Gaikotsu’s Postcards

Or: Aitch’s Pick

This post comes to us, not from the usual source, namely my own expeditions of internet spelunking, but rather from an altogether more novel source- a friend of mine by the name of Mr. H. Most of you will remember Aitch fondly from his revered and only recently shuttered blog Giornale Nuovo. Well, it so happens that Aitch came across some images which he felt needed to be shared with the populace at large. He went ahead and crafted a post, leaving it here on The Nonist’s doorstep like a beautiful and cooing orphaned baby. Who am I, and indeed who are you, to do anything but embrace it lovingly?

So, without further interuption from me, here is Mr. H’s post on journalist Miyatake Gaikotsu and his collection of humorous and often obscure early 20th century postcards-


In 1907, the Osaka-based journalist Miyatake Gaikotsu began publishing The World of Illustrated Postcards (Ehagaki Sekai) as a colour supplement to his monthly Humorous Journal (Kokkei Shinbun). This supplement took the form of a printed sheet of card, folded into an eight-page booklet, containing thirty postcards. Each card bore a colour design and a caption. In some cases the humour was straightforwardly coarse, in others, confusingly obscure: many readers are supposed to have complained of images they were unable to understand accompanied by captions that seemed to cast no light on them.

Gaikotsu was born Miyatake Kameshiro in Kagawa prefecture in 1867. His assumed surname means skeleton or skull. He launched his first satirical magazine at the age of 20. An article parodying the Emperor earned him, in 1889, a fine and the first of four prison sentences. Undeterred, Gaikotsu started the Kokkei Shinbun in 1901. It was a popular success, but his lampoons of police chiefs, dishonest businessmen and corrupt journalists attracted numerous fines and threats: at length, Gaikotsu voluntarily shut the paper down in 1909, ending it with a ‘Suicide Issue.’

I scanned these images from the current issue of FMR magazine, in which, in an essay about Gaikotsu and his postcards, Enrico Sturani writes: “Of those who created [the postcards], only one was known as an artist; the others were chosen from among the contributors to the Humorous Journal, possibly from among the printers, or among the public itself. But it was Miyatake who set the tone, either by choosing the sketches to be published, or by inviting a couple of the most prolific draughtsmen to accompany him to the baths to discuss new subjects, and ways of representing them.”

Besides commissioning postcards, Gaikotsu also collected them: he compiled more than two hundred albums of cards, many of them grouped thematically. There are, for example, albums devoted to women’s hairstyles, to illustrations of fruit, of clouds, and ‘curious things.’ There are albums of specially handmade postcards, of foreign postcards, of commemorative postcards. Even in the privacy of his collection, there is evidence of Gaikotsu’s satirical temperament in one album’s title: ‘Military Men - those who have destroyed Japan.’


Thanks Aitch!

About all I can add to that is to say searches for more info on Gaikotsu, in English at least, don’t turn up much info. One thing I noticed, however, is that he does get mentioned in quite a few papers and articles dealing with Japanese sexuality at the turn of the last century. This seems to be for a couple of reasons-

For one he was a journalist with a decidedly mischievous bent and relayed many stories of daily life in the late Mejii and early Taisho periods which, because of their intention to amuse, reveal details which would otherwise likely go unreported.

The second reason are the postcards themselves.

Quote: “During the 1910’s, japanese porno-kitch was at it’s zenith. the artist and satirist Gaikotsu (Skeleton) Miyakatake filled his famous Kokkei Shinbun (Comic Newspaper) with a wealth of sexual innuendo… There were phallo-vuvlar symbols and all kinds of hints at sexual pastimes and phenomena- the most daring probably being the maid with with the japanese flag wrapped around her waist and carrying a sign saying “Today we are closed for a holiday”. The hint at monthly indisposition was suggested by having the red sun placed directly over her genital area. It can hardly have endeared Miyatake to the authorities; it pointed to a certain dissent in attitude, if not fact.”  -Fran Lioyd, Consuming Bodies: Sex and Contemporary Japanese Art.

Lastly I offer the following paltry bit of linkage for those wanting to explore further-

Postcard Guide Japan on Kokkei Shimbun postcards

MFA Boston’s Art of the Japanese Postcard which ostensibly has a large collection of works from Kokkei Shimbun, but whose images seem not to be loading.

Itami City Musum of Art [Japanese] which is evidently having a Gaikotsu show later this month, and the Kawasaki City Museum [Japanese] which had one fairly recently.

The Japanese wikipedia page for Gaikotsu

This odd Video offers at least 4 “pocketbook edition” collections of Gaikotsu’s work that I’ve been able to identify, though they are, of course, in Japanese.

From both Aitch and I-
Hope you enjoyed.

01.06. filed under: design. history. people. 15