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With the rise of otaku culture Japan is in its golden age of anime events, which means that cosplay is bigger than ever. But it turns out that even before there were Internet forums, prop suppliers, and even dedicated themed cosplay photo studio complexes, people in Japan were dressing up in fantasy costumes and posing for the camera.

As a matter of fact, this photo from more than a century ago shows that the roots of cosplay predate Japanese animation itself. But with no anime conventions or social media outlets through which to show off their outfits, why did this group bother? Suffice to say the reason for this photo shoot is about as unexpected as the costumed scene itself: a giant monkey about to sumo wrestle a biped dog.

When Japan’s lengthy period of forced isolation finally came to a close in the mid-1800s, the country finally got a chance to see what the rest of the world had been up to over the last 250 years or so. After a couple of centuries of being held back by limited exchange of goods and knowledge with other nations, advanced concepts in the fields of medicine, science, technology, politics, and economics quickly transformed Japan.

Among other things, Japan greatly benefited from Western civil engineering, and the turn of the 20th century say a rush of public works projects. One significant achievement was the Yoshidahashi Bridge (also called the Yoshidabashi Bridge) in Yokohama. Only the second steel bridge to be built in Japan, Yoshidahashi connected the town’s foreign Kannai settlement with the harbor, allowing for an easier and more efficient flow of people, goods, and vehicles around one of Japan’s most bustling port towns.

▼ The bridge under construction…

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▼ …and as it looked upon completion in October of 1911.

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Of course, fancy bridges weren’t the only new marvel that contact with the rest of the world had brought. Cameras and photography were also capturing the public’s imagination, and so to celebrate the opening of the Yoshidahashi Bridge, someone decided to take a picture for a commemorative postcard. However, for some reason the decision was made not to photograph the bridge itself, but a series of costumers dressed up as the characters from Japanese folktale Momotaro, or Peach Boy.

▼ What, isn’t this how everyone celebrates the opening of public works?

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Front and center we’ve got the titular hero himself, looking every bit the part. There’s another human in the back right corner, probably the old woman who finds the baby Momotaro inside a peach floating down a stream and raises him.

Then things start to get a little weird.

In the legend, Momotaro is accompanied on his adventures by three animal companions, a pheasant, a monkey, and a dog. In this photo, though, the pheasant is instead represented by a humanoid figure with a bird for a head.

▼ Are we sure that’s not one of the demons Momotaro is supposed to be on a quest to kill?

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The story also tells us that the monkey and the dog don’t really get along with one another. But while there are passages in the tale that mention them squabbling and bickering, the photographer instead decided to go for a more visual representation of their simmering animosity by having them take up sumo stances and get ready to throw down.

▼ Like the pheasant, the dog is kind of freaky-looking.

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All in all, it’s a much less cute and friendly version of the Momotaro cast than what we’re used to from kids’ picture books. But hey, we’ve seen before that a grittier take on the Peach Boy legend can work, and if nothing else, everyone dressed up as current anime “it girl” Hestia this summer owes these five cosplaying pioneers at least a small debt of gratitude.

Source: Artist Database, Tumblr
Top image: Japan Society of Civil Engineers
Insert images: Japan Society of Civil Engineers (1, 2, 3) (edited by RocketNews24)