Shinoyama Kishin

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SHINOYAMA Kishin 篠山 紀信 (1930.12.3) Tokyo.

One of Japan's most famous photographers, mainly for nude photo books of famous Japanese actresses and pop idols. Helped to spearhead Japan's lifting of the pubic hair ban in print media in the early 1990s. His 1991 nude book "Santa Fe," featuring MIYAZAWA Rie, is Japan's best-selling photo book of all time. Mother was a kabuki fan who took him to see kabuki during childhood. Met kabuki actor BANDO Tamasaburo in 1970 and subsequently photographed him for a few photo books.

Major themes Japanese actresses, nudes, pop idols, kabuki

Education Studied photography at Nihon University, Tokyo, 1961-63.

Career Photographer at Light Publicity Company (an advertising production company), Tokyo, 1961-68. Freelance in Tokyo from 1968.

Shinoyama got his big break with "Tanjo" or Birth. It was a series of nudes on a beach in Tokunoshima, Okinawa. They showed at the Ginza Nikon Salon in 1968.

In 1991, Shinoyama published water fruit, a nude photo book of actress Higuchi Kanako showing pubic hair prominently. Later in the same year, he came out with the sensational Santa Fe which featured nudes of popular actress Rie Miyazawa. One photo in the book showed a small portion of Miyazawa's pubic hair. The police did not deem it obscene, and other photographers followed suit with their own photo books showing pubic hair.

As long as genitalia was not exposed, pubic hair was being allowed in print in Japan. This was the start of the so-called "hair-nude" boom in Japan. It was a real revolution in the world of Japanese photography, occurring almost 20 years after pubic hair first appeared in Playboy magazine in America.

Awards Newcomer Photographer Prize, Japan Photo Critics Association, 1966; Photographer of the Year Award, Japan Photographic Society, 1970; New Talent Award, Japan Art Academy and Ministry of Education, Tokyo, 1973; Annual Prize, Kodansha Publishing Company, Tokyo, 1973.

MIYAZAWA Rie - Santa Fe

Reviewed on: 1997.09.17 Last modified: 2004-04-12

First-time nude photos of teen idol Rie Miyazawa taken in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the height of her popularity and youth. About 1.5 million copies were sold within a few months of the book's release. Today, it remains the best-selling nude photo book ever in Japan. Miyazawa was once engaged to Yokozuna Takanohana, a sumo wrestler.

Published: 1991.11 More info Publisher: Asahi Press More info ISBN: 4255910464 More info Price in Japan: ¥4,500 yen More info Qualities: Hard cover, color photos More info Size: A4, 96 pp. More info Language: No text

In 1991, Rie Miyazawa was a super-famous, super idol. (She's still super famous, but no longer in the limelight.) She had been in numerous TV commercials and programs since grade school. Without a doubt, she was making a lot of money. Thus, it was very surprising to hear that she put out a nude photo book. She did not need the publicity nor the income. It was a sensational move for this girl barely out of her teens. The sensation started with a full-page ad in the Yomiuri newspaper on the morning of Oct. 13, 1991. The ad, showing Rie in the nude, invited readers to reserve copies of the book which was to go on sale a month later.

News reports commented that she had a slender, well-proportioned body with high hips. There was a mad rush to buy the book and the book had to go though several printings in a short period to meet the demand. Rie definitely scored the biggest media coup of her life. (She soon scored another media coup by getting engaged to Takanohana, and then breaking up. Then there was her weight loss making her look skeletal.)

The book is large, measuring about 10.5 in. x 13 in. Each glossy page has only one photograph. Which means there is no photograph printed on the back of the page (except for a few). So when you open the book, there is a full-size photo on the right page, but the left page is blank. Each photo is full size, taking up the entire page. It really adds to the impact of the book. The photos are in both color and black and white. There is a great variety of poses, settings, and backgrounds. Moreover, the photographs are interesting. It is the kind of work you would expect from a photographer like Shinoyama Kishin who is a celebrity in his own right.

