Obituary: Yanagihara Ryohei

Obituary for Ryohei Yanagihara

Ian Lynam looks at the career of legendary postwar illustrator and whiskey promoter Yanagihara Ryōhei.

On Monday, August 17, Japan lost one of its greatest post-War illustrators and animators — the inestimable Yanagihara Ryōhei (柳原良平). His creations have had a consistent presence across Japan since he created the character Uncle Torys (アンクルトリス), featured prominently in Suntory Whiskey ads in the 1950s and 1960s and revived over the past decade for a number of promotional campaigns that spurred Japan’s recent highball boom.

View Yanagihara’s animations for Suntory’s original canned highball product, Wistan, here:

In 2008, Suntory made new commercials utilizing Yanagihara-style characters and mimicking his original animation style.

Uncle Torys — a diminutive, sexually promiscuous character with a penchant for hooch — appeared across innumerable pieces of print and broadcast advertising, but was most in action in “Yoshu Mame Tengoku”「洋酒まめ天国」 (“A Piece of Liquor Heaven”), Suntory’s house “style guide” for the swinging gentleman of the 1950s and 1960s. “Yoshu Mame Tengoku” featured sexploitative illustrations contained within baroque borders on the cover designs by Yanagihara as well as racy nude photography and explicit sexual illustration (with j-u-s-t the right amount of detail left out to not enrage censors) by Yokoo Tadanori and others including Yanagihara himself to illustrate the bawdy tales within. The palm-sized book-like magazines were the read at assorted bars throughout Japan during that time.

Uncle Tory’s pink visage also appeared in countless promotional items, from posters to figurines to assorted accoutrements, helping to sear the horny caricature onto Japan’s national consciousness. Unknown to many Japanese consumers at that time was that Yanagihara’s character’s skin color-change upon drinking Suntory products was a fairly direct swipe from French designer A.M. Cassandre’s series of 1930s posters for the wine company Dubonnet.

Yanagihara’s work for Suntory vaulted him into a freelance career designing innumerable book covers for assorted publishers including Kogumasha and Gakken, making record jackets for Toshiba-EMI, and creating thousands of illustrations for assorted shipping companies.

Yanagihara’s work for clients like Mitsui O.S.K. lines (with his own Yanagihara Museum web page), Sado Steam Ship Co., Ltd., Taiheiyo Ferry Co, Ltd., and Tokai Kisen Co. Ltd. perhaps fully expressed Yanagihara’s love for the sea and for marine transport. Over the years, he was awarded the title of “Honorary Captain” for each company — a first for an illustrator anywhere in the world. One can still obtain promotional products for Mitsui O.S.K. featuring illustrations by Yanagihara here.

Yanagihara worked in animation as well as illustration. He formed the three-member experimental animation and production company Animation Sannin no Kai (三人の会) with Kuri Yōji (久里洋二) and Manabe Hiroshi (真鍋博) in 1960 where they created a number of stop-motion works that were played at a screening in Sogetsu Hall in Akasaka. (You can see some examples of their work from that time on Kuri’s Facebook page here).

See more of Yanagihara’s animated work here in this playlist.

Yanagihara explored sequential art in manga form, as well—drawing the manga strip “Kyo mo Ichinichi”/今日も一日 (A Long Day Today) for the evening edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun from 1962 through 1966.

Ryohei Yanagihara

Perhaps the most iconic image that we have of Yanagihara is that of him with highball raised and surrounded by models of ships — an image of a Yokohama man happy with his work. We can only hope that he finds this kind of peace above as he did here on earth.

August 24, 2015

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

How to License Japanese Images

Licensing images in Japan

W. David Marx shares lessons from the front lines of licensing 100 images from various Japanese individuals and institutions for his upcoming book on Japanese fashion.

Disclaimer: Very sadly, we are not lawyers, so always consult with your publisher’s legal team or other counsel when making final decisions on image usage. The following article is merely intended to provide general thoughts and guidelines.

Writing about fashion requires visuals, so for my book Ametora: How Japan Saved American Fashion (Basic Books, Fall 2015!), my publisher and I planned on having around 60 images. I ended up finding more than 100 suitable ones, and we ended up using more than 80.

While the publisher helped foot the bill for the image rights, I was responsible for arranging the licensing. In other words, I had to go out and do the legwork to secure the rights for every single one. This took about five months of emails, phone calls, and faxes, but to my surprise, most everyone was happy to grant me rights. In fact, the only explicit “no” came from a famed Japanese electronics company who hilariously did not want me using a 40 year-old advertisement for a boombox because they could not clear the “portraiture rights” of the models whose faces you could not even see anyway.

