A Wonderfully Illustrated 1925 Japanese Edition of Aesop’s Fables by Legendary Children’s Book Illustrator Takeo Takei


Most of us have inter­nal­ized the con­tent of a fair few of Aesop’s fables but have long since for­got­ten the source — if, indeed, we read it close to the source in the first place. Whether or not we’ve had any real aware­ness of the ancient Greek sto­ry­teller him­self, we’ve cer­tain­ly encoun­tered his sto­ries in count­less much more recent inter­pre­ta­tions over the decades. My per­son­al favorite ren­di­tions came, skewed, in the form of the “Aesop and Son” seg­ments on Rocky and Bull­win­kle, but this 1925 Japan­ese edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables, illus­trat­ed by huge­ly respect­ed chil­dren’s artist Takeo Takei, must cer­tain­ly rank in the same league.


Takei began his career in the ear­ly 1920s, illus­trat­ing chil­dren’s mag­a­zine cov­ers, col­lec­tions of Japan­ese folk­tales and orig­i­nal sto­ries, and even young­ster-ori­ent­ed writ­ings of his own. Even in that ear­ly peri­od, he showed a pro­fes­sion­al inter­est in giv­ing new aes­thet­ic life to not just old sto­ries but old non-Japan­ese sto­ries, such as The Thou­sand and One Nights and Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen’s fairy tales. It was dur­ing that time that he took on the chal­lenge of putting his own aes­thet­ic stamp on Aesop.


You can see quite a few of Takei’s Aesop illus­tra­tions at the book design and illus­tra­tion site 50watts, whose author notes that he found the images in the data­base of Japan’s Nation­al Diet Library. Even if you can’t read the Japan­ese, you’ll know the fables in ques­tion — “The Tor­toise and the Hare,” “The North Wind and the Sun,” “The Wolf and the Crane” — after noth­ing more than a glance at Takei’s live­ly art­work, which takes Aesop’s well-known char­ac­ters (often ani­mals or nat­ur­al forces per­son­i­fied) and dress­es them up in the nat­ty style of jazz-age Tokyo high soci­ety.


Takei would go on to enjoy a long career after illus­trat­ing Aesop’s Fables. A decade after its pub­li­ca­tion, he would begin pro­duc­ing his best-known series of works, the “kam­pon” (in Japan­ese, “pub­lished book”). With these 138 vol­umes, he explored the form of the illus­trat­ed chil­dren’s book in every way he pos­si­bly could, using, accord­ing to rarebook.com, “tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of let­ter­press, wood­block, wood engrav­ing, sten­cil, etch­ing and lith­o­g­ra­phy,” as well as clay block-prints and “def­i­nite­ly non-tra­di­tion­al images of woven labels, paint­ed glass, ceram­ic, and cel­lo-slides — trans­paren­cies com­posed of bright cel­lo­phane paper.” He would con­tin­ue work­ing work­ing right up until his death in 1983, leav­ing a lega­cy of influ­ence on Japan­ese visu­al cul­ture as deep as the one Aesop left on sto­ry­telling.


via 50watts

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917–1931)

Adver­tise­ments from Japan’s Gold­en Age of Art Deco

Glo­ri­ous Ear­ly 20th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902–1954)

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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