Shinoyama employs a lot of contrast between light and shadow, stunning and bold-color backgrounds such as flower gardens and beautiful rock, a lot of texture such as tree bark and leaves, and the local Santa Fe architecture. Rie is posed in many ways. Standing or sitting, leaning against a wall or tree, smiling or gentle-faced. Only one photo shows a little bit of pubic hair. In this photo, she's smiling and sitting Japanese style in a field of yellow flowers in the nude and you can see a small black triangle. This was one of the things which caught the eye of the press which later reported that the police did not consider it a problem. In effect, this served as a historic green light for publishers and photographers to publish pubic hair. The rest is history.

Perhaps the most stunning photos are the ones taken outside in the desert. She's standing on a huge rock totally nude under a dark-blue sky. Very bold, saturated colors. Others are somewhat tacky with Rie wearing a short-hair blond wig. But they add to the variety. Rie's father was Dutch, but she still looks 100-percent Japanese. This is a fine coffee table book for adults.

  • Rie Miyazawa was born 1973 in Tokyo to a Dutch father and Japanese mother (later divorced). Her first modeling job came when she was in the 5th grade. Numerous TV commercials followed. After graduating from junior high school, entered show business full-time. Her nude photo book "Santa Fe" was released in 1991 and caused a major sensation. About 1.5 million copies were sold within a few months of the book's release. Today, it remains the best-selling nude photo book ever in Japan. Miyazawa was once engaged to Yokozuna Takanohana, a sumo wrestler. After her break-up with Takanohana, she lost a lot of weight and moved to Santa Monica, California in 1996 to escape the media and seek treatment.

HIGUCHI Kanako - Accidents Series 1

Reviewed on: 1997.09.17 Last modified: 2004-04-12

The mother of all pubic-hair photo books in Japan, this is the one which quietly started the so-called "hair nude" (nudes showing pubic hair) boom.

Published: Feb. 1991 More info Publisher: Asahi Press More info ISBN: 4255900590 More info Price in Japan: ¥3,200 More info Qualities: Hardcover, B/W photos only, glossy paper More info Size: A4, 96 pp. More info Language: No text

Perhaps because Kanako Higuchi was not a young, super-famous actress, this book never gained the fame and publicity that Shinoyama's next nude photo book, Santa Fe, received. However, photographers and publishers noticed that the police did not censure water fruit, and so a pent-up frenzy ensued with pubic-hair photo books coming out one after another.

The book starts with photos of Kanako fully clothed in front of flowering trees or plants. The setting then shifts indoors into a Japanese-style house, then to a large bath where she is nude. Later she is on a futon with a yukata, partially nude or fully nude. She lies in various positions, sometimes smoking, sometimes in apparent esctasy. These futon shots occupy half the book. Her pubic hair is in plain view in many shots.

All the photos are black and white. There are too many futon shots and the poses are too predictable and typical. There are no photos which I liked. However, I'm looking at this book several years after the start of the "hair nude" boom. If I saw this when it first came out in Feb. 1991, I would have been shocked to see such a book in Japan.

Kanako Higuchi is a Japanese actress (age 38 as of April 1997) who has appeared on TV, in movies, and on stage. Ironically, the hair nude boom started with older subjects like her (and Akiko Nakamura [b. 1948], and Mari Henmi). Publishers claimed that showing pubic hair was a means of self expression for these "ripe-aged" (that's what the Japanese euphemistically call them) women. Soon, this idea was wisely (business-wise) transferred to the younger lot starting with Rie Miyazawa (see below). The rest is history.

In Oct. 1998, this book has been reissued as a small paperback book.

The Kabuki-za - ザ歌舞伎座

Reviewed on: 2001.05.02 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Exquisite photo tour of the Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza, Tokyo), the world's foremost kabuki theater.


