A Day in the Life of Japan and the Fuji Film caper

By Torin Boyd
Tokyo, Japan
June 9, 2017

When the “A Day in the Life of Japan” book project took place on June 7, 1985 it was touted as being photographed by the 100 of the world’s leading photojournalists. Impossible as it seemed, project directors Rick Smolan and David Cohen managed to pull this feat off resulting in a large format coffee table book in a little over nine months time from concept to finish. 

This was not their first DITL book as they had worked out a formula from previous projects; Australia (1981), Hawaii (1983) and Canada (1984). But in addition to the immense logistics involved, these projects were expensive and bookstore sales didn’t come close to covering production costs. For Japan, the total costs of the project was approximately $3.5 million including a massive print run. As a way to finance these projects, Rick and David turned to sponsorship and like magicians pulling rabbits out of their hats, convinced major corporations to fund or underwrite them. What they promised their sponsors in return was good publicity and several copies of the book. The only caveat attached was absolutely no editorial control. For A Day in the Life of Japan, the major corporate sponsors included American Express, Japan Airlines, Hilton Hotels, Apple Computer, Olympus Camera and Kodak.

In March 1985 as the project was gearing up, I was part of a small group of staffers preparing to move the DITL offices from New York to Tokyo where we were to relocate for two months. As we were busy staging everything, David Cohen traveled to Rochester to seek sponsorship from Ray DeMoulin, a Vice President of Kodak. When he left, he was confident of securing film and processing, but this time he’d also be asking for cash. This had David feeling a little uneasy, but when he returned he came bearing good news that Kodak was onboard. We were all curious as to how he pulled this off and David replied; “I simply told Kodak that since Fuji Film bagged the official film sponsorship for the 1984 Summer Olympics (in Los Angeles), this was Kodak’s chance to stick to Fuji on their own turf”. When Kodak heard that they jumped at the opportunity to sponsor A Day in the Life of Japan and committed 4000 rolls of film plus processing in addition to an infusion of much needed cash.

After setting up in Tokyo and working at a frenetic pace, the shoot day arrived and 135,000 photographs were taken by the army of photographers. So much film was shot that it took Kodak a week to process all the film through their Japanese labs. As the the dust settled, the book was edited in Tokyo and laid out in New York and published in time for the Christmas holiday season.

But then there was a wrinkle.

For every DITL book, a group photo is made of all the photographers that's included in the book. For the Japan book, the location of this photo was in front of Japan’s Imperial Palace in the center of Tokyo (above). 

The photographer tasked with this job was Neal Slavin, who decided to use an unrelated Japanese commercial photographer as a prop. In Japan, these kind of photographers of “kinen shashin” or commemorative photographs can be found at most major tourist spots. Neal who is a master of the group photo, composed his photo with his umbrella sticking out of the left side of the frame and the Japanese photographer adjusting his camera in the lower right corner. What was interesting about this, this on-site photographer was hired by us to make his photograph and was portrayed in the act of making his photograph. Essentially a photograph within a photograph.

But what no one was aware at the time, the kinen shashin photographer had inserted a Fuji Film tab onto the back of his camera, a common practice for many professional photographers used to identify the type of film loaded into their cameras. Unfortunately a green Fuji swatch was visible in the published photograph, noticeable only if you looked closely.

When Kodak discovered this, a small panic ensued as the group shot was not only printed across two pages inside, but also on the back cover. As mentioned earlier, sponsors were given copies of the book, usually in the form of special slipcase editions custom made for each sponsor. In Kodak’s case this equaled 2000 books.

As a way to rectify the situation, David Cohen enlisted me to travel up to Kodak in Rochester, along with my two older brothers armed with a case of Sharpie pens. There we worked late into the night in Kodak’s mail distribution center inking out the little green spots from all the pages. We worked in an assembly line fashion removing the books from their slip cases, inking out the green, giving them time to dry and then carefully re-inserting the books back. That totaled 4000 spots retouched and Kodak was delighted by the quick fix.

As for some of the regular edition books still being printed in Japan, these were flagged and had the spots removed. Even so, a few of the earlier editions got through and were circulated.

If anyone reading this ever comes across a Kodak edition, get yourself a lupe and check out this little known secret. This in an odd way is a rare edition, something comparable to a misprinted postage stamp.


Victor Fisher said…
How didn't i know that story? I'm going to have to check my copy.

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