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Dromedaries on the Tokaido: Camel Images in Bakumatsu (1803-

Dromedaries on the Tokaido: Camel Images in Bakumatsu (1803-1861)


Ayelet Zohar
Tel Aviv Universit

The exhibition will be a rare opportunity to focus more closely on this momentous period. In my presentation, I will examine these works to show how cultural producers in Japan were  esponding to a time of economic and political uncertainty, striving to maintain a precarious  alance among aesthetic appeal, marketability and compliance with the censors’ rules. Although many exotic animals made their trip to Japan during the Edo period, mostly as gifts and attributes sent by the Dutch to the Shogun in Edo, dromedaries where one of the missing species on Japanese soil till the beginning of the 19th c. Eventually, it seems that the first pair of dromedaries that traveled to Japan did it on the decks of an American vessel chartered by William Robert Stewart in 1803, but most probably did not have the chance to land on Japanese land, and the fate of this pair of camels is unclear, as Stewart was refused from landing and the argo of his ship was exchanged with local goods secretly. The more firm event of delivering camels to Japan has taken place in 1821, this time by Jan Cock Blomhoff the Opperhoofd of Deshima, as a gift to his Japanese wife after his return to the Netherlands as an income insurance. These camels traveled to Edo over the Tokaido road, causing quite a stir and the publication of several booklets that tried to collect and describe every single piece of information known about the animals.

 In my presentation I shall discuss several images of camels created in that period, some found in these research booklets while others are impressions of curiosities, including a Nagasaki publication entitled Study of Camels (rakuda gaku)(1824); Kato Eibian National Clothing (waga koromo) (1824);  Utagawa Kuniyasu Picture of Camels (rakuda no zu)(1824)and his illustrations in Konantei Karatachi, The World of the Camel (rakuda no sekai)(1824); Hokusai's image of a camel in his Manga notebooks (1850) and finally, a quotation of a Western Orientalist painting of camels in Hashimoto Sadahide's Picture of a Mercantile Establishment in Yokohama(1861).


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