[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

Bookblitz: Japanese Fairy Tales

While reviewing our historic book collections, our librarian Helen came across many volumes that were owned by the founder of the Museum, Frederick Horniman. One of the most beautiful sets is a collection of Japanese Fairy Tales.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Although Frederick Horniman collected a huge range of objects from around the world, most were bought from other travellers. Frederick himself did not travel widely until much later in his life.

However, our records show that Frederick brought these four volumes, each containing a number of stories, back to the UK himself after he travelled to Japan in the early 1890s.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Every story is accompanied by beautifully detailed illustrations. They show the influence of traditional Japanese art, as well an an almost graphic novel style which is easy to imagine as a precursor to manga, devloped in Japan in the mid-1900s.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Princess Splendour, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Many of the tales told echo the themes found in traditional European stories. Animals feature prominently as characters with their own voice and moral message to impart.

  • A page from Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

And, just as in traditional folk tales all over the world, they also include depictions violent acts we might not associate with 'fairy tales' today.

  • A page from Japanese Fairy Tales, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It may seem unusual that these books are printed in English, as is printed proudly on the spines. Volumes such as these were widely produced in Japan in the late 1800s for a tourist market.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Tongue Cut Sparrow, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Japan became a popular destination for European tourists after the country's isolationist policy came to an end in the 1850s, opening up Japan to the West.

  • Japanese Fairy Tales - The Tongue Cut Sparrow, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

These four small volumes are a particularly exciting discovery for us not only because they are beautiful and represent a moment in world history, but because they are objects chosen by Frederick Horniman himself to add to his library.