BKAS ESSAY SHORT (No. 9) May 2023

Advertising Asia-related Books in the Times Literary Supplement

Peter Robinson (Japan Women's University

There has been considerable research charting he changing relationship between Japan and its ally Britain from the singing of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902, to the commencement of hostilities in WWII.  These four decades saw, the emergence of the idea of near-equal allies with distinct geopolitical sphere ("two-island empires"), Japans rapid economic and industrial development and increasing military threat which began to be recognised at the Washing to Conference. Internally, Japan had seen whole-sale restructuring of is society after the Meiji restoration, with increasing Western influence and fascination with modernity, best captured by Hisui Sugiura's (1876-1965) posters of the new Ginza Line which opened in 1927, and Mitsukoshi department store, for which he worked as a graphic designer. Such rapid changes were not accepted by all, and there remained great ambivalence as to whether Japan was moving in the right direction Tenshin Okakura (1863-1913) in his Kokka magazine made a powerful case for Japan protecting and preserving is culture, while Kitagawa Utamaru's (1753-1806) wood block prints gained regained popularity in the late 19th century as they often expressed people caught in a liminal state, unsure of which way to turn. Japan's rush towards modernity was not only captured by Japanese, but also by a string of foreign journalists, writers, artists and adventurers such as Elizabeth Keith who drew what she saw for her brother-in-law's New East journal and later the Times Japanese Supplement (see Robinson, Competing Imperialisms in Northeast Asia, 1893-1951, 2024).

There has been interesting work on how power changes in Asia more generally were meditated through images. Peter O'Connor has shown how postcards offer an interesting approach to tracking the strings of empire, while John Dower's The Brittle Decade: Visualising Japan in the 1930s (2012)has shown how important propaganda was in projecting images of Japan on a global stage. Despite this, little work has been done on the advertising of books about Japan and the East at this time. The enormous work required in collecting and collating the usually ephemeral material, makes his lacunae unsurprising, but the author's two BKAS Essay Shorts the Hokuseido Press and the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) has given a glimpse of the rich insights that such a focus might bring. However, whatever interesting insights have been gained, it is necessary to have something more systematic, featuring a broad body of data that surveys the whole period. The following therefore represents a brief explorative visual foray into one potential avenue: The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), founded in 1902, which sill going strong, and which has carried a range of book advertisements from its leading British and American publishers since its inception and its indexed. Commencing the same date as the Anglo-Japanese it is inferred that just as the tone of Western publications changed drastically from pro-Japanese to stern warnings of the threat she posed to British interests, such as T. O'Conroy's The Menace of Japan (1934), and Lord Northcliffe's famous 'Watch Japan' article, so too did the accompany advertising material. A full analysis of the advertising frequency of works on Japan and China in the TLS, the one and aesthetic design is yet to come, but below are typical samples which point to the potential for rewarding future research.

Potential for Quantitative Analysis

The TLS presents a good opportunity for quantitative analysis of book advertising due to its length of publication (1902-onwards) and consistent format. The Index, provided at the end of each year, is particularly useful as it lists advertisements and articles, under countries such as Japan and China. However, care should be taken to include other search terms that might cover target publications such as 'Oriental', 'Far East', 'Asia' and so on. This poses some definitional problems too as for most of the 19th century and into the 20th century, 'oriental' was used to refer to people of the Middle-East, as well as parts of the Indian subcontinent and was associated with exoticism. The two volumes sampled were 1906 and 1907. In this period, the TLS carried a classified page 'List of New Books and Reprint' [see Figure 1] which gave notice of new books and reprints that had been supplied to them for review. Each entry gives the title, author, publisher and price, occasionally with additional information.

Figure 1: Extract from 'List of New Books and Reprints', TLS 1906. (c) Shadowlands Newspaper Archive.

