Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Japanese Ethnographic Portraits of South Americans, 1720

 I was surprised to find that these images exist, but I'm glad they do. Apparently produced as part of a visual ethnography of the world's cultures written by a Japanese interpreter for the Dutch merchant community in Nagasaki named Nishikawa Joken, they depict "people from each of the 42 barbarian countries outside of Japan." (My main source for this information, and the images themselves, comes from the wonderful database of early American images maintained by the John Carter Brown library.)

Alas, I have only found two of the forty two online, but those two are quite fascinating. The first appears to depict two South American Indians, perhaps Amazonian judging by their dress, while the second portrays a "Native American Patagonian giant." I would be fascinated to learn what the accompanying Japanese text has to say about these and other New World cultures. If anyone reading this has any further information, please contact me!

"Two South American Indians" in Nishikawa Joken, Shijûni-koku Jinbutsu zusetsu (Kyoto, 1720). Xylograph print on paper with hand coloring, 31.1 x 18.2 cm.

"Patagonian Giant" in Nishikawa Joken, Shijûni-koku Jinbutsu zusetsu (Kyoto, 1720). Xylograph print on paper with hand coloring, 31.1 x 18.2 cm. 

I have yet to read this particular work, but according to the JCB's online catalog entry the great historian Charles Boxer touches upon these images in his work Jan Compagnie in Japan, 1600-1850, pg. 18-19. A cursory Google search of Joken's name also turns up this interesting-looking recent essay on Merchants and Society in Tokugawa Japan by Charles D. Sheldon.

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