Earthly Mission

The Last of the Samurai

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At the time photographer Felice Beato arrived in Japan in 1863, he found the country in the midst of civil war. After spending over two hundred years in seclusion, Japan was being forced by the Americans to expand its trade with the West. The country was divided between the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo and the Imperial Court based in Kyoto.

Travel was dangerous in the country, but through his contacts in the military Beato did manage to travel to many of the secluded areas of the country, where he documented the last years of feudal Japan.

Among his first photographs were the portraits of the Satsuma samurais, who happily posed for him. In one group portrait, four samurais symbolically show their strength and ambition by presenting themselves with one standing samurai holding a red book of English literature and one seated with an unsheathed knife – highlighting their hold on western knowledge and their strength in Japanese tradition.

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We saw this story on Dangerous Minds thanks to an old friend called Dani. And on Wikipedia we came across this very cool infographic depicting samurai warriors with various types of armor and weapons from the 1880s – a perfect supplement to the above photos.

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