at a La Selva Community Library book sale, and I snagged it for the price of an upscale chocolate bar.
If ever an oversized bookstand was made to hold something, it was made to hold This Is Japan 1965. The cover alone is a showpiece of go-go outrageousness.
Even though it weighed somewhere between 15 to 20 pounds and I had to get it home on the train, I had to have it. It was like going to the circus and suddenly realizing you need the camel as a pet.
It fits into a spectacular, blue-and-white batik slipbox constructed from what seems to be balsa wood. The producer was the Japan Chamber of Commerce; the publisher was Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s major publishing houses and still the owner of one of its major morning papers.
Clearly the objective was attractive boosterism, but what sort of heavyweight champions strolled away from conventions with these behemoths tucked under their arms? Business cards they were not!
Because the name This Is Japan is so generic, it’s hard to find any deep information on this series—there are editions aplenty on eBay, but for various years. They seem to start in the 1950s and go up to 1969.
Even the ads in this thing are incredible, exemplifying the Golden Age of Modernism, 1965—that sweet spot between elegance and attitude. Bold, simple graphics cavort on the page with minimal text and exciting colors.
More’s the charm as it all sandwiches demure listings for traditional Japanese guest- and bath-houses, thankfully lagging behind the jet-setting moment.
It was a fascinating moment for Japan. Traditional life may still have prevailed outside urban centers, but Stateside we were intimidated by their technological rise and rise.
The quality and durability of the print, binding, and casing are remarkable. Similar projects now would cost upwards of $100.
I rigged a system for strapping it to the front of my suitcase and got it safely home on the train that way.
Now I’m faced with the enviable problem of owning something so beautiful it scares the hell out of me.