Published: 2001.1.10 Publisher: Kodansha ISBN: 406210492X Price in Japan: ¥3,150 Qualities: Soft cover, color photos Size: Large format, 110 pp. Language: Japanese Text: BANDO Tamasaburo 坂東玉三郎

While I was in college at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a group of top kabuki actors and stage personnel came from Japan to teach kabuki courses for a year. The project was to culminate in an actual kabuki production of a famous kabuki play (Chushingura) to be performed at the Kennedy Theater on campus. I applied to take one of the courses, but due to the many people who applied, I was unable to get in. I didn't want to study to become a kabuki actor, but perhaps as someone helping behind the scenes (painting the scenery or constructing the stage sets and props). They offered courses in almost all aspects of a major kabuki production.

But the main attraction (and doubt) was that the entire play was to be performed in English. The female roles would also be played by real women regardless of ethnicity. I and many of my Japanese-American friends thought that it just wouldn't be authentic and it would be strange to hear kabuki actors and actresses speaking English. We didn't think it was possible for English to be spoken in the same stylized way as in Japanese.

Two semesters passed, and I eagerly went to see the public performance of the play which drew a full house during the entire run. It blew me away. Everything was so authentic. The costumes, sets, stage gimmicks, and acting. They even had a hanamichi constructed in the theater. It was very theatrical and dramatic. And all in English. The English script was based on an English translation previously published as a book. I had read the translation so I was familiar with everyone's lines. The translated script came to life with all these actors and actresses uttering it in the real kabuki style. We were all amazed and very impressed. They got a roar of applause at the end of each performance (I saw it three times). Doing it in English turned out to be hugely successful because we could all understand it. Even the Caucasian actors and actresses looked almost Japanese. That was my first memorable encounter with kabuki.

After I moved to Japan, the Kabuki-za Theater in Tokyo of course became my favorite kabuki theater. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but the English program booklet gave a synopsis of each act so I at least knew what was going on. It's also very easy to get tickets because the theater always offers cheap tickets for the day's performances. You don't need to make reservations or buy tickets in advance even though the regular reserved seats are sold out. However, you have to sit in the non-reserved section on the 4th floor which is furthest away from the stage. But you can still see the stage very well, and it's not that far away. With a good pair of binoculars, you can see the faces of the actors very well. The only thing is that you can't see the entire length of the hanamichi. No matter how crowded it gets, you still have a very good chance of getting in. If the non-reserved section gets full, there is space behind those seats for standing room only.

It's great to watch kabuki from the audience seats, but it is also fascinating to see what it looks like behind the scenes. I once had a friend who played the tsuzumi (shoulder drum) for a kabuki music troupe whose members regularly played at the Kabuki-za. When he was playing there once, he invited me to visit him backstage. He led me in through an employees-only side entrance of the theater and took me backstage. My first impression was that it was a really old building with many corridors unseen by the audience. The walls were dirty, the lighting was gloomy, and it was downright shabby. A far cry from the splendid, Japanese-style facade facing the main street. He even took me to the basement directly below the stage. There was a huge metal contraption and wheels set on a round steel track on the floor. It was for the mawari-butai (revolving stage) with a 20-meter diameter.

My friend then took me up to the stage level and into a little room on the left corner of the stage. (There was a real kabuki play going on the whole time for a full house.) The room had a large taiko drum and a few slits in the wall facing the audience. This was where they played background instruments heard but not seen by the audience. My friend had to beat the drum in that room during the play, and I just sat and watched him. It was really neat. Through the slits on the wall, he watched and listened to the actors on stage to await his cue to beat the drum. We could see the audience outside through the slits, but they could not see us inside. Sometimes a kabuki actor would come into the room to await his turn to appear on stage. That was neat too. A real kabuki actor (and very feminine-looking) sitting right next to me.

I've never forgotten this private little tour of the Kabuki-za about 16 years ago and judging from the photos in this book, the theater is still dirty and shabby where the audience cannot see. But it's no wonder because the theater standing today was built half a century ago in 1951. It's actually the third Kabuki-za that was ever built.