Seeing that Néojaponisme readers are the type of people likely to write books that require licensing images in Japan, I thought I would pass on everything I learned in the last six months.

Prerequisites for Image Licensing in Japan

First, you need proof that you’re working on a legitimate production — i.e., the name of a publisher, date of publication, title of work, etc.

Second, make yourself a basic template in Japanese that explains what you are working on, so that you can just cut and paste your requests. Even if you do not need it for the initial email, they will ask for it, so just have it ready to go. My form had: book title, paragraph about book’s theme (with heavy name dropping on whom I interviewed), book format, number of Images, publication date, blurb about the publisher, and blurb about me.

Third, you need to prepare yourself (or a trusted associate) to do a lot of phone calls in Japanese — including cold calls to random individuals.

Images Sources

1. Photo Agencies

The easiest place to license photographs in Japan is the newspapers and wire services (prices below are for black-and-white photos, color are often more than ¥20,000.)

Yomiuri is the most expensive, but oddly, seems to have the fewest number of photos. Asahi and Mainichi are particularly easy to sign up for.

There are also a few high-end photo agencies you can use. Aflo has a lot of great images that you will not see elsewhere, as they also manage individual collections of a lot of famous photographers.

Getty is not Japan-focused, but can be useful for finding photos of Japanese celebrities when abroad.

There is an application process for licensing photos on these sites, but it is nearly automatic for any legitimate publication. Once they approved, they just send the image download links over email. Based on price and ease, any image search should start with these agencies.

2. Individual Photographers

For all other images, you will need to reach out to the photographer who took the photos. This includes photos inside magazines — the photographer, rather than the publisher, owns the copyright. The photographer maintains copyright for 50 years after death, so even if they are deceased, you will need to reach out to the family to get rights.

Fees on old photos are highly variable. Sometimes I was not charged for using the old photos, one time I paid ¥30,000, the most of any photo I licensed.

Finding widows and children seems difficult except that there is an organization called the Japan Professional Photographers Society who are happy to pass on contact information for a photographer or next-of-kin. Yes, it will be an awkward call when you ask the son of a deceased photographer to ask to find negatives from fifty years ago, but there really is no other way to do it. Expect to do some faxing too. Also note that some famous photographers are not part of the Society.

For personal or family photographs, most people do not charge but you do need to secure permissions.

3. Illustrations

Illustrations work the same way as photographs — illustrators retain rights to their images used in magazines. There is an illustrators’ society called the Japan Illustrators’ Association, but I did not use them. To find one illustrator, I had to contact a tailor he did work for many years ago, beg for a phone number, and then have the conversation with the illustrator’s wife that started as, “So in 1989 your husband did a piece in Hot Dog Press…”

Also, there are no standard prices for illustrations, so you have to negotiate. For most of the ones in my book, the illustration itself was an important historical marker of style (rather than eye candy), so the illustrators gave me lower prices.

4. Magazine Covers

Most publishers will let you use these for free but you need permission. One publisher I dealt with normally charges for use of covers in Japanese media but gave me a pass because I was referencing it in a semi-academic work.

5. Magazine pages

Reprinting magazine pages is a gray area that depends on the publisher. Copyright on magazine pages is not cut-and-dry, and as far as I could deduce, publishers are very unlikely to actually own copyright on all the content in the pages. Each person responsible — the writer, the illustrator, the photographer, the advertiser — owns their own copyrights for the material.

So it comes down to case-by-case usage: One publisher told me that I could basically use anything as long as I referenced it as a “visual quotation” (i.e. fair use). Another publisher told me that the magazine I was referencing no longer existed and they did not care how I used anything (and then hung up on me.)

One major publisher said the only thing off-limits was when pages use non-Japanese models, as they sometimes have deals that their images are not used outside of Japan.

Managing Risk

Japan is often said to be a “low risk” society, and this mindset sometimes becomes a barrier to licensing images. Many rights holders or parties involved may simply reject a licensing request because there is some risk — albeit extremely low — of a future lawsuit. Here are a few additional things that you will have to think about but will come down to managing risk.

Portraiture Rights
The primary uncertainty when licensing photos in Japan is so-called “portraiture rights” (肖像権, shōzōken). From my limited legal understanding, this is not a right explicitly guaranteed by Japanese law, but people over the years have been able to sue under basic constitutional personal rights protections when they can prove damage from someone publishing an image of them without consent.

