Archive: Buddhist monks, Japan, 1897.
Isabella Bird, one of the first woman Fellows of the RGS-IBG, helped found modern travel writing and became an established Victorian celebrity. She was also quick to recognise that photographs would become essential for the genre.
Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880) records in epistolary form Bird's adventures in Japan, but this photograph is from her later travels in the region. Japanese temples are all alike,' she wrote, somewhat dismissively. 'The symbols, idols and adornments depend upon the sect to which the temple belongs, or the wealth of its votaries, or the fancy of the priests. Some temples are packed full of gods, shrines, banners, bronzes, brasses, tablets, and ornaments, and others, like those of the Monto sect, are so severely simple, that with scarcely an alteration they might be used for Christian worship tomorrow.'
Bird has an irrepressible Victorian arrogance; one feels her sizing Japan up for westernisation. Nevertheless, she became fed up with European company in Japan, and was quite content to travel in solitary muteness for a while.