Illustrations from Robinson Crusoe


The first published Japanese translation of Daniel Defoe's (1661-1731) 1719 work Robinson Crusoe was made in 1857 by the polyglot Yokoyama Yoshikiyo 橫山由清 (1826–1879), translated not from Defoe's English language original but from the c. 1850 Dutch work, targeted to children, titled Beknopte levensgeschiedenis van Robinson Crusoe (Brief Life History Of Robinson Crusoe Containing His Major Adventures And Encounters).[1] The three woodblock illustrations (see below) accompanying the Japanese work were drawn by the pioneering Western-style artist Kawakami Tōgai 川上冬崖 (1828-1881) and were copied from the Dutch work.[2] 

The translated book, titled Robinson hyōkō kiryaku 魯敏孫漂行紀略 (An Abridged Account of Robinson’s Shipwreck), is considered "the first published translation of a European work to target a readership of children."[3] To make it easy for children to read it was written "in informal Japanese using hiragana-majiri", kanji supplemented with hiragana.[4] While the translator was well aware that Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was a novel, according to Dr. Rebekah Clements, "Robinson Crusoe seems to have been taken by the Japanese as a factual account."[5]

[1] The Dutch title is also seen translated as "The Short Biography of Robinson Crusoe" and "The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe." The first translation into Japanese was done earlier in 1848, but was not published until 1872, according to Li Yun in his work footnoted below.

[2]  "The Study of Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe in Early Modern East Asia," Li Yun, appearing in Asia and The World, Volume 2, Social Sciences Academic Press (China). Li Yun tells us that Yokoyama got the job as translator through Kawakami's recommendation.

[3] "Foreign Bones, Japanese Flesh: Translations and the Emergence of Modern Children's Literature in Japan," Judy Wakabayashi, appearing in Japanese Language and Literature, Apr., 2008, Vol. 42, No. 1, American Association of Teachers of Japanese, p. 227-255. Stable URL:

[4] The Dutch Language in Japan (1600-1900): A Cultural and Sociolinguistic Study of Dutch as a Contact Language in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan, Christopher Joby, Brill, 2020, p. 283.

[5] A Cultural History of Translation in Early Modern Japan, Dr Rebekah Clements, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p.6.

The Illustrations

IHL Cat. #2051

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A undated woodblock reproduction of Kawakami Tōgai’s three original 1857 woodblock illustrations, including the original inscriptions.

Kawakami's frontispiece set below the original Dutch title, is signed with his real name 冬崖川寛, rather than his artist name 川上冬崖, with an appended character indicating that his drawings are copies.

The notation to the left of the two illustrations, tells us that the original Dutch version, a "historical novel,"  has twenty-six illustrations, one appearing in each chapter, but this version only uses two, namely the fifth and seventh illustration.[1]

「原本一章ごとに挿絵ありて所謂(いわゆる)出像の稗史(はいし:小説)なり。 今その一・ 二をこゝに出して其(その)他を略す。 即(すなわち)第五章と第七章のとなり」[2]

[1] "The Study of Illustrations of Robinson Crusoe in Early Modern East Asia," Li Yun, appearing in Asia and The World, Volume 2, Social Sciences Academic Press (China).

[2] transcription taken from the blog of Sumi Haruo [access by invitation only]

1942 Woodblock Reproductions Appearing in Masuda Gorō's "Bakeitei Zakki"

In 1942 the artist, author and bibliophile Masuda Gorō 増田五良 (1895-?) compiled a series of essays ("miscellaneous notes") on various topics under the title Bakeitei zakki 馬薊亭雑記, published by Goten Shoin 五典書院. Woodblock print reproductions of Kawakami Tōgai’s three original 1857 woodblock illustrations for Robinson hyōkō kiryaku were presented in the front of the book. In addition to the woodblock prints placed in the beginning, Masuda provided his personal observations on Robinson hyōkō kiryaku in an essay of the same title.

In his comments he provides the history of this work noting that it should be valued not only as the first translation of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, but also for the woodblock prints by Kawakami and the joy of simply looking at and handling the book.

The three illustrations and Masuda's four page essay

IHL Cat. #2125

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Illustrations As They Appear in the Original Translation, c. 1857

There are few extant copies of the original c. 1857 work Robinson hyōkō kiryaku. The National Diet Library contains one such copy from which the above images are taken and can be accessed at [accessed 9-26-23]

The Original Hand-Colored Illustrations Appearing in the Dutch Work

images source: [accessed 9-26-23]

Robinson collecting firewood. His half sunken ship can be seen in the background.

Robinson clambers up the rock.

Robinson makes a hut.

Kawakami Tōgai, portrait by Koyama Shōtarō (1857-1916) 

Kawakami Tōgai 川上冬崖 (1828-1881)

A painter, first in the literati style and later in the Western-style, translator, scholar he was "in charge of the painting collection at the Bureau for the Investigation of Barbarian Books (Bansho Shirabesho 蕃書調所) and successor institutions in the late 1850s and 1860s."[1] While considered to be a "moderately skilled artist" in the literati style, he was a driving force in the early Meiji years "to develop and popularize Western art."[2] Employed by the Ministry of Education to develop public school curriculum, he instituted "realistic drawing with pencils, rather than painting with the traditional Japanese ink-brush," a most useful tool for the creation of drawings for science.[3] 

[1] Modern Asian Art, John Clark, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, p. 137.

[2] Japanese Culture, Paul Varley, University of Hawaii Press, 4th ed., 2000, p. 265.

[3] Ibid.

Print Details

Frontispiece, Robinson hyōkō kiryaku #2051

artist signature

Book Details

Bakeitei zakki #2125

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