Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Exploring Chirimen-bon in Yokohama

I am incredibly thankful for having been invited to give a paper by Mayako Murai at Kanagawa University’s symposium “ちりめん本と女性の文化” (Chirimen-bon and Girl’s Culture), which celebrated the opening of an exhibition of Japanese crepe-paper books in their library. The trip was a whirlwind (I stayed for 5 nights in Yokohama because of my teaching duties here), but I’m grateful for the chance to travel and meet new colleagues who are interested in these quaint, but fascinating works of material culture. I was also introduced to Nanae Otsuka, a librarian who is retired from the National Diet Library, who was an amazing guide and a fast friend.

Me and Otsuka-san at the National Children’s Library in Ueno.

On my first full day in Yokohama, I took the train into Tokyo to meet up with Murai and Otsuka. Together we explored the National Diet Library on a tour with Librarian Yokota Shihoko, who was truly knowledgable about the resources and the space. It was fortuitous timing, because the library was hosting a memorial exhibition featuring some of their rare printed works! I was shocked at the architecture of the building, which was a particular issue during the 2011 earthquake. When we entered the space, we all wore “booties” on our feet to protect the surfaces. It was great to see how their institution processed material, and I was even shocked to learn about the amount of manga they had on their shelves — a true resource for any scholar of popular culture! When Murai left, Otsuka and I ate some delicious eel before making our way to the National Children’s Library in Ueno. It was my first time there, and the building was fascinating. In a nutshell, it was constructed in two halves and you could see the Meiji architecture coexisting with later Showa and Heisei additions. Later, we wandered the streets to find a paper shop that created their own chirimen (crepe paper) and to a historic tofu restaurant that I will not soon forget. I owe Otsuka many thanks. Wandering around with her was a great way to orient myself back in Tokyo — it has been some time, since I avoided it on my last venture to Japan.

On the day of the exhibition, I met up with Otsuka and we made our way over to Kanagawa University. She gave attendees a personalized tour of the space. Not only was I able to see various examples of chirimen-bon in person, but I was also able to learn more about the process and meet others interested in the books, from scholars to collectors. My own presentation dealt with the connoisseurship of these books by Western women who were friends with publisher Hasegawa Takejiro. I also discussed Minnesota artist, Evelyn Goodrow Mitsch, whose family donated her copy of The Smiling Book to St. Catherine University. It was a rare chance for me to see our book in conversation with works existing in Japan, and listening to Otsuka’s paper made me realize that there are new avenues that I need to pursue as I continue this work.

I had very little downtime during the trip, but I did find a day to visit the garden at Sankeien. The site is interesting because many historical buildings from other places have been relocated here. But it was peaceful to walk around on a beautiful autumn day. It was amazing to me that the leaves had not yet changed in November. They happened to be having a flower show on the day I was there. I also explored Yokohama’s Chinatown with Otsuka and even went on a ferry ride with her around Yokohama Bay.

The trip was quick, but certainly memorable. I am excited and even more energized to keep moving along this path. Many thanks to all of the amazing people I met on my trip (especially Murai, Otsuka, and Yokota).

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