I’ve just spent an intense week working on the third novel in my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark. Many scenes I’ve written have been set in Tokyo of 1877. Like any city, Tokyo has its own personality but it’s a personality that has changed considerably in the last 137 years. I’ve been scouring the web for photos of Tokyo and its surrounding areas. Here’s one of my favorite, a public domain photograph of Yokohama in the 1880s.
What I like about this photo is how much the scene looks like many U.S. cities of the same period. There are wooden buildings, a gas lamp, and dirt streets. Of course, there are elements of this photo that seem very unique to Japan, such as the rickshaws and the banners hanging over the doors. I love how people are just going about their business, like the two guys on the right just chatting about some long forgotten subject. Some people are striding with purpose. Others are looking around.
Of course, one has to be careful when doing research on the web. Here’s another photo I like. This photo shows Kyobashi. According to Wikipedia, the photographer died in 1898 and this is supposed to be a nineteenth century street scene.
The problem is the streetcars. As far as I can tell from researching the Tokyo streetcar system, Tokyo and its surrounding areas didn’t get streetcars until 1901. (Update 11/24/14: After I posted this, Ged Maybury pointed out these are horse-drawn streetcars, which did exist as early as 1882. See his excellent comments below). Now, since The Brazen Shark is a steampunk novel, it’s tempting to allow this anachronism. However, one of the themes that’s emerging in the novel is the way in which Emperor Meiji’s “Restoration” was a transition from old feudal Japan to a new, modern vision of Japan. I do introduce scientists and inventors who want to bring this about, but I also want to show that they’re working in a city where this is all new and exciting. You might see some miraculous inventions in the Tokyo of my novel, but you won’t yet see an established transportation system that didn’t exist as early as 1877. Another possible anachronism is the guy in the straw hat in the lower left. That suit just says 1901 to me more than 1880!
Now, despite the fact that this photo has anachronisms, there are still things to be learned. Again, I see people walking and taking rickshaws through the streets. I see someone carrying baskets. I see horses and masonry buildings. As long as I keep in mind what would and wouldn’t be in this scene in the time period of my novel, the photo still serves as a tool to help me describe nineteenth century Kyobashi.
Speaking of science and exciting discoveries, it’s time for me to return to the observatory for a few days. In the meantime, you can start getting ready for The Brazen Shark by discovering the first two novels of the Clockwork Legion series. Click the link to see the books, read sample chapters and find out where you can buy them. Also, as we’re in the run up to Thanksgiving, this seems a great time to remind you that books make outstanding holiday presents. If you have read and enjoyed Owl Dance or Lightning Wolves and know someone who would like them, why not give one or both as a gift?