Celebrities are the most likely to sue over portraiture rights because they can claim that the publication is using their likeness to promote the book or otherwise damage their reputation. Normal people, however, can and have sued before. The most obvious case would be a photographer taking an unauthorized street snap of a young man in a terrible outfit which goes online to have commenters savage his outfit and identify his name. But what about someone whose photo was taken fifty years ago for a fashion magazine and listed as a particularly stylish person?

Knowing that there is always some risk of a lawsuit, rights agencies license you a photo and then tell you that it is your responsibility to “clear” the portraiture rights for anyone in the photo. But just imagine for a second what this task entails when the photo is twelve young men from 1964 in a shot of Ginza.

It bears repeating that I am not a lawyer, but there are some commonsense ways to lower potential risk: (1) not use images of people in a way that denigrates them or could seem damaging (2) do not use images of celebrities on the cover without permission (3) make sure the text references the images so that you can show there was a “fair use” context for using the image. Fair use does not exist in Japanese law, but it will still help your case if you are able to show that the image was critical for illustrating the narrative rather than just “eye candy.”

There are different laws on portraiture rights depending on which country you publish, so always consult with your publisher’s legal team before making any decision.

Also note that in one case I did not need to pay a licensing fee to a photographer for the use of a photo, but I did have to pay a small fee for “portraiture rights” to the estate of the person in the photo.

Orphan Works
If you are writing a history and want to show images illustrating historical moments, you will definitely uncover many great images that are essentially “orphan” works. The photographer or illustrator may be unlisted or unreachable; it may be an advertisement from a company that no longer exists.

Using these images opens you up to some level of legal risk, so you have to make a decision weighing the risk involved.

The Japanese government recently has changed the law to ease the licensing burden when all copyright owners cannot be located, but this only extends to certain trusted organizations, which we are guessing, you are not part of. This seems to signal, however, a liberalization of copyright towards orphan works.

Public Domain
Any photo or illustration where the creator passed away more than fifty years ago (that’s now 1965!) is now in the public domain. Have fun.

W. David MARX
July 22, 2015

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Dad music for the Japanese summer

Dad Music

Matt Treyvaud lists out the hot summer jamz — Father Edition — for 2015.

Let’s be real. It takes a very careful series of life choices to keep attending all-night dub improv happenings in Shimokitazawa forever. For most of us, the appeal of settling down eventually wins out, and for a smaller but still substantial proportion of us, children follow. Parenthood entails many responsibilities, but here we address one of the gauntlets thrown at the feet of men in particular: dad music. (Mom music will be covered in a later post, if we can find someone to write it.)

Listening to dad music is one of the hallmarks of being a dad. But what is dad music in 2015? The traditional record collection-based definition makes no sense in a world where everyone has access to all music at all times. Yes — dad music, too, requires curation. Here, then, is our offering as the Japanese summer closes in.

Beating the heat

High humidity calls for spare music. You can’t be expected to endure a whole bunch of jangling and drumming and harmonizing when even your own clothes feel like wet towels against your skin. Oshima Yasukatsu‘s Bagashima nu uta – Song of My Islands, an album of traditional songs from Yaeyama, is what you need. The first full minute is just Oshima singing. Then he starts plucking languidly on his sanshin as well. That’s it. That’s as thick as the texture on this album gets. This is music that passes through the room like a gentle breeze, leaving no possibility of mold behind.

(Those seeking something a little more dad might consider Oshima’s Shimameguri – Island Journey, which features guest appearances from members of Kiroro and Altan.)

A touch of class

You can’t neglect the jazz side of things. How is your kid going to grow up to be a saxophone player living in a garret in New York if you don’t expose them to the music before they know any better? On the other hand, you’re a dad, and you’re worried that too much jazz will eat into your prog time. Solution: Fukamachi Jun‘s Haru no yo no yume (“A dream on a spring night based on the Tale of the Heike”). Okay, the season isn’t quite right — but just listen to Rakujitsu no shō (“The sinking Heike”). That is a summer synthesizer by any definition.

(Note: This album is also approved by Planet Mellotron.)

Rocking out

The kids are out catching tadpoles. Your wife is at an antique fair. Now is the time to open the window and let the neighborhood know that you remember how to rock. (But considerately.)

