Face powder envelopes, Kyoto 1815


The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a sample album holding nearly 200 colorful cosmetic packages of Oshiroi or white face powder. The ephemeral decorative envelopes are pasted onto 45 unnumbered leaves with various printed and manuscript labels. The final leaf holds a hand-written note indicating the album was produced in Kyoto in 1815.





“In Japan, beauty has long been associated with a light skin tone. During the Nara Period (710–94), women painted their face with a white powder called oshiroi, and in the Heian Period (794–1185), a white facial color continued to stand as a symbol of beauty. References to the beauty of light skin tone are found in the Diary of Lady Murasaki and Tale of Genji. More than a thousand years ago, cosmetics for whitening the skin had already become a status symbol among the aristocracy.”–Originally written in Japanese by Ushijima Bifue.


This marvelous sample book was assembled in 1815 for the Fujiwara Harima Ishizuka Face Powder Company and the Chikamaro Face Powder Company of Kyoto by a cosmetics distributor named Omi-ya.

The early pages hold thirty sets of three labels each: the first label tells in rapturous detail of the special qualities of the contents, the second gives the brand name, and the third the manufacturer’s name.

Following this are 107 color-printed labels for the envelopes (each including a brand name), then another 52 color-printed labels, and finally the actual face powder envelopes. The decorative designs are either color woodblock prints or made from special paper with metallic flakes including gold.



This album was once owned by Dr. Kokichi Kano (1865-1942), a Japanese literature scholar, who came from Oodate City, Akita Prefecture. Kano began his career as the principal of First Higher School (1898-1906) and was then named President of a liberal arts college, Kyoto Imperial University (1906-1908).