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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Solving A Photo Mystery

Yup... solving a photo mystery... because that's what I do when I'm crunched for time trying to get a blog written in time for my own midnight timetable.

What we have here is a photo I found on E-Bay - and currently up for bid. It currently has about 8 days left, and while it is being sold at a starting bit of US $9... be forewarned that there's a shipping cost of US$26.95... which as regular E-bay-ers will know is how most sellers attempt to extort, I mean, make their profit.

You can see the item up for sale: HERE.

It purports to be an 1880s cabinet card photograph of an as yet unidentified Japanese diplomat.

It ain't no samurai, if the photo is from the 1880s, as that Japanese social class had been eliminated what with the downfall of the Shogun leadership... though the actual demise of the samurai occurring in 1876 when samurai were no longer allowed to wear their swords as the country opted to start its own government sanctioned military force.

The photo of the diplomat does show a man in full old-time regalia, but by his clothing, we can see he is (or was) someone of elite status, what with the silk robes.  He does have a samurai sword tucked in around his waist, but it may simply be a sword of family honor.

This photograph is: approximately 3-7/8” by 5-3/4” and is mounted on its original card mount (mount measures approx. 4-1/4” by 6-1/2”). The back of the mount carries the mark of the photographer – Bradley & Rulofson of San Francisco.

The E-Bay listing suggests a possibility that the image could be one of the former shogun of Japan, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

However... I present the image below of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan:

No... I don't think so... the face is longer for the ex-shogun. And while the head covering is similar, it's not similar enough. Also... a shogun, ex or otherwise, has never visited the U.S., let alone San Francisco. Why would you go to San Francisco in the 1880s? It wasn't as cool as it is now... though I suppose he could have sailed to San Francisco and then traveled by train to Washington... but crossing the US, even in the 1880s, wasn't as safe a journey for anyone, let alone a former shogun.

Now... we do know that a delegation  - the Japanese embassy - arrived in San Francisco in 1860... a delegation of three ambassadors who stayed for one month before returning home. While there were nearly 100 men aboard the ship the Kanrin Maru, the real delegation consisted of: Ambassador Shinmi Masaoki (新見正興), Vice-Ambassador Muragaki Norimasa (村垣範正), and Observer Oguri Tadamasa (小栗忠順).

The three plenipotentiary members of the Japanese embassy: Muragaki Norimasa, Shinmi Masaoki, and Oguri Tadamasa.
None of the men in the photo above are obviously the man in the E-Bay photo.

So... I decided I would look up the photographers and see if they were famous: Bradley & Rulofson of San Francisco.

Yes... they were famous - running their studio from 1850 -1878... they were Henry William Bradley (1813-1891) and William Herman Rulofson - a Canadian, came to the US during the 1849 California gold rush (1826-1878). Rulofson began photographing miners, eventually setting up a studio in Sonoma, before forming a partnership with Bradley in 1861 in Sacramento.

There's an excellent bio of them at Broadway Photographs HERE.

Anyhow, armed with the fact that the photographers were famous, I simply looked them up on Google, looking at Photographic Images... and presto... I now know who my mysterious statesman is (or was).

He was Iwakura Tomomi (surname first, 岩倉 具視, October 26, 1825 – July 20, 1883)... a famous enough Japanese statesman  was a Japanese statesman during the Bakumatsu (end of the shogun era) and Meiji period (1868-1912). How famous was he? Well... he was on two series of  Japanese 500-yen bills from 1950-1953, and 1957-1969.

Iwakura Tomomi on the 1957-1969 500-yen bill. I have one in my collection.
So... he was a politician who played a major role in establishing the way the meiji restoration was carried out after centuries of Shogun rule in Japan. And you know what... you can read about that HERE.

Honest to Buddha, I started this one-and-a-half hours before its publication and simply wanted something simple to give you... I didn't expect I would have to solve a photographic mystery for some E-Bay seller!

Anyhow... after being appointed Japan's Minister of the Right in 1871, he led the two-year around-the-world journey known as the Iwakura mission (岩倉使節団, Iwakura Shisetsudan), visiting the U.S. and countries in Europe to try and renegotiate better terms for Japan in regards to the unequal treaties it previously had okayed... as well as to gather information to help effect the modernization of Japan.

On his return to Japan in 1873, he was just in time to prevent an invasion of Korea. Realizing that Japan was not in any position to challenge the western powers in its present state, he advocated strengthening the imperial institution, which he felt could be accomplished through a written constitution and a limited form of parliamentary democracy. He ordered Inoue Kowashi (surname first) to begin work on a constitution in 1881, and ordered Itō Hirobumi to Europe to study various European systems.

He died July 20, 1883 in Kyoto of throat cancer... and was given a state funeral, the first ever given by the Imperial government.

Andrew Joseph

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