The paid-for placed advertisements contained no references to Japan, China, or the Far East, but may well do so in the later period when such advertisements became more prominent. Nevertheless, this list provides a useful schematic classification of works which might be readily adopted for quantitative analysis. In the sample years looked at, the categories most often used were, military (not surprisingly given the cessation of the Russo-Japanese War just a year before and global interest in Japan's powerful naval fleet), Religion (accounted for by the prevalence of missionaries in China and Japan in the period), and culture. A full data-driven analysis of books published pertaining to, for example Japan, would give scholars a good impression of the degree to which Japan was, to borrow modern parlance, "trending" as a subject of scholarly attention or as a point of fascination with the public. It's anticipated that this interest would pique at or shortly after certain events such as the Japan-British exhibition held in 1910 which was heavily promoted and much attended by the public. [Figure 2][i]

Figure 2: Times Japan-British Exhibition special issue, 19 July 1910. (c) Shadowlands Newspaper Library.


Given the TLS's purpose is to not only advertise books, but also to review them, the existence of long-form reviews offers significant potential for examination. In the sample analysed, eleven works featuring Japan were reviewed and they are listed below. Unfortunately, the TLS policy of anonymous review means that in most cases the reviewers remain unidentified. It has been suggested that reviews act as an important form of advertisement as well as a way of judging the scholarly and literary merits of a work, while potentially affecting how customers approach a particular title and their reading dispositions. Of the 11 reviews, the greatest number related to either the Russo-Japanese war, Japan's naval fleet, or its place in the world. Approximately half of the titles featured were written by Japanese, and the editorial line in the reviews was broadly sympathetic to Japan, arguing for its right to correct Western prejudices and errors, and downplaying its threat to Britain’s Empire. For example, discussion of the 'yellow peril' was countered with the observation that until the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, Britain and the West represented a 'white peril'. The reviewers were less sympathetic to Western visitors of Japan and the East with the review of Hubert Jerningam's From West to East, 'quite superficial'. Irrespective of this, receiving a long review allowed more people to take notice of it, and we know that the public's relationship with literary and film criticism is not straightforward. The long review of Tenshin Okakura's selection of Japanese art which first appeared in Kokka follows the broad editorial line in pointing out how refreshing it is to hear the Japanese view of their own art, but fails to note that the preponderance of Japanese artists from the Yamato school  and under-representation of the Chinese School was part of a cultural nationalism which was being promote don the pages of Kokka by its editor Tenshin, as has been outlined by Keith Hanley and Aiko Watanabe in 'Kokka, Okakura Kakuzō, and the Aesthetic Construction of Late Meiji Cultural Nationalism' (WIAS Discussion Paper. 2019. 2019-003).

Full reviews on articles about Japan (1906-1907 TLS)

  • 1) A Fantasy of Far Japan by Baron Suyematsu (Constable, 10s 6d) 9 January 1906, p. 21.
  • 2) From Libau to Tsushima by Eugene S Politovsky (Murray 6s) 14 September 1906
  • 3) La Guerre Navale Moderne: by Michel Merys (Paris: Challamel 3f) 14 Sept 1906
  • 4) Fighting Ships, 1905-1907, Ed. Fred T Jane (Sampson Low 21s) 14 Sept 1906
  • 5) Masterpieces of Thirty Great Paintings of Japan (Tokyo: The Kokka Company) 14 December 1906, p. 415.
  • 6) The International Position of Japan as a Great Power, by Seiji G. Hishida (Columbia University Press) 18 January 1907, p. 18.
  • 7) From West to East, by Sir Hubert Jerningham (Murray 15s) 22 February 1907, p. 59.
  • 8) Japanese Rule in Formosa, by Yosaburo Takekoshi [trans. George Braithwaite (Longmans 10s 6d) 12 April 1907, p. 1.
  • 9) The Truce in the East and Its Aftermath, by BL Putnam Weale (Macmillan 12s 6d) 12 April 1907, p. 1.
  • 10) Signs and Portents in the Far East, by Everard Cotes (Methuen 7s 6d) 12 April 1907, p. 1.
  • 11) The Call of the East, by Charlotte Lorimer (Gay and Bird 3s 6d) 26 April 1907, p. 131.

Placed Advertisements

Placed advertisements in the period examined were not found, but as the TLS developed in the 1920s and 1930, and advertising became more sophisticated and visual, other elements characterising advertisements for Asian books are likely o become prevalent.

[i] See for example the special supplement in The Times newspaper issued on the 19 July 1910.

This article had been scheduled to appear in March 2023, but a website redesign delayed publication.