PhotoHistory 1997

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Chronological history of photography in Japan in 1997 (Heisei 9)

Researched and compiled by Philbert Ono

Stamp Club "Stamp Club" machines appear for the first time in Shibuya, Tokyo. The machines produce instant rubber stamps (500 yen each) with your photographic likeness framed by a variety of frames. The stamps are self-inking and lasts for about 200 stampings. The ink cannot be refilled.

Hitachi introduces the MPEG1 digital camera, the world's first digital camera which can output moving pictures to a personal computer in the MPEG format.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, an avid shutterbug (who uses a Canon EOS), holds a month-long photo exhibition in Los Angeles from Feb. 6. The exhibition was first proposed by a Japanese resident of L.A. when Hashimoto visited the U.S. a year before. Twenty-four photos were on display. They included shots of Mt. Everest, ancient ruins in France, his wife Kumiko, and the same picture he gave to President Bill Clinton at a Japan-America Summit meeting. That picture was of a sunrise (Hinode) taken at Hatsushima island (Shizuoka Pref.). It was captioned, "Beyond this ocean is America." The exhibition's opening party was attended by the Prime Minister's wife.

In March, Atlus Co., co-developer of Print Club machines, installs the machines on a trial basis at West Coast cities and Hawaii.

On May 1 in New York, George Fisher, CEO of Eastman Kodak Co., claims at a news conference that the biggest loser in Japan's photo film market is the consumer who does not receive "adequate choice or adequate price competition." The remakrs were made in reference to a complaint filed by the United States with the World Trade Organization. The complaint cited Japanese market practices that allegedly limit Japanese market access.

George Fisher also announces on May 1 that his company hopes to introduce Print Club-type machines in the U.S. in the near future.

In May, Nikon announces that it will discontinue the F4 after fulfilling orders received by the end of May. It is the first time Nikon gives advance notice for discontinuing a major camera.

Graffiti photographs become the latest fad among high school girls in Japan. Photos of themselves and their friends are supplemented with text balloons and graffiti drawn directly on the print with permanent ink pens of various colors. They draw rabbit's ears on people, color a person's hair blond, etc.

A "race queen" boom occurs with many "race queen" photo books being published and many amateur photo sessions featuring race queens as models for amateur photographers. The hit song, "Circuit no Musume" by the popular duo Puffy adds to the boom. (Race queens are young girls in skimpy dress who decorate the grandstands and pit stops at motor races.)

In May and June, the Photographic Society of Japan holds the Month of Photography, Tokyo (Tokyo Shashin Gekkan). Photo exhibitions, symposiums, and award ceremonies were held at various locations in Tokyo.Like last year's Month of Photography, the 1000-Person Photo Exhibit (Sen-nin Shashin-ten) was held at Yebisu Garden Place during the first weekend of June. This exhibit showed photos taken by 1,000 entrants from the general public. The Museum showed a photo exhibition of families after World War II, taken by prominent photographers such as Shoji UEDA, Shisei KUWABARA, Yurie NAGASHIMA, and Kishin SHINOYAMA, and Nobuyoshi ARAKI. The Konica Plaza gallery in Shinjuku showed photos taken by 21 foreign Asian students studying in Japan.

As of June 1, Japan had 10,504 camera shops. This is 8.9 percent fewer than three years before, and 43.7 percent lower than the peak number of 18,655 attained in 1982. This is also about the same number as in 1966.

In June, Atlus Co. introduces the "Print Club" machine to the U.S. at the Licensing 97 International Show in New York. It establishes a Print Club marketing unit in Los Angeles in July. It costs $3 for a sheet of 16 Print Club photo stickers. The company hopes to install 10,000 of the machines in the U.S. Later in Oct., Atlus Co. and Sega Enterprises Ltd. (in Irvine, CA) establish a joint venture company called Atlus Dream Entertainment Co. to sell Print Club machines in the U.S., targeting shopping malls, major retail chains, video arcades, etc.

Imitation Print Club photo sticker machines start to appear in the U.S. at major Japanese tourist centers such as Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and Honolulu Airport.

In June, Konica conducted a survey to find out the photography habits of Japanese female high schoolers. There were 115 responses from the Tokyo and surrounding area. The survey found that most of the girls liked to take pictures and to have their pictures taken. However, slightly more preferred to take pictures rather than be photographed. Most also carried a camera either at all times or sometimes. By far, the most popular type of camera was single-use cameras (color, B/W, or sepia film). Only 16 of the respondents used a compact camera, and only two carried an SLR. They also spent about 1,500 yen (one-fourth of their average monthly allowance of about 5,700 yen) on photography. The most popular place to have the film developed was the neighborhood camera shop, followed by convenience stores.