The original Kabuki-za was built in 1889. In 1921, faulty electrical wiring caused a fire that destroyed it. Construction of a new theater started in 1923, but that was the year when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, and the construction was delayed. The new theater was finally completed in 1924 after a three-year absence. The Japanese-style building was made of earthquake-resistant ferro-concrete. It was Japan's best theater. However, the theater fell victim to Tokyo bombing raids in May 1945. The theater was finally rebuilt in 1951, and it is still in use today seating 2,000. The stage is made of real hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood which is considered to be the king of wood in Japan. The term hinoku butai also refers to a person's place of glory or grand appearance in public. For example, a G-7 Summit in Japan is a hinoku butai for the Japanese Prime Minister.

Getting back to the subject at hand, this book is an excellent layman's introduction to the Kabuki-za, the granddaddy of all kabuki theaters in Japan. It provides both captioned pictures and text explaining the history and system of the Kabuki-za Theater. The beautiful photos were taken by SHINOYAMA Kishin, one of Japan's most famous photographers, and the easy-to-read Japanese text was written by 51-year-old BANDO Tamasaburo, one of Japan's most famous and popular kabuki actors today. Both the photographer and actor have been mutual friends since 1970 and have collaborated on other kabuki photo books before.

Considering the popularity of kabuki outside of Japan, it's unfortunate that no English translation is provided. It's too bad because this book has some of the most beautiful kabuki photos ever created. It is a work of art besides being a documentary. And the book's large format really do them justice. It's not one of those souvenir-type kabuki picture books for tourists. Photographs in tourist-type kabuki books (usually in English) are grainy because of the high-speed film and small film format. But the pictures in this book have very fine grain because the photographer used a large-format, 8 x 10 in. camera.

The photos cover the major aspects of the theater, both seen and unseen by the audience. Besides the expected shots of kabuki plays performed on stage, there are many off-stage photos of the men and women working behind the scenes. They include hair (wigs) dressers, kimono seamstresses, set makers and painters, carpenters, and lighting technicians. It's a totally different world from what the audience sees. Kabuki is an industry employing not only actors, but many other people with very special skills.

Shinoyama's long friendship with Tamasaburo has allowed him to photograph the actors posing especially for this book. Some of the actual kabuki scenes in the book were staged especially for the photographer or taken during rehearsal. Without any audience present, Shinoyama could go on the stage himself and photograph the actors up close. There's no way you can do that during a regular performance in front of an audience.

The photos are captioned in Japanese by Tamasaburo. Here's a description of some of the really interesting ones:

  • A dressing room for child actors. Five cute little child actors are being made up by an adult actor dressed in geisha costume, and they wear a thin cap on their heads to be covered by a wig.
  • Tamasaburo is in kimono in the basement below the stage. Behind him, you can see the metal structure supporting the revolving stage and the wheels set on the round steel track. This shot was made especially for this book. Normally, he never goes there. The opposite photo shows the light leaking through the crack along the perimeter of the round, revolving stage above.
  • The little room (called the misu-uchi) on the left corner of the stage which I once entered. It hasn't changed. There's a large taiko drum player, two small drum players, and a flute player. There's even a temple gong. Tamasaburo writes that it is a sacred place for background instrument players where actors are not to get in their way.
  • An old storage room is full of rolled goza straw mats (which look like tatami mats when laid on the stage).
  • A room of six men and women ironing and folding many gorgeous silk kimono.
  • A hairdresser (or wig fitter adjusting the wig to suit the shape of the actor's head) working on a geisha-style wig in front of a high rack filled with wigs.
  • Tamasaburo is posed in his nice, private, Japanese-style dressing room with two young actors. During the month-long run, it becomes his second home.
  • The theater's side entrance leading to the dressing rooms. There is an elderly guard sitting in kimono who checks the people entering. The tall shoe racks have name tags for each pair of shoes. Everyone has his or her own place in the shoe rack. This is where you take off your street shoes and wear house slippers.
  • A wood clapper (called tsuke-uchi) holding two pieces of wood and clapping them on another piece of wood (looks like a kitchen cutting board) on the floor. Tamasaburo says that it takes great skill and inborn talent to coordinate the wood clapping with the actor's movements and script. You have to undergo an apprenticeship to become a wood clapper.
  • Painters painting a cardboard pine tree on the stage floor. An opposite photo shows many paint buckets.
  • A table covered with drawings and photographs of previous kabuki sets to be used as reference materials to build the next set.
  • Stage workers taking a bath in an old bath room in the theater.
  • A circle of large chairs around a round table in the elegant VIP room for heads of state and kings and queens visiting the theater.

