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Japanese Women Photographers Collection

With the goal of documenting and giving platforms to underrepresented voices, the Penn Libraries is actively growing our Japanese Women Photographers Collection, reflecting a vast range of artistic and social visions by Japanese women who may or may not have had a visible platform during their active years as photographers.

A person holds up a large Japanese flag. Only their feet are visible behind it.

Collection Overview

The 20th-century history of photography in Japan has disproportionately emphasized the work of male photographers, as have print collections of Japanese photobooks at institutions worldwide. To challenge this trend, the Penn Libraries—building on our collection of Japanese photography artist books and our distinctive collection of Japanese urban exploration and “ruins” (haikyo) photography—has accelerated and prioritized acquisitions of photobooks by Japanese women photographers, while also identifying such books that we already held in our collection but were difficult to discover. The collection currently comprises hundreds of titles and is rapidly growing. The scope includes photography from the early 20th century through contemporary Japan, printed in a range of media types, from rare artist books and first-edition imprints to readily available photobooks and exhibition catalogs.

Accordion List

Intended to be expansive, this collection includes works by Japanese people living abroad, such as Takizawa Akiko and others who have—or depict—complicated relationships to borders and national belonging. An example of the latter is Ishikawa Mao in her book Hinomaru o miru me [Here’s What the Japanese Flag Means to Me], which includes photos taken between 1993 and 2011 of Japanese people—including Okinawans, the Ainu, and Zainichi Koreans—engaging with the Japanese flag and expressing their complex relationships with Japanese identity.

Our collection includes works by well known, influential photographers like Ishikawa Mao and 2014 Hasselblad Award winner Ishiuchi Miyako. Our collection features Ishiuchi’s Club & Courts, Yokosuka Yokohama (2007), Hiroshima (2014), Furida ai to itami [Frida: Love and Pain] (2016), Shashin kankei (2016), Beginnings: 1975 (2018), Miyako to Chihiro: futari no onna no monogatari (2019), Belongings (2015), Ishiuchi Miyako: Kinu no yume  [Ishiuchi Miyako: From Cocoons] (2018), Kime to shashin [Grain and Image] (2018), and Yokohama gorakusō (2017).

Other acquisitions include works by emerging photographers and those who are lesser known in the US. For example, we have books by the experimental artist Tokyo Rumando, including her Rest 3000 ~ stay 5000: self portraits (2013), Orphée (2014), and S: hadaka ni chikazukukoto ga totemo shiawase [I’m only happy when I’m naked].

The majority of works in the collection were published in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We have first-edition imprints like Kiyooka Sumiko’s Amadera (1967), as well as reprints of important, out-of-print books, such as Watanabe Hitomi’s Tōdai 1968-1969 Fusa no uchigawa [Tokyo University 1968–1969―Behind the Blockade], a photobook documenting the student protest movements of 1968–1969 in which she participated. Related to Watanabe’s work is Matsumoto Michiko, Nobiyaka na onna tachi: Matsumoto Michiko shashinshū [Women Come Alive] (1978); like Watanabe, Matsumoto documented social protest movements of the 1970s. The collection has a particular strength in contemporary publications—such as Kawauchi Rinko’s AILA (2004), Halo (2017), When I Was Seven (2019), As It Is (2020), and Des Oiseaux (2021).


Black and white photo of a woman wearing a sailor girl uniform and dramatic make up stares right into the camera.
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Cover of book titled 'Life in Philly' by Mao Ishikawa, featuring photograph of a woman
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A person holds up a large Japanese flag. Only their feet are visible behind it.
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