Kazuo Kenmochi, Ryuzaburo Umehara, Tae Umehara and the Origin of Photo-Lolicon

Ron coined the term Photo-Lolicon and defines it, in the Pipeline entry for Kishin Shinoyama, as “… a kind of obsession, with erotic undertones, with the intimate life of a young girl.” A review of a book featuring a selection of Photo-Lolicon artists was published in Pigtails here.

Kazuo Kenmochi (剣持加津夫) is usually credited as having originated the Photo-Lolicon movement in Japan with the publication of his photo book Twelve-Year-Old Myth (12歳の神話) in November 1969. Photo-Lolicon came about as a result of the serendipitous contacts between Kazuo Kenmochi, the photographer; Ryuzaburo Umehara (梅原 龍三郎), the painter; and Tae Umehara (梅原 多絵), the model. The Kanji characters that are conventionally translated as “myth” are literally “divine story”, so in this context myth should be taken as a mythologic legend rather than as a false belief. Before we get into Twelve-Year-Old Myth, let’s consider the antecedents of Photo-Lolicon.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (1)

In traditional Japanese culture, nudity was not as taboo as in the West. Japanese families would go to the public sento bath where people of both sexes and all ages bathed together. It may seem that under those circumstances, artistic nudes would be as common as pictures of landscapes or cherry blossoms, but this was not the case. An article in the Japanese Wikipedia states that the first appearance of nude girl photos in a book in Japan came in 1943 when Der Körper des Kindes und seine Pflege by Stratz was translated into Japanese and sold in that country. This did not immediately lead to more nude photo books because two years later World War II ended and Japan was put under American occupation until 1952. American standards regarding nudity were imposed, which ruled out nude photo books.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (2)

The end of the War also allowed the Japanese people to see Japan as it was viewed by other countries. What they saw was not pretty; Japan in 1945 had a reputation of brutality and cruelty. Whether the reputation was deserved or the result of anti-Japanese prejudice is not something to be discussed here, but it is important that whatever the cause of the stigma, Japanese people wanted to overcome it. Gentler aspects of Japan were emphasized, such as youth, beauty, and cuteness. Thus the stage was set for the appearance of Photo-Lolicon.

Ryuzaburo Umehara (1888–1986) traveled to Europe as a young man and studied the art of the Impressionist masters, particularly Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Gauguin, Matisse and Nolde also served as inspiration for Umehara, who introduced Impressionist painting to Japan. In 1969 Ryuzaburo Umehara was Japan’s greatest living artist.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (3)

Girls like to have pictures of themselves made. If you have been reading Pigtails for a while, you may have noticed that girls from artistic families often model for artists. Apparently Tae Umehara, the granddaughter of Ryuzaburo Umehara, wanted to be a model. I could not find any source that stated why Ryuzaburo Umehara did not paint a picture of Tae. Although Ryuzaburo Umehara did paint nudes, he did so in an Impressionist style. His nudes definitely have artistic merit, but they are not cute. Perhaps Tae did not want a painting of herself in her grandfather’s style. My opinion is that either Ryuzaburo or Tae or both of them decided that a more realistic image would be more becoming of Tae.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (4)

Fortunately, Ryuzaburo Umehara had contacts in the artistic community in Japan, and was acquainted with Kazuo Kenmochi. Kenmochi was a talented photographer famous for documenting the problem of drug addiction in Japan. Art photos of a young girl (Tae Umehara was twelve years old at the time) would be something different for him. He accepted the project, and met with Tae and Ryuzaburo Umehara. Kenmochi had his idea of how the photos should be made. Ryuzaburo had other ideas, and annoyed Kenmochi with his kibitzing. Despite the friction between the two artists, the photo session was completed very successfully.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (5)

Photographs from the session are available here and here. All are outdoors: some at the shore and some at an inland location. Although a book containing these photos was later published under the title Europe, there is nothing that would indicate that the photos were taken in Europe. Tae is fully nude in all photos that appear online. The first two shown here are closeup portraits of Tae. In one of them the colors are modified to give a surreal look. It is the only non-realistic photo of Tae that I have seen. In the second portrait she seems uncomfortable that a dragonfly is on her.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (6)

The next three are typical monochrome images. The first of these was taken at about the same level as the model. In the second the camera is looking up at Tae, and in the third it is looking down on her.

The last two images are color. Only a few color photographs are in the book. The second color image is the cover for singer Horie Mitsuko’s single Twelve-Year-Old Myth. The same photo is in the book Twelve-Year-Old Myth. The record was released in March 1970, a few days after Horie Mitsuko’s thirteenth birthday. Horie Mitsuko was a twelve-year-old girl when she recorded the song.

Kazuo Kenmochi – Tae Umehara (1969) (7)

The book Twelve-Year-Old Myth was extremely popular. After the first edition sold out others were printed. Then a condensed volume, エウロペ (Europe) was published, containing what the editor considered to be the best of the previous editions. The last of the editions, Europe II, was released in December 1978, and sold for 3300 Yen. Recently a used copy was for sale at a price of 27,905 Yen, which was equal to $210.43. Other photographers sought to imitate Kenmochi’s success, and the Photo-Lolicon craze of the 1980s followed.