Many of the readers may have experienced the fortune of a stranger having a profound effect on one’s life. This is precisely what happened when Ogawa Kazumasa (Isshin) (1860-1929), a Meiji and Taishô era pioneer in photography and photographic print publishing, met Okabe Nagatomo (1855-1925), domain lord of the former Kishiwada domain near Osaka. In 1884, the virtually penniless 24-year-old Ogawa boarded the American naval ship as a sailor to travel to the United States to study the most advanced photography techniques. Studying in Boston while surviving on very little means, he met Sakakibara Kôitsu, a former samurai from Kishiwada domain. Sakakibara who felt sorry for Ogawa’s difficult circumstances wrote to his former domain lord, Okabe Nagatomo, who was at the time studying in England. While Okabe never met the young Ogawa when he received Sakakibara’s appeal for help, he agreed nonetheless to provide financial support for the young man’s studies and encouraged him to learn not just photography but also photographic printing techniques.
Who was this generous Okabe Nagatomo? Okabe was born in 1855 as the first son of the then Kishiwada domain lord, Okabe Nagayuki. He lost his father when he was a 13-month-old baby. Too young to succeed his father as lord, his uncle assumed the role until Okabe was old enough. Okabe was officially installed as Kishiwada domain lord in 1868 at the age of 15, the same year of the Meiji Restoration. In the following year as part of the voluntary return of the domains to Imperial control (hanseki hôkan), his title was changed from lord (hanshu) to governor (han chiji) in return for relinquishing hereditary authority of their land to the central government. In 1871 when the abolition of the han system (haihan chiken) came into effect, former domain lords including Okabe who had been officially appointed as governors were all dismissed from service. In 1875 he used the opportunity to set sail to the United States to study and continued on to England before returning to Japan in 1883. In the following year, he was given the title of Viscount. He then entered diplomatic service and progressed to take on influential governmental roles including a seat at the House of Lords in addition to serving as the Governor of Tokyo, justice minister and privy councillor.
Despite having survived a turbulent period, Okabe’s privileged birth and upbringing provided him with ‘an outstanding appreciation for culture and an exceptional understanding of the arts’, which according to Matsuo Jumyô in Ogawa Kazumasa monogatari vol. 3 is demonstrated in his art appreciation book entitled Bijutsu Kyokugaika, (although I have not been able to confirm the said title that Okabe penned).
The relationship between Ogawa and Okabe continued when both men returned to Japan. In 1885 a year after Ogawa returned from the United States, Okabe provided financial support for him to open a photography studio. It was also Okabe who named the studio Gyokujunkan. While the photography studio was being prepared, Ogawa travelled with Okabe to Nikko to photograph landscapes. During the trip, Okabe guided Ogawa with detailed advice including the angles to best frame the landscape.
In 1897, Okabe became a member to the House of Lords and was also influential as a member of the Council on Railways, a special advisory council set up between 1892 and 1946. Three years into his councillorship, the landscape album, Sights and scenes in fair Japan, was published from Tetsudôin (Imperial Government Railways), a central government office for railway administration. It is quite possible that Okabe was involved in the production of the book.
As the title suggests, Sights and Scenes in Fair Japan published by the Imperial Government Railways around 1910 is a colour photograph book containing famous views and sites of Japan. The 50-handcoloured images and two coloured maps with accompanying English captions make up the book. While Ogawa’s name in this copy, gifted by Sir Hugh Cortazzi to the Lisa Sainsbury Library, does not appear in the album, his seal is present on the last page of the book. The publication date is not for certain, however, the mention of ‘Photographs by K. Ogawa. F.R.P.S’ in his seal suggests that the book was published after Ogawa became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1895. Furthermore, the timing of his link with Ogawa suggests that the book was published after 1897. All photographs in this volume can be accessed online via the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies’ website.
At the Lisa Sainsbury Library, we also have a copy of a virtually identical book with the same title, size, and cover design. This copy also donated to the Library by Sir Hugh Cortazzi, however, is published by Ogawa Photography Studio with the date November 1910 (Meiji 43). While the cover design mirrors the Imperial Government Railways copy, that copy is bound using a Japanese style binding method. The title and the traditional azuma kudari pattern is woven into the textile. The Ogawa Studio version is bound using western format with the same cover design as that of the Imperial Railways version, but as a printed design on fabric. On the spine is a gold-leaf pressed title in Japanese using eloquent Chinese characters, and while I can confirm that the book was not bound in Europe, I am not certain whether the binding is original. The photographic contents are the same as those in the Imperial Railways version, however, Ogawa’s version includes captions in both English and Japanese.
Both versions include one photograph of Nikko. Perhaps this may be an image taken when Ogawa visited Nikko with Okabe. I would argue that the relationship Ogawa had with Okabe has helped him polish his photographic eye.
Ogawa, in addition to the Imperial Government Railways project, has worked on other key commissions including those from the Ministry of the Army, Imperial Household Ministry and other governmental institutions. While I no doubt believe his many involvements to be based on his photographic excellence, I may be criticised for going further to imagine Okabe’s influence in the background. Ogawa certainly owed his entire success on Okabe and Sakakibara, who first introduced the aspiring photographer to Okabe. In reflection of his success, Ogawa stated, ‘For a humble person like myself to be able to attain this current position and to maintain it has been made possible only and wholly by the generosity of Viscount Okabe and Mr Sakakibara Kôitsu, two people I most respect in my life […] my eyes swell with tears of gratitude when I think of their sincere support.’
Hirano Akira, Librarian
Lisa Sainsbury Library
- Matsuo, Jumyō. “Ogawa Kazumasa no Amerika kenkyu jidai (Ogawa Kazumasa monogatari no.3).” Insatsu Zasshi vol. 22 no. 11 (1939): 33-37.
- Ozawa, Kiyoshi. Shashinkai no senkaku Ogawa Kazumasa no shogai. Tokyo : Nihon Tosho Kankokai, 1994.
- Kokushi Daijiten vol. 2. Tokyo : Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, 1980.“Ogawa Kazumasa Ō keirekidan no. 5.” Asahi Kamera vol. 2 no. 2. (1928): 205-206.
- “Okabe Nagamoto,” Kishiwada City Official Website, accessed 19 January 2017.