You have many options for this one. Most of the Taj Mahal Travelers’ oeuvre, for example, is available at bargain prices from Amazon Japan’s digital music store. They take a while to get going, though. Your family might come home at any moment and demand that you turn it down. For a quicker fix, why not dig out that battered old disc from the back of the 9×9 CD wallet you bought in college – Ghost’s Lama Rabi Rabi?

Did you know it’s been almost twenty years since that album was released?

Hold that feeling. Your kids are at the door.

July 14, 2015

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

Kickstarter Campaign for Parting It Out by Ian Lynam

Kickstarter campaign for Ian Lynam's new book Parting It Out

Néojaponisme co-founder Ian Lynam launches a Kickstarter campaign for his new book.

Our intrepid co-founder Ian Lynam has been hard at work on a collection of essays about graphic design and culture for the past few years, and the project is just about to come to fruition. He has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the book, titled Parting It Out, which you can view here.

It’s going to be a very Néojaponisme-esque book – our very own W. David Marx has written the introduction essay and there are a number of essays which prominently talk about Japanese graphic design past and present – some previously published here and some new.

If you look in the Updates for the project, you’ll also find the foreword for the book, as well as a link to a previously unpublished 110-page zine with an essay by Ian along with hundreds of photos of vernacular signage in Fukuoka.

There are a few other surprises, as well — the video for the campaign features a previously unreleased song from Evan of Ratatat, and the book features collaborations with design critics Randy Nakamura and Chris Ro.

Please feel free to share this Kickstarter campaign with your friends and colleagues, and if you’re feeling generous, we invite you to help back the project.

February 10, 2015

Team Néojaponisme are a-okay. Thanks for asking.

Public Domain Day 2015

Japanese Public Domain Day

Matt Treyvaud looks at the latest works of Japanese literature to hit the public domain, including a guide to rakugo argot.

Every year Japan puts older creative works into the public domain — something that no longer happens in the United States. For works of literature, the tireless website Aozora Bunko celebrates Public Domain Day each year on January 1 by presenting a neat list of newly free works. (Note, however, that these works may not be considered public domain in other jurisdictions, including the U.S., because Japanese copyright — “life + 50 years” — is on the short side by international standards.)

This year, Aozora Bunko released works by ten different authors. One noteworthy example: critic and free verse poet Miyoshi Tatsuji‘s groundbreaking Surveying Ship (“It is twilight/ O mother, push my pram/ Towards the tear-damp evening sun/ Push my creaking pram”). Another: feminist historian and activist Takamure Itsue‘s “From the Standpoint of Research into Women’s History” (“Women’s history is a completely new field for development, and if this research is continued, it is only natural that many fallacious aspects of the hitherto prevailing views of history should be corrected”).

Okay, one more: rakugo artist San’yūtei Kinba III‘s “Argot Etymology.” Most of this essay is about the argot used by the author and his contemporaries in the entertainment industry (so, mainly the senbo tradition deriving from Osakan puppeteers of the Edo period) but there are some interesting comments about his era’s shopgirl slang too. Towards the end, for example, he lists some senbo number words:

  • 1 = hei, the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of 平, meaning “flat, level”
  • 2 = biki, from the Japanese crest known as maru ni futatsu-biki, “circle with two [lines] drawn [through it]”
  • 3 = yama, because the character 山 (yama, “mountain”) has three points on top
  • 4 = Sasaki, after the quartered-square crest of Sasaki Takatsuna, visible on a flag here
  • 5 = katako, because if you’re counting things on your fingers, you can count to five (go-ko) on one hand (kata-te)
  • 6 = Sanada, after the sixfold crest of the Sanada clan
  • 7 = Tanuma, after Tanuma Okitsugu‘s “seven celestial bodies” (七曜) crest
  • 8 = yawata, a native Japanese pronunciation of 八幡 “Hachiman
  • 9 = kiwa, because it’s on the edge (kiwa) of ten

All these can also be found in Umegaki Minoru’s 1956 Argot Dictionary 隠語辞典, albeit with different etymologies in some cases. For example, observing that katako and biki show up as kata-kobushi (“one fist”) and maebiki (“front-puller”) in other traditions, Umegaki proposes those as the direct sources for those two. Mind you, he is unsure what “front-puller” is supposed to mean (“Because carriages were pulled by two men?” he asks forlornly).

Anyway, should you ever need to talk business with a rakugo artist without the other punters catching on, now you can. Happy Public Domain Day!

January 6, 2015

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.