Found Photo Yesterday*: When Samurai walk like Egyptians

The title of this post may make you wonder if my latest project is a one hundred percent historically accurate B-movie (those exist, right?) about samurai who form a dance troupe whose show-stopping number is to The Bangles’ 1986 hit:

I can’t decide if that movie would be terribly entertaining or just terrible.

Just to clear things up, I am NOT going into film just yet (cue the readers breathing a sigh of relief), but I do have cool picture of some samurai who have walked like Egyptians — as in across the Egyptian sand — to go and see the Sphinx!

The Ikeda Mission at the Sphinx — Antonio Beato 1864

The Ikeda Mission was sent on a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1863 by Emperor Komei in hopes of convincing France to close the port of Yokohama to international trade so that Japan could again isolate itself from the rest of the world. On their way, the samurai passed through Egypt and did a little sight-seeing (see this for more info). You can’t see a lot of detail, but these gents are in full samurai dress, complete with katanas and short swords, as you will see in the portrait below.

Ikeda Nagaoki — Felix Nadar

The Sphinx image is so cool for so many reasons. The obvious one is seeing the icons of such vastly different cultures in the same place. This article about the photo puts it really well: “You only see samurai hanging out at the Sphinx in glitchy arcade games in the dustier corners of dollar movie theaters. And guess what? Reality has popped in the quarter.”

But the thing that really gets me (still, no matter how long I know this information) is that Japan was still feudal in 1864. I mean, when you think about their isolationism it makes perfect sense, but it is a little difficult to wrap my head around it. I always have to remind myself when I am reading or talking about samurai and feudal Japan that all that ended less than two hundred years ago. It seems like it ought to have been much longer, but it wasn’t. They jumped directly from feudalism to imperialism and technological supremacy. Wild.

And if you just can’t get enough of crazy pictures with the Sphinx, here’s one from 1889 of two baseball teams who threw baseballs at the monument to see “who could give the Sphinx a black eye”.

Chicago White Stockings and All-Stars exhibition teams at the Sphinx

That’s your history lesson for today, kids! As always, this class is discussion based, so share your thoughts below!

Have a happy and interesting weekend!


*Yes, I know it’s not Friday. Turns out I have had this post planned for over a week but forgot to write it up Thursday and The Boy was using my computer for awesome game design all day yesterday (He finished it! It’s an Old West game! Go look at it! Here’s the link!). So, it is late, but I hope it being cool makes up for it :)


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