The Snow Country

Hokuetsu Seppu [Snow Stories of the North Country].

More than 200 superb woodcut illus., some double-page, others full-page, & some with text by Kyosui Hyakkaku. Two parts in seven vols. (1836: three vols. & 1842: four vols.). Large 8vo, orig. pictorial wrappers depicting snowflakes, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. Osaka: Kawachiya Mohei; Edo: Chojiya Heibei, 1836; Osaka: Kawachiya Mohei & Sakaiya Shinbei; Edo: Chojiya Heibei,1842.

First edition, “luxury issue,” and a superb set on superior white washi paper, of this beautifully illustrated work on life in what is today Niigata Prefecture, known for its long winters and enormous quantities of snow. The author, Suzuki (1770-1842), was a successful textile merchant and a leading figure in his town of Shiozawa. His family was well known for its literary activities. He published the first part (issued in three volumes) in 1836 and a second part (in four volumes) in 1842. This work, which quickly became a bestseller, covers a wide range of topics, from the varieties of snow to the customs, lifestyles, events, festivals, local dialects, industries, and folktales of Japan’s snow country. It was Hokuetsu Seppu that introduced the “snow country” to the rest of Japan and the world. Today there is a museum dedicated to Suzuki and his Hokuetsu Seppu in his native town in Niigata Prefecture.

Santo Kyozan, a gesaku writer, assisted in the publication of the text by contributing a preface, editing the text, and finding a publisher. His son, Kyosui Hyakkaku (1816-60), prepared the illustrations based on the original sketches by Suzuki. The illustrations in this work are most remarkable. They are not just in black and white, but also employ shades of gray to give a greater range and effect to the images.

It is interesting to note that the book has considerable scientific value, as it contains some of the first Japanese illustrations of snowflake crystals, depicting 35 examples. The book is also notable for its depictions of the very special snow-bleaching technique for textiles, giving them a special texture and finish.

There are several issues of this work. There are two earlier issues of the first part, each with a number of errors, which have been corrected in our issue. The second part has one earlier issue, again with errors now corrected in our issue. Our “luxury” issue is known to be the most beautifully printed of any of the issues. We recently examined a copy of one of the earlier issues: it was clearly printed on inferior paper, and the power of the images was greatly diminished. The whiteness of the paper in our issue makes the illustrations so much clearer and more beautiful. It is extremely rare to be able to offer both parts of the “luxury” issue together.

The bindings bear delicate embossed stamps of snowflakes against a graduated background of pale gray to dark gray, symbolizing life in the snow country, with darkening winter skies. The wrappers of the second part are also heightened with red printing. Other issues have less complex binding designs.

Fine set, with the original publisher’s wrappers laid-in. The upper wrapper of the first volume of the first part is a little soiled. The first volume of the second part has some marginal worming, not touching text or image.

❧ See Roger Keyes, Ehon. The Artist and the Book in Japan (2006), pp. 210-11. See also the facsimile edition published in 1975 with a Foreword explaining the bibliographical aspects of the printings of this book.

Price: $29,500.00

Item ID: 7686

See all items by