Chasing the Tones of White ── Nobuyoshi Kikuchi

Chasing the Tones of White
by Nobuyoshi Kikuchi

—review by a prominent book designer of Japan for Takashi Hiraide’s book-design of Irako Seihaku Gesammelte Werke (Iwanami Shoten) 
as an exhibit at the exhibition «TAKASHI HIRAIDE—-AIRPOST POETRY» at The Japan Foundation Toronto in the autumn of 2016

Of all the book designs based on white colour tones seen at bookstores, I have never seen a book design where white tones are used as boldly and delicately as this.


This design doesn’t pander to the general impressions of white – instead, it cleverly exploits the ways white tones are perceived by us. Opening this book is like chasing the different tones of white from the box to the cover to the flyleaf to the first title page.


The box is covered with rough-textured paper, into which flecks of straw fibre are mixed. The entire surface is printed with a solid coat of bright gray ink.


The title is foil stamping, which can look like gold or silver – you don’t feel the presence of colour – depending on the angle of the light.


The German text is white foil stamping, placed to the side as if it indicated the reading of the Japanese title. The white foil, imprinted onto the rough-textured paper, bleeds off the edges of the letters, making for a slightly blurred white tone.


Under that lies a clipart-like photo that looks like a ship propeller – a black knockout on a background of gray. The highlights on the propeller create a subtle white.


On the spine, the same title, volume number, and title of the compilation from the front panel are printed in black, and between the volume number and the compilation title is a thin and short white line, which is the original colour of the paper used. It is the only place where the colour of the paper comes to life. This, at the same time, evokes an image of the colour of white paper that is confined.


The obi, or the strip of paper wrapped around the box, is of bluish black paper on which letters are printed in a muted white tone, using opaque ink.


And when your mind is at a loss among all the different whites, the white spine of the book within the box catches your attention.


The overrun spine is of pure white cloth, which has a feel of wrinkled delicate leather.


Metallic foil is used only for the title and the volume number and all other letters are blind-embossed. The bleeding white and the muted white fade away, and the blunt white of the cloth is emphasized.



When you open the book cover (of cloth-like gauze; the first volume is blue and the second volume is brown), you find the end sheet, which uses special paper with thin vertical felt marks.


The colour is also pure white like the cloth.


This self-assertion of white seems to nullify the previous distorted whites of the box and the strip.


From the first title page to the frontispiece, the same white continues unchanged while the quality and texture of the paper changes with the type of paper, such as wood-free paper and pigment-coated paper.


I’ve been chasing whites – but I now feel chased by them as I lay my eyes on the creamy white of the first page, which only says Poems.


I gaze at the bulk of the next 800 pages as if I were seeing the ocean from the edge of a cliff.


Although I have yet to see the ship, I hear the sound of it approaching.

from Sotei-Shian, Kadokawa-gakugei Shuppan, 2009
©Nobuyoshi Kikuchi