Economic Botany

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 87-97

First online:

An Unusual Xylotheque with Plant Illustrations from Early Meiji Japan

  • Toshiyuki NagataAffiliated withFaculty of Bioscience and Applied Chemistry, Hosei University
  • , Ashley DuValAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University Email author 
  • , Hans Walter LackAffiliated withBotanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Freie Universität Berlin
  • , George LoudonAffiliated with
  • , Mark NesbittAffiliated withEconomic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • , Michaela SchmullAffiliated withHarvard University Herbaria
  • , Peter R. CraneAffiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University

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An Unusual Xylotheque with Plant Illustrations from Early Meiji Japan. Two unusual wood collections, reported previously in the collections of the Botanical Museum at Berlin-Dahlem and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, take the form of framed plant illustrations painted on boards made from the wood of the species illustrated. We present new finds of very similar wood collections in the Economic Botany Collection of the Harvard University Herbaria, a private collection in the U.K. (Loudon collection), and at the Koishikawa Botanical Garden of the University of Tokyo. A stamp on the reverse of the boards links all five collections to Chikusai Kato, an artist working at Tokyo University (now the University of Tokyo) in early Meiji Japan, under the direction of the preeminent nineteenth century Japanese botanist Keisuke Ito. New evidence from contemporary historical accounts indicates that more than 100 boards were ordered in June 1878 by Hiroyuki Katō, the first president of Tokyo University, most likely to support the early teaching of Western-influenced botanical science in Japan. However, while the boards had clear value for teaching, especially about useful plants, their unusual fusion of Western and Japanese influences also made them desirable craft objects that were collected and given as gifts during the early Meiji era.

Key Words

Botanical illustration education Chikusai Kato Keisuke Ito Meiji Japan wood collections University of Tokyo