Japanese Crepe-Paper Books

Cover of the book Japanese Fairy Tale Series No. 17 Schippeitaro Translated by Mrs. TH James. The cover shows a bunch of cats dancing around a box with a fox in it.

Two pages of a book. Left page shows a picture of a temple with trees surrounded by the text their heads sorrowfully, told him that all help was vain. Every year, said they, The mountain spirit claims a victim. The time has come, and this very night will he devour our loveliest maiden. I cowering woman is to the right of this text. The second page shows two men crouched with the following text above them. …This is the cause of the wailing and lamentations And when the young warrior, filled with wonder, enquired further, they told him that at sunset the victim would be put into a sort of enge and carried to that very ruined temple.

In the late 19th century, books about Japan written in English were becoming very popular.  Takejiro Hasegawa took advantage of its popularity.  Beginning in the mid-1880s, he produced a series of Japanese Fairy Tales translated into English. Initially, he intended the books to be directed towards Japanese people who wanted to learn English, but he later discovered that the items were more popular with Westerners.

The first volumes were printed on plain paper illustrated with black and white woodblock images.  When he decided to move into printing the books for non-Japanese consumers, he wanted to use color illustrations in the books to attract buyers.  Hasegawa wanted his books to be distinctly Japanese, while at the same time familiar to Western tourists. The books were printed to be read from left to right, and the image and text were printed in separate areas. In Japanese printing, the text would have been printed over the images in most cases. 

The popularity of the fairy tales came when Hasegawa started to print the books on crepe-paper.  He made the decision to use crepe-paper because it was "distinctive, exotic, and most appealing to Western tastes." Westerners loved the paper because of its unique texture and the fact that the crepe-paper was durable enough to be used by children.

Schippeitaro was written in 1888 by Mrs. Thomas H. (Kate) James. Mrs. James was married to a lieutenant in the British Navy who had an appointment in Japan .  She became enamored with the Japanese language and literature through the influence of Basil Hall Chamberlain, her husband's colleague.  Chamberlain and Lietenant James were writing the first English language guide on Japan when Mrs. James was introduced to Hasegawa.  Mrs. James was known for translating Japanese fairy tales into English to entertain her children, and Hasegawa, being aware of her translation abilities, contracted her to translate fairy tales for his crepe-paper series. She ended up being his most prolific author by producing 13 books from 1886-1903.

McCain Library & Archives owns two Japanese Crepe-Paper Books – Schippeitaro (1888) and The Wonderful Tea Kettle (1890). For more information, contact Jennifer Brannock at or 601.266.4347. To see more Items of the Month, click here.

For more information on Japanese Crepe-Paper Books:

Sharf, Frederic A. Takejiro Hasegawa: Meiji Japan 's Preeminent Publisher of Wood-Block-Illustrated Crepe-Paper Books . Salem : Peabody Essex Museum , 1994. (This title is not owned by USM libraries, but may be borrowed through Document Delivery in Cook Library)

Text by Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian