By the 1870s photography in Japan came to be called shashin, a term introduced from China and used in Japan since the eighteenth century. This article approaches the history of photography through the conceptual framework that surrounded shashin in the decades before its pairing with photography. What did shashin indicate in the context of the prephotographic production of images? What kinds of meanings were attached to the term that would later resonate with photographic technology? This article considers the study of materia medica in nineteenth-century Japan to explore these questions. It examines various pictorial representations characterized as shashin in nineteenth-century Owari domain to suggest that the term shashin was deployed to articulate, negotiate, and concretize a particular relationship between plants and their illustrations. Shifting focus from the technological history to the conceptual history of photography, this article aims to demonstrate the interrelatedness of methods of picture making and historically situated epistemologies through the concept of shashin.

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