Pictures from antique books about Japan


I mainly collect antique British comics, story papers and boys’ adventure books. But I also have a small collection of old books about Japan. My favourite historical period is the 1890’s to World War 1, and in that time Japan and Britain were close allies. In fact their alliance was the first proper one the British Empire made with another power. Even the Entente Cordiale was more of an agreement not to fight each other than a promise to fight together!

Of course I’m saving like mad to go to Japan, so Can’t buy any more books at the moment unless I see very cheap ones. But here are some pictures from what I have!

1901: Japan, A Record in Colour

By Mortimer Menpes


Using V for U was actually pretty pretentious even then!

I’ve written about this before, on a now-dead forum. Mortimer Menpes was apparently the original Otaku! The text of the book is filled with rants about how western theatre is “barbaric” because it has scenery, and how other Japan-lovers are “semi-savage” because they don’t display their collection of Japanese artifacts correctly. But for all that the paintings are wonderful. Mortimer Menpes has also published books with paintings of China, Britain and France, and probably other places too. They fetch high prices on ebay. This particular book cost me £10 but is falling to bits. Also I think at the time it was the only one by him on there, there was a few bids other than mine which may have resulted in other people who owned his works sensing “a market” and selling them.

It was published in 1901 by Dorothy Menpes, his daughter. It’s probable, then, that the pictures are actually considerably older and show the Japan of the late 19th century. He apparently went to Japan in 1887 then came back and had an exhibition, presumably of the paintings in this book. I wonder where the originals are now?


There’s about 100 paintings, all in colour (it must have been very expensive when new! though apparently went through several reprints, I’ve seen editions from 1905 advertised) and some look almost like photographs. I couldn’t take pictures of many of them because the binding is extremely weak. However if you google the title photocopied copies of it can be bought from an apparently Indian company (the prices are in Rs, presumably Rupees) for around £25. I’ve seen on some forums that this company have a reputation for creating photocopied editions of out-of-copyright books and in some cases even trying to act as if they now own the copyright. I’ve also heard that the quality of their copies can vary… proceed at your own risk (though if you do and it’s any good tell me and I’ll post a follow up).

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This looks like a house but is actually a small shrine. The gate in the foreground symbolises passing from the living world to the world of the gods.

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Young Japanese children. If the youngest ones managed to survive to a ripe old age it’s just possible my life overlapped with theirs!

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A temple on a lake near ‘Kioto’. It’s name escapes me but it’s still there today.

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1906: “The Youngster’s Guide to Morals”


This is a short Japanese book. I got the title and date off the ebay auction for it, as I can’t read Japanese very well yet. Especially not “handwriting” where several individual strokes are turned into one squiggle. It opens like a concertina (no spine) but there’s only print on one ‘side’.

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1907: A Handbook of Modern Japan

By Ernest W Clements


This is American, and is more about Japan’s economy, history and society than about visiting there. Being American it also has a lengthy chapter about how Shinto is not a “real” religion and how one day Japan will have to see the light and accept Jesus. Luckily America wasn’t into empire building like Britain was, so they didn’t try to remake Japan in their own image. Well not at that point anyway.


I’ve been to where he is enshrined, but it was under heavy repair at the time. Lots of cats, though.

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Something tells me this picture was staged…

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1907: Things Seen in Japan

By Clive Holland


I believe the author of this one actually moved to Japan and married a Japanese woman. At least judging from the titles of his other books! Having “gone native” he is able to explain some of the customs, subtleties of the language and even say “the newly-arrived foreigner may find X very strange”. Nothing ever changes XD

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1907 and 2009. Next time I go I’ll try and get a picture from the same angle as in the book!

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1907 and 2009. Repair work being done…

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1908: Japanese Fairy Tales

By Yei Theodora Ozaki


This is a book of translated stories that are aimed at being simple for children (the children of 1908 that is!) to read. As opposed to “more authentic” translations in scholarly language with heaps of footnotes explaining variations and themes. At least it gives me an understanding of traditional stories that I can make reference to when talking to Japanese children. It’s also apparently “illustrated by Japanese artists”… though seemingly only one did all of them.

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1934: Japan – Mistress of the Pacific?

By Colonel P.T. Etherton and H. Hessel Tiltman


This is another one looking at Japan’s economy and society, this time in the context of Japan’s military build-up and ambitions of creating an empire. If you’re thinking “well it’s not their fault they came to the empire game late, after the Europeans had captured everything good” well, er, that’s exactly what the book says too.

Oh if only the British and Japanese empires had stayed allied and somehow joint-governed Burma, shared Singapore and allowed for Japanese colonies in Australia, eh?

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Various militant build-up. Those sound detectors are all they had before Radar.


Modern Tokyoite says: Needs more lights

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Heh, ‘only’ 150,000 passengers a day?

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