The Pictorial Book on the Penal Affairs of the Tokugawa Government

1 The Significance of “The Pictorial Book on the Penal Affairs of the Tokugawa Government ”

This work was printed in 1893 (Meiji 26) and is a vivid depiction of the world of crime and punishment during the Edo era. The Tokugawa government of that time existed for more than 250 years and finally fell in 1868. We are showing these sixty-three illustrations as a report on crime prevention in that difficult-to-imagine world of the Tokugawa shoguns.

The illustrations – a story of rewarding good and punishing evil – unfold like a series of picture cards. Their composition impresses the viewer as he or she realizes how much has changed since these were drawn during the Civilization and Enlightenment Movement of the following era, the Meiji period. The “Pictorial Book” is a living witness to the history of punishment in the Edo era. It is in the collection of the Meiji University Museum and often used in publications, but still insufficiently known in its entirety.

2 The Artist’s Intent

The author added one illustration that is totally dissimilar to the rest. Here he shows his feelings as he recollects the violent upheavals in the closing days of the Tokugawa government, the mass executions of the Ansei purge (1858-1859), and his grief for those who were loyal to the emperor and died untimely deaths at a time of national crisis. When one views the illustration called, “Grief for A Warrior Loyal to the Emperor during the Ansei Period,” one feels strongly that modern Japan would have taken a different path if men of great ability like Shoin Yoshida and Ryoma Sakamoto had not been cut down in their youth.

Still, the “Pictorial Book” would not applaud relinquishment of the modernization policies that were instituted by the Meiji government. The author cleverly incorporates the gaze of his fellow citizens who had begun to realize the deceptions involved in the restoration of the monarchy. He makes us aware that citizens of modern society were also aware of the problem of crime and punishment.

3 The Turbulence of the 21st Century

It is now 150 years since the Ansei purge, 140 years since the fall of the Tokugawa government, and more than 115 years since the publication of the “Pictorial Book.” Once more, Japan shudders at its situation as it confronts a new age of acute turmoil.

Japan was once one of the safest and most law-abiding countries in the world. Recently, however, barbaric crimes have occurred in quick succession and the assumption of safety seems like a fairy tale. Bullying and household violence cast a dark shadow over society. These situations tell us that we are in a state of emergency. It is not an exaggeration to say that Japan now confronts a new crisis.

4 A Fervent Hope for Human Rights

In an environment such as this, the nation becomes even more concerned about crime and punishment. It is essential that we maintain social order and nurture the human soul. We want each individual to become more aware of the law so that the next generation will inherit a world of safety. For this to happen, people must act with self-awareness and a sense of responsibility.

The Meiji University Museum is an archive of broad knowledge that is open to the public. For close to eighty years, it has gathered a wide assortment of academic resources that have been maintained and exhibited as part of the nation’s common cultural heritage.

With the “Pictorial Book”, we are able to see crime prevention in the Edo period. As you look back upon this frank reproduction of crime and punishment, it is our earnest wish that this will be an opportunity to deepen our understanding of mankind and to reconsider the ways of our present society.


The “Pictorial Book” contains discriminatory and inappropriate representations. From today’s perspective, these renderings are clearly improper and unjustifiable views of humanity. Despite this, we display them as a historical record that may ameliorate discrimination and safeguard human rights.

It is our hope that the viewer will understand the discriminatory, inappropriate and improper nature of these representations and gain new respect for human rights.