Color Dictionary - Japanese Design

Haishoku sōkan. A dictionary of color combinations.

Tokyo: Hakubisha, 1933-34. Octavos (19.7 × 13 cm). Original blue cloth publisher's folding case with clasp and printed label to front board, housing a text booklet in printed wrappers (29 pp), two loose folded leaves with a total of four color plates, and six volumes of plates bound accordion-style in blue cloth, comprising a total of 348 folding card leaves with mounted color samples of colored paper stock arranged in dyads, triads, and tetrads, with captions in Japanese and English. Occasional light discoloration to leaves; overall a very good copy.

A remarkably elaborate and beautiful six-volume work on color theory, reminiscent of the work of Josef Albers and Mikhail Matiushin. The compiler, Wada Sanzō (1883-1967) was a Japanese painter and costume designer who studied in Europe in 1907-1915. Upon his return, he taught at the Imperial Art Institute and founded the Japan Standard Color Association in 1927. In 1945, the latter was reorganized into the Japan Color Research Laboratory, with Sanzō at the head, and it continues to exist to this day.

The combinations in Sanzō's color dictionary are composed of small rectangles, precisely glued to letterpress-printed pages featuring bilingual English, kanji, and hiragana color descriptions, often with highly poetic names given them by Sanzō, such as "Vinaceous Cinnamon," "Grenadine Pink," "Eupatorium Purple," or "Dull Viridian Green." The shapes are arranged in pairs of two in the first two volumes, in threes in the next two volumes, and in fours in the last two volumes. The accompanying booklet is titled: Haishoku sōkan: gaisetsu to sono katsuyō. There are also two additional folding cards with more elaborate color compositions on pink, purple, yellow, and dark blue background.

A modern reprint was published in 2010, but the original is very rare. As a testament to its importance, the work has also been digitized and can be accessed at

As of August 2021, KVK and OCLC show four holdings in North America.

Book ID: 51520