Samurai at the Sphinx, 1864
A Photograph by Antonio Beato
Nicholas Reeves

Japan was first opened to the West by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854, but the country was for years to come a reluctant participant in the process.

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.
The Ikeda mission at the Sphinx, 1864 (click to enlarge)
Ikeda Nagaoki by the Paris photographer Nadar (click to enlarge)