A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, August 20, 2012

Remember the Kangaroo at the Pyramids? How About Samurai at the Sphinx?

I'm still on vacation (and on the road today) so posting is light and the main posts were prepared ahead of time. I'm back on the clock Wednesday, but there will be posts today and tomorrow. Part 3 of the Aramaic/Coptic series will appear tomorrow.

 My post a few months back of a photograph of a kangaroo at the Pyramids (apparently the mascot of some Aussie troops in WWI) garnered a few links, so perhaps there's an interest in odd juxtapositions. Certainly that would include Japanese samurai posing in front of the Sphinx.

The folks at the io9 website called their post "A Strong Contender for the Most Bad-Ass Photo Ever Taken." That I consider hyperbole to say the least. Samurai at the Sphinx are certainly cool, but "Most Bad-Ass Photo Ever Taken?" Please. They aren't even swinging their katanas at each other.

Nicholas Reeves' website has the explanation: 
Following the Emperor Komei`s "order to expel barbarians" in 1863, a Japanese embassy left for Europe on 29 December 1863, led by Ikeda Nagaoki, governor of Chikugo Province (Fukuoka Prefecture). Its aim was to persuade France to agree to the closing of the port of Yokohama to foreign trade, and allow Japan to retreat into isolation once more. The mission inevitably failed.
In 1864, en route to Paris, the Ikeda mission visited Egypt. The stay was memorialised in one of nineteenth-century photography`s most extraordinary images - the embassy`s members, dressed in winged kamishimo costume and jingasa hats, carrying their feared long (katana) and short (wakizashi) swords, standing before the Giza Sphinx. The photograph was taken by Antonio Beato (c. 1825-1903), brother of the photographer Felice Beato. Extant prints of this image are today extremely rare.
Intriguing if nothing else. For the heck of it, here's the kangaroo again:

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