National Astronomical Observatory of Japan



“A solar eclipse, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for 101 years”

Historical illustration・

“A solar eclipse, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for 101 years” from The Celestial Curiosities Nishiki-e Collection

One of the items in The Celestial Curiosities Nishiki-e Collection, this picture announced the August 19, 1887 total solar eclipse. It was the first total solar eclipse for the Japanese island of Honshu in 101 years. “Nishiki-e” referees to this traditional Japanese style of multi-color printing using wood-blocks.

Researchers including David Peck Todd (who came to Japan from the United States) and Terao Hisashi (who later became the first Director General of the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory) traveled to the Japanese city of Nikko to accurately record the event. They also predicted the timing of the eclipse and what would occur during totality. Their imaginative predictions recorded here describe the various colors the sky would change to, and stated that if the sky turned black, people’s faces would become pale-blue and plants would wilt.

The highlights of The Celestial Curiosities Nishiki-e Collection in the possession of the NAOJ are “The Great Comet of 1882,” 1883’s annular solar eclipse, and 1887’s total solar eclipse. Other nishiki-e (woodblock prints) include topics like tornadoes.

Nishiki-e focusing on astronomy are rare. It is thought that they were written based on a series of interesting astronomical events and distributed as special editions of newspapers.