Yaso Ichidai Benmōki ["A Refutation of the Life of Jesus"]
Tajima, Shōji [text by]; Sensai [Kobayashi], Eitaku [illustrated by].
Tōkyō : Izumiya Hanbē : Nintensha [printing blocks owned by], Meiji 7-8 [1874-1875].
A Japanese adaptation of Samuel G. Goodrich's pseudonymous Peter Parley’s Universal History, with a strong emphasis on Christian history. As the title would suggest, the author, Tajima Shōji (1852-1909), was strongly opposed to the claims of Christianity, and published several other anti-Christian works alongside the satirical journal articles he was better known for. In Kang Sung-kook's 2018 article A Study on Writing Intention of the Anti-Christian Work “Yaso Itsidai Benmoki” in the Meiji Era and the Acceptance Style of the Original Sources (2018), it is shown that Tajima consulted Goshū Kiji (1871-1874), a Japanese translation of Peter Parley’s Universal History, in the creation of Yaso Ichidai Benmōki. The fantastic illustrations in the set, however, arguably outshine the text.
The illustrator, Kobayashi Eitaku (1843-1890), studied under the painter Kanō Eitoku (1815-1891) before setting up his own studio in 1864. Around the same time, he created a block-ready illustration for a woodblock-print against the express wishes of the Kanō school, which prohibited artists' involvement with ukiyo-e-related projects. From around 1870, Eitaku turned to the production of illustrations for ukiyo-e and became good friends with Kawanabe Kyōsai, whose stylistic influence is unmistakable in this work.
Eitaku's depictions of figures like Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and Mary in Yaso Ichidai Benmōki, one of the first woodblock-printed works he provided illustrations for, display a surprising sensitivity considering the tenor of Tajima's text. It is unclear whether Eitaku drew inspiration directly from Peter Parley’s Universal History, but he was certainly influenced by Kyōsai's illustrations for the six-volume work Tsūzoku Isoppu Monogatari (Aesop's Fables) published from 1873 to 1874, as can be observed from his depictions of foreigners and the subtle two-tone palette he used in many of the scenes. Tim Clark notes in a 2008 catalogue description on the British Museum's website for a handscroll by Eitaku that the artist was "prolific and versatile" and that his "reputation in Japan is not yet as high as it should be" because "Japanese scholars have found it problematic to classify him". Eitaku is also known for illustrating several crepe-paper chirimen-bon for Hasegawa Takejirō.
An interesting feature of the set is the unusual design on the hanshin (central fold on each leaf printed with the running title and page number) resembling a crucifix. Another highlight is undoubtedly the Punch Magazine-style illustration of an angel closely resembling a young Albert Einstein. The work is often mistakenly believed to have been published in four volumes (instead of six), and there are no complete sets outside Japan located in OCLC. An elusive complete set on Christianity and the life of Jesus, highly illustrated by an under-appreciated Meiji period artist.
Three parts in six volumes, complete, on double leaves, fukurotoji style. Original blind-embossed wrappers, re-sewn, lightly creased and worn, title to textblock foot, original mounted daisen panels present. Occasional light stains and small marks. Wormholes to leaves, ex-ownership stamps to pastedowns. 66 (first two volumes continuously paginated); , 31; 24, ;  33; 40 leaves. First part volumes measure 22.9 x 15.5 cm; second part volumes measure 22.1 x 15.1 cm; third part volumes measure 22.5 x 15.2 cm.