Great collection of photos, and wish there were more. One picture that's missing is that of the hooded men in black (called kurogo) who scurry on stage to assist the actors (for example during a costume switch) during the play. They supposed to be invisible to the audience and remain anonymous with their faces completely covered. That's actually how I want to function on the Internet with this Web site. I want to help the stars (famous photographers, etc.) and audience (you) while remaining anonymous and invisible. Although I can hide my face, I am forced to reveal my name to assert my "all rights reserved" copyright. Oh well...

If Shinoyama can photograph kabuki this well, I sure would like to see him come out with artistic photo books on other traditional Japanese arts (or worlds) such as sumo and the geisha. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

  • For a more detailed introduction to kabuki in English, see the following sites:

University of Texas at Austin's Kabuki page - Excellent overview of kabuki. Kabuki for Everyone - You can even hear the most common sounds and instruments of kabuki.

Yukio Mishima's House - 三島由紀夫の家

Reviewed on: April 30, 1999 Last modified: 2005-04-03

Exterior and interior photos of legendary novelist Mishima Yukio's colonial-style house. New, cheaper edition printed in Nov. 2000.


Published: Nov. 10, 1995 (New ed. Nov. 25, 2000) Publisher: Bijutsu Shuppan ISBN: 4568120632 Price in Japan: ¥2,625 Qualities: Soft cover, color photos Size: A5, 232 pp. Language: Japanese

Ever since his spectacular Japanese-style suicide (seppuku or harakiri) in 1970, Mishima Yukio (b. 1925) has become a modern-day legend. His face is an instantly recognizable icon. "Kinkakuji" (Gold Pavilion) is among is most well-known novels.

It's refreshing to learn that Shinoyama is actually interested in architectural and interior photos besides celebrity nudes. Obviously, he has had a fascination with Mishima as well. This book attempts to present various evidence of Mishima's private lifestyle and persona. If you are interested in Mishima or architecture or '60s-style things, this book is good to have.

By the 1960s, Mishima was already an enormously successful writer. Much has been written and said about this man's personality and obsessions. Now we have another book to help us further analyze Mishima. Shinoyama has photographed almost all the things we would be interested in seeing if we were allowed to enter the house.

The house has been left pretty much the same as the day Mishima left to kill himself. It is quite an extraordinary look into Mishima's likes and tastes. The book is like a museum catalog of the things inside the house. And the house could certainly become a museum. The ultra-modern telephone in late 1960s is now old-fashioned. His gray, metal desk, fountain pens, cuff links, and ink bushes all photographed up close. The most interesting photos showed his desk where he worked and his large collection of books on many bookshelves. It's always interesting to see what kind of books one has. He also had a significant collection of English books on a bookshelf. The book titles are all clearly readable in the photos. There's The Tortured Sex, Yoga and Hralth, Gay Cruise, and Hara-kiri. Among his Japanese books are novels by Yasunari Kawabata, history books, and Occidental studies.

Of course, the most interesting photos are family snapshots of Mishima himself inside the house. The book is interspersed with these photos from the family album. They serve as evidence that Mishima really did live there. You can also compare how it looked then and now. Hardly anything has changed. The same furniture is still there in the same places.

The book was made possible by Mishima's wife who served as a guide for the house. Unfortunately, she died before this book was published.

Shinoyama writes that it took a day's shooting just from the front gate to the door of the house. The life-size marble statue of Apollo, the stone bench, and other fascinating things were all too many. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)