Edo-Period Japanese book depicts U.S. history in hilariously awesome illustrations

It may not be historically accurate, but it’s one-hundred percent real!

The Edo Period in Japan, from 1603 to 1868, was when the country was cut off from the rest of the world. Literature and illustrations made during that time period are a great insight into how people lived, thought, and even made snowmen back then.

But toward the end of the Edo Period, Japan started getting pretty interested in foreign countries. Nick Kapur, a Japanese and East Asian historian, recently tweeted out images from one book that show Japan’s isolated interpretation of the Western world.

▼ As Mr. Kapur explains, this is an image of George Washington (with the bow)
alongside the “Goddess of America.”

In the above image, George Washington is referred to as “Father of the Country, Washin(g)to(n),” with his name spelled with the kanji for “story,” “holy,” and “east.”

The illustrations come from Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi (“Children’s Illustrated Tales from 10,000 Countries”), a book written by Kanagaki Robun and illustrated by Utagawa Yoshitora in 1861, eight years after Commodore Perry demanded that Japan open its borders to the world.

Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi is based on two second hand sources, Kaikoku Zushi (“Drawings of Foreign Countries”) and Amerika Ittōshi (“American Unified History”). Perhaps the fact that the author and illustrator were creating these pages third-hand explains some of these magnificent creations:

▼ Such as George Washington stomping a tiger…

▼ …the second President of the U.S., John Adams,
killing one of those beastly American snakes…

▼ …and a Hulk version of Benjamin Franklin literally lifting a cannon.

In the responses to the original tweet , some people wondered why the Americans had such Asian facial features. Mr. Kapur’s answer was simple: the illustrator had no idea what Westerners looked like, so he just drew what he was used to. That’s what hundreds of years of isolation will do!

▼ There’s also a plotline that goes on for several pages
where John Adam’s mother gets eaten by a snake….

▼ …but then summons a FREEDOM EAGLE…

▼ …and together they get revenge on the snake.
Ah yes, a tale as American as apple sushi.

If you want to see more of the illustrations, then be sure to check out Mr. Kapur’s thread on Twitter, or you can see the book in its entirety at the Waseda University digital archives.

It’s fascinating to take a glimpse into the past with such old books. It can remind us not only how much we’ve changed, but also how much we’ve stayed the same, with other books showing off Edo-Period recipes that are still delicious today and how human mating habits have basically never changed.

Source: Waseda University Digital Archives via Twitter/@nick_kapur
Top image: Waseda University Digital Archives

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