KIMURA Ihee (Ihei) 木村 伊兵衛 (1901.12.12 - 1974.5.31) Tokyo.

One of the most venerated Japanese photographers along with DOMON Ken. A founding member and the first president of the Japan Professional Photographer's Society (JPS).

Major themes Rural Akita Pref., street photography, snapshooting people

Education Graduated Keika School of Commerce in 1919.

Career Worked for Abeko Co. in Tainan, Taiwan. Learned about photography during this time by frequenting the Endo Portrait Studio nearby. Established photo studio in Nippori, Tokyo in 1924. Worked in advertising for Kao Soap Co. in Tokyo 1930.

Started publication of Koga magazine in 1932 together with NOJIMA Yasuzo, NAKAYAMA Iwata, and INA Nobuo.

In 1933, helped to establish Nippon Kobo (documentary photographers group) with NATORI Yonosuke. Established Chuo Kobo in 1934. During the war, he headed the photo dept. of Toho-sha which published Front magazine.

News photographer for Berliner Illustriete Zeitung and staff member of Sun Photo News, Tokyo 1947. Freelance from 1948.

A founding member and the first president of the Japan Professional Photographer's Society (JPS) 1950-58.

Judge in 1952 for Camera magazine's (published by ARS) monthly photo contest.

A pioneer of 20th-century Japanese photography. In 1930, he bought a Leica camera which he mastered and used until his death. Influenced by Ota Hideshige, chief of the Kao Soap Co.'s advertising dept. and INA Nobuo.

When he saw an exhibition of Cartier-Bresson's photos in Japan in 1951, he started taking spontaneous shots to capture "the decisive moment."

Kimura concentrated on photographing people in their daily lives. He made the ordinary extraordinary, depicting the beauty of ordinary life. Basically a snapshooter who embraced realistic photography and did not pay much attention to composition.

Akita Pref.was a major theme, where he visited 21 times between 1952 and 1971. The prestigious, annual Kimura Ihee Award awarded by Asahi Camera magazine is named after him. (2002.5.26)

Awards Kan Kikuchi Prize, Ministry of Education, Tokyo 1956.

Sample photos

Book review below.

Women of the Showa Era - 昭和の女たち

One of Japan's most revered photographers documented Japanese women in the 1930s to the 1970s.


Published: 1991-05-10

Publisher: Chikuma Shobo

ISBN: 4480051554

Price in Japan: ¥1,575

Qualities: Soft cover, B/W photos

Size: B6, 96 pp.

Language: Japanese

Status: Out of print

Ihee (or Ihei) Kimura died in 1974 at age 73, but he is still very much alive in Japan's photography world today. His former apprentices are now prominent photographers or leaders in Japan's shashin-kai (photography world). One of them is Takeyoshi Tanuma, the editor of this book. They are making sure that his memory and legacy are kept alive even after almost 30 years since his passing.

Kimura's photo books are still being published today, sometimes as expensive, luxury volumes. A major photography award (sponsored by Asahi Shimbun Newspapers) is also named after him. Asahi Camera magazine still devotes one page to him in every issue. Yes, Ihei sensei is enjoying a full, second life. He must be smiling broadly as he looks down from heaven. Along with Ken Domon, he is one of the gods of Japan's photography world. It's surprising that no one has built a photo museum for him. (There's one for Ken Domon.)

The book has four chapters. Each chapter has some text written by Hideo Osabe, an award-winning novelist. All the photos are black and white and captioned with the year and location.

The first chapter is a short section of photos taken in the 1930s and '40s. It was a time when it was still common for Japanese women to wear a kimono even while Western clothing was starting to dominate. The kimono they wore were not the gorgeous type you see today, but the ordinary kind suitable as casual street wear along with a pair of geta wooden clogs. The kimono and Western dress side-by-side on the streets of Japan is so symbolic of the transition Japan was going through. You see this in the photos.

One picture which caught my eye was taken in 1944 of three women holding power tools to work on the fuselage of a Japanese fighter plane in a airplane factory. You see only women working in the factory. (All the men were supposedly at the front lines.)

Chapter 2 is a large section of photos of the immediate postwar period from 1945 to the late 1950s. There are unposed portraits of actresses, street photos of women, geisha, Asakusa show girls, nuns, nudes, mother and child (carried on her back), and more actresses.

There's one 1951 picture taken in a public bath on the women's side of the bath. How was he able to get in there and photograph these naked women soaping themselves? Then there are topless ama women divers who dive for oysters or other sea food. The photos were taken in the early 1950s. You don't see topless women divers anymore.

It's so refreshing to think that once upon a time in Japan, public nudity was not considered to be shameful nor sinful. In northern Japan, there is still some mixed bathing at hot springs. But most of the people are elderly anyway.

Chapter 3 covers the 1960s and '70s, Japan's high-growth period. Many shots are of women (geisha, temple worshippers, shoppers, etc.) at Asakusa, Tokyo and Okinawa. The women's kimono were the gorgeous type, worn only on special occasions. By that time, the kimono was not casual street wear anymore (except for the older women).

Chapter 4 is about women in Akita Prefecture up north. Akita was Kimura's favorite photographic theme and life work. He traveled there 21 times between 1952 and 1971. He covered all four seasons, and traveled to almost every place in the prefecture worth traveling to. In the 1950s, half of Japan's work force were farmers. And half of those farmers were women, giving Kimura an ample opportunity to photograph working women in the countryside.

When you think of women in Akita, "Akita bijin" (Akita beauties) is what first comes to mind. However, Kimura's Akita photos are less about beautiful women and more about their daily activities. See them tending rice paddies, raising children (usually while working), cooking and eating at home, pounding mochi, or carrying or pulling something. It is obvious that these women were very hard workers and dedicated mothers at the same time.

One of his most famous Akita photos is of a kimono-dressed woman at home crouching over to breastfeed her infant child lying down on the tatami mat. He did photograph a few Akita beauties (young ones). If a museum dedicated to him is to be built, it should be in Akita.

Kimura used a Leica and he ultimately was a snapshooter and street photographer. The photos are not perfectly composed. Most of them are candids and grainy or blurred. He sought the "decisive moment" as advocated by Henri Cartier-Bresson who was a great influence.

Besides women, Kimura photographed many everyday scenes and people of Japan. His work is often dubbed as a record of the Showa Era (1926-1989 during the reign of Emperor Hirohito). His memory and legacy will continue to live on for a long time to come. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

Biography in Japanese

1901 東京下谷金杉上町に生まれる

1932 野島康三、中山岩太と月刊雑誌『光画』を発刊

1933 名取洋之助、原弘、伊奈信男らと日本工房を設立

1935 沖縄県琉球本島に1ヶ月滞在し、写真撮影を行う

1950 日本写真家協会が設立され、初代会長に就任

1952 農村生活の撮影のため、秋田を訪れる

1974 5月31日死去、享年72歳