A photo (by Reuter) of Emperor Akihito taking a picture with a compact camera (brand unknown) on a boat trip on the Guamar River in Brazil is published in The Japan Times (June 3 issue).

In early July, Focus magazine (circulation 600,000 with a focus on scandal and gossip) publishes a photo of a 14-year-old boy (arrested on June 28) accused of murdering 11-year-old HASE Jun in Kobe. (Hase's decapitated head was found in front of a school gate.) This was against the Juvenile Law which prohibits the publication of any articles and photos which reveal the identity of a juvenile suspect to be sent to a family court. Most bookstores, newsstands, and convenience stores canceled the sale of the issue containing the photo. However, a few retailers were unaware of the controversy and put the magazine on sale as usual. The magazine was sold out by the time they learned of the boycott.

Meanwhile, Focus magazine's chief editor defended its publication of the suspect's photo on the grounds that it should be dealt with beyond the scope of the Juvenile Law. The Justice Ministry admonished the magazine's defiant publisher, Shinchosha Co., which refused to recall the magazine as requested. The photo and the boy's name later appear on Internet Web sites, leading to a media debate on whether the Juvenile Law applies to the Internet. Nothing can be done by Japanese authorities if the photo is stored on a server outside Japan.

On July 23, Japan's Fair Trade Commission announces that it found no proof of violations of the Anti-monopoly Law in Japan's photographic film and paper market. This was in response to a complaint filed by Eastman Kodak Co. in August 1996. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky subsequently criticizes the Commission as being unable to deal with trade disputes. The Commission admitted that Fuji Photo Film Co. had about 70 percent of the domestic market. But this was not a violation of the law. It also reported that Fuji Photo Film does not prohibit its distributors from handling other brands of film. The report concluded that Japan's photographic film market was open. Eastman Kodak Co. then issues a statement condemming the Fair Trade Commission's report. Kodak said, "The report shows how the Japanese government protects its domestic industries. We expected this decision." Meanwhile, Fuji Photo Film Co. lauds the report and says that the report was objective and market barriers alleged by Kodak do not exist. At the same time, Kodak had taken steps to jointly develop film with Fuji Photo Film and photocopiers with Konica.

Nudity On Aug. 22, a nude photo book titled Nudity featuring 20-year-old actress Kanno Miho (one of the stars in the recent TV drama, "Shitsurakuen") creates a sensation and becomes the third best-selling (after Santa Fe and water fruit) nude photo book in Japan (over 500,000 copies sold as of Nov. 1997). The book caused a sensation because until then Miho came across as a pure and innocent girl who long declined to appear even in a swimsuit. Then without any advance publicity, the book showing all of her suddenly appears on her 20th birthday. The book revitalizes the waning "hair nude" photo book market and becomes one of the year's top-ten best-selling books in Japan. (Needless to say, it is also Japan's best-selling nude photo book in 1997.)

On Aug. 28, Canon Inc. produces its 100 millionth camera, a Canon IXY made in Oita Pref. During the 63 years of its existence, the company has introduced 160 camera models.

In Sept., Eastman Kodak Co. completes the purchase of a majority stake (50.1%) in Chinon Industries, a Japanese camera maker most noted for digital cameras. The two companies had already jointly developed several of Kodak's digital cameras including the DC-120.

In Oct., Atlus Co. announces a plan to set up a joint venture with Sega Enterprises to market Print Club machines in the U.S. The new company is named Atlus Dream Entertainment Co.

On Nov. 27, Atlus Co. announces that Atlus Dream Entertainment Co. has filed a suit in California against American Photo Booths Inc., SNK Corp., and SNK Corp. of America to stop selling products using Print Club technology and to pay damages for the alleged patent violations.

On Dec. 5, the Geneva-based World Trade Organization decides to support Japan against the United States with regard to foreign access to Japan's photo film market. A dispute settlement panel of the WTO issues an interim report which concludes that there was not enough evidence to support the U.S. government's complaint that Japan discriminates against foreign manufacturers of photo film and papers.

The U.S. had claimed that in violation of WTO rules, Japan's distribution system and "administrative guidance" from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry hindered fair access to the Japanese photo film market by Eastman Kodak Co. and other foreign suppliers. In particular, the U.S. alleged that the Large-Scale Retail Stores Law limited marketing opportunities for foreign products through supermarkets and other large retailers which were the main retail routes for imported products.

Japan counters the allegations by saying that the U.S. had failed to present clear evidence which proves that imported photo film is being denied access to the Japanese market. Japan also pointed out that Kodak products are being sold at both large and small retailers and that the law is no trade barrier to foreign products. Japan also claims that Kodak does not make enough efforts to sell its products in Japan. This news makes the front page of Japanese newspapers.

