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Kawaraban or illustrated news sheet titled - Kurofune Kawaraban. Perry and the B - 1854. 
- n.p. n.d. . Woodblock printed broadside 17x24cm. Some insect holes in the margins repaired. These illicit illustrated news sheets for the streets were produced by the million for a couple of hundred years so of course few survive. They were produced for anything more interesting than the drop of a hat and the arrival of the Black Ships, the American squadron commanded by Perry, in 1854 eclipsed any and all tiresome earthquakes, fires, plagues, famines, murders and scandals. For most Japanese this was the same as a squadron of alien space ships arriving on earth now. These prints are the kurofune kawaraban. The columns of detail about the members of the ships - and it may well be fact - give this the authority of documentary evidence but what is immediately clear is that the artist drew this view of the procession carrying gifts from description. He certainly had never seen an American and had no authentic picture to copy from, so things unfamiliar have become things somewhat familiar: the Americans' odd hats are like those of the mongol Chinese, Americans carry swords so naturally they would be carried on their back. What must also have been described and is beautifully caught is that Americans are a shambling, undisciplined bunch but they seem cheery enough. So, why not use pictures of the Dutch as models? Was this issued in some provincial city where even images of the Dutch were unfamiliar? Did the differences as described overwhelm the similarities? Or, as I suspect, was it a canny commercial decision that a new alien race that looked much like the Dutch would sell no papers? The Ryosenji - the Black Ship Museum in Japan, which boasts the largest collection of Black Ship material - does have a copy of this among the fewer than twenty kawaraban they hold. I can't find one anywhere else.
[Bookseller: Richard Neylon]
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