What happens when you’re a Japan based woodblock printer who wants to sell prints of London, but have never visited the city? London ends up looking like Japan.

Utagawa Yoshitora was a prolific, and skilled illustrator whose works appeared in books and early newspapers between around 1850-1880 in Japan.

From the 1860s he produced pictures of foreigners amid rapid modernization that came to Japan after the country was opened to trade. He also, and outside Japan, this is his main claim to fame, produced works showing the home cities of these foreign visitors.

It’s likely that his works are based on interviews with European traders, as his depictions do look vaguely like London — a London occupied by Japanese people with Japanese architecture.

This is his famous (infamous?) 1866 triptych Igirisukoku Rondon no zu.

This is London, with St Pauls’ Cathedral in the background — twice (if you look carefully). The bridge is typical Japanese style of the era, and I think we’ll overlook the problem of how the sailing ship got past it to reach this part of the Thames.

Also look how empty the river is, at a time when it would have almost been possible to walk across the river hopping between boats. A block of text at the upper right explains the British empire and the great city of London.

We can smile a bit at the idea a printer showing a city they’ve never been to, but how often do you read a “10 things to do in city X” guide on a website and then realise the writer has never visited the place themselves, and probably just  copied a tourist book?

The memory of Utagawa Yoshitora lives on, online.

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2 comments
  1. E says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for showing it to us!

  2. Deborah Studwell says:

    That’s great. I have lived in both Tokyo and London, 2 special places.

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