The Japanese government welcomes the report along with Fuji Photo Film which said that it was based on the facts. The company also points out that foreign film products are indeed widely sold in Japan. Meanwhile, Eastman Kodak criticizes the report by saying that it totally ignores the real state of the Japanese photo film market. Kodak rejects the report and says that it cannot accept the WTO's decision. Ira Wolf, a vice president at Eastman Kodak and director of the company's operation in Japan, reasserts Kodak's claim that there is a systematic trade barrier introduced by the Japanese government and Fuji Photo Film Co. to block foreign access to the Japanese film market. Wolf also accuses the WTO of failing to pay attention to Japan's excessive regulations, administrative guidance, and the exclusionary structure of the economy.

After the WTO issued the interim report, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky gives a request to Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo OBUCHI to hold talks to discuss future steps concerning the photo film dispute.

In Japan, Fuji Photo Film accounts for 70 percent of photo film sales compared to Kodak's 10 percent. While in the U.S., Fuji's market share jumped to almost 20 percent while Kodak's share slipped to about 70 percent. Earlier this year, Fuji cut its film prices in the U.S. by as much as 30 percent, while Kodak did not introduce price cuts. About a month before the WTO decision, Kodak announced that it would eliminate 10,000 jobs, 3,500 of them in Rochester, New York, Kodak's headquarters. Kodak's worldwide employee count is 95,000.

The price of color negative film in Japan falls by about 40 percent over the past few years.

Mainly due to Princess Diana's untimely death, "paparazzi" is designated as one of 1997's buzz words of the year in Japan.

Since 1996, Japan has seen a resurgent boom in single-use cameras, especially among female high school girls and other young women. The variety and functions of single-use cameras (3-D, sepia, B/W, 8-frame continuous shooting, underwater, close-up, etc.) have escalated dramatically since 1986 when the first single-use camera was introduced. The camera's packaging and design have also become colorful and cute (with penguins, sunflowers, and other characters), turning the cameras into fashion accessories. Although Kodak and Konica also offer single-use cameras, Fuji Film enjoys about an 80 percent market share of the single-use camera market in Japan. Single-use camera sales peaked in 1993 with 55 million units. In 1996, the number jumped to a record 80 million units. In 1997, the number is expected to increase further by about 10 percent.

Print Club inspires a slew of other imaginative machines for imaginative novelties. For example, Sega Enterprises, one of the makers of the original Print Club machine, introduced Movie Club (6 poses for an animated image), Calendar Club (1 sheet for a desktop calendar with your face), Aura Photo Club (captures the aura around your head and shoulders), and even Aroma Club which dispenses a vial of fragrance which the machine selects after the user answers a few health questions. The aroma is then supposed to help ease the user's health ailment. Then there is Voice de Holder (Voice Key Chain) which is a key chain with a voice message that you record in the booth.

On Dec. 11, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announces the results of a junior high and high school survey it took in September. Among other things, it found that 89.5 percent of female high school students and 81.2 percent of female junior high school students collected Print Club photo stickers. It also showed that 28.3 percent of female and 26.3 percent of male high school students had a cellular phone or PHS. 2,200 junior high and high school students at 51 schools in Tokyo responded to the survey.

Also in Dec., a photo sticker machine is installed at the Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters in Tokyo. The superimposed frame features Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's face and two arms embracing two oval spaces reserved for two faces. Koichi Kato, the party's secretary general, fails in his first attempt to make his set of photo stockers with the Prime Minister's face. The machine is accessible to the public during normal office hours on weekdays.

The Japan Post Office printed about 4,200,000,000 New Year's postcards for Jan. 1998. It is estimated that about 6 percent (250,000,000) of this amount will be sent as photo postcards. This percentage of photo postcards has been increasing yearly. Especially popular are those which combine New Year's greetings with "got married" or "proud parents" announcements accompanied by a photo of the newlywed couple or newborn child.

In fiscal 1997, sales of digital cameras in Japan reach 1 million units, about 2.4 times more than in 1996.

Also in fiscal 1997, single-use cameras accounted for almost 25 percent of the photo film market in Japan. The popularity of single-use cameras among teenage girls has been a major factor.

1997's most memorable photo books (random order): PHOTO-RESPIRATION by Tokihiro Sato, Michiko Kon by Michiko Kon, Tokyo Dance by Chikashi Kasai, Life Goes On by Kyoji Takahashi, Roadside Japan by Kyoichi Tsuzuki, Ikiteiru by Masafumi Sanai, Beach Beauties of the Meiji Period by Keisho Ishiguro & Rentaro Taki, Joyu no Shozo (Portraits of Actresses) by Shotaro Akiyama, Nudity (Miho Kanno) by Masaaki Miyazawa, Tokyo Lucky Hole by Nobuyoshi Araki. (See http://photojpn.org/books/index.html for book reviews.)

Next: PhotoHistory 1998

History of Japanese Photography Index
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