As the summer anime season begins, one of the highly anticipated series is Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. Set in the waning years of 19th-century Paris, the anime adaptation of the manga by Gosick illustrator Hinata Takeda proves to be a gorgeous and heartwarming tale of cultural exchange. Yune’s arrival in Paris is met with curiosity by French locals, as it is likely that none of them has ever seen an oriental person before. Little do they know that the opening of Japan in 1868 when the Meiji period began would begin an era of oriental presence in Europe and around the world.
Although Japan has entered a period of modernity, its culture was still considered traditional by western standards. One example is blacksmith Claude’s extreme surprise at the formality that Yune shows to him. Although formalities exist in 19th-century Europe, when the aristocracy was still a powerful class, Japanese formality was unlike what Europeans had seen. Bowing one’s head is a custom that explains the person’s relation to another. For example, when facing the Emperor, one must put his or her head at a position lower than his. This indicates the Emperor’s supremacy above all his subjects. Thus, the custom is carried throughout society such that a person of lower status must lower his or her head to a person of higher status. European forms of respect generally revolve around restricted speech, such as the use of aristocratic titles to address the respected person.
Despite being labeled modernist, Japan under the Meiji emperor still retained much of the traditions of its earlier periods. It had become more advanced technologically and politically, yet it respected traditional customs. This is in stark contrast to western Europe in the 19th century, which had just exited the Industrial Revolution. In the book Edo and Paris: Urban Life and the State in the Early Modern Era, James L. McClain explains the following of Japan’s kanban musume (看板娘):
The new water teahouses, which began to proliferate in Edo during the 1740s and reached the height of their popularity at the end of the century, were much more exuberant places of entertainment. Like the shooting galleries, the teahouses employed women. Young “signboard girls” (kanban musume) stood outside on the roadway, where they displayed advertisements, implored passers-by to venture in for a cup of tea, and sometimes even physically dragged potential customers into the shops.
I had initially been curious whether or not the “Galerie du Roy” is a real location. As it turns out, such a location does exist, but it is located in Brussels, Belgium. The actual Galerie du Roi (King’s Gallery) is part of the greater Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (Saint-Hubert Royal Galleries) shopping arcade complex. Arcades, architecturally defined by the succession of arches supported by columns, were popular in the 19th century. The Galeries were inaugurated in 1847 by King Leopold and his sons. In 1896, the Galerie du Roi became the birthplace of Belgian cinema when cinematographers brought moving pictures from Paris. One can also view a virtual 360-degree view of the location.
Why was the location transplanted from Belgium to France? We don’t have a definitive answer, but we can speculate. Compared to the Belgians, Franco-Japanese relations date back to the early 17th century. When the Meiji period brought the world into Japan, the French became a key Japanese partner to modernizing its military and legal structure. Therefore, it would be no surprise that French merchants such as Oscar Claudel would occasionally travel to Japan. Perhaps the lack of an iconic structure such as the Galeries prompted Takeda to transplant the building to its Paris location. Assuming that the timeline of the anime is correct, Claude’s claim that his grandfather began the blacksmith shop 50 years ago when the Galerie opened would mean that the series is set around 1897.