OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

Old Photos of Japan
shows photos of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s. In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in more than 200 years. It set in motion a truly astounding transformation. As fate would have it, photography had just been invented. As the old country vanished and a new one was born, daring photographers took photos. Discover what life was like with their rare and precious photographs of old Japan.
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Yokohama 1900s • View from Motomachi

Bird's Eye View of Yokohama
View on Yokohama from Motomachi
click to enlarge

The street leading towards Maedabashi (bridge in front center) is Motomachi, home to many attractive shops. Across the bridge is Hommura Road. When you walked halfway down this road till Odawara-cho and turned left, it took you through the heart of Yokohama’s Chinatown, generally described in foreign guidebooks of the time as “malodorous.” Kaga-cho, on the top left of this photo, was known for its many warehouses and tea-firing godowns (storehouses).

From Motomachi shopping street a very steep flight of 102 steps lead up the hill and a famous tea shop. This location is where the photographer shot this image. It offered a magnificent view on Yokohama, the harbor and even Mt. Fuji. This area was known locally as the favorite shore resort of Commodore Perry (1794-1858). A teahouse located here in the early days was even supposed to have had a poem written by him.1

Not only Perry had special memories of this place. So did Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) who was enchanted by the shops catering to foreigners in Motomachi. “Florists, tailors, milliners, bakers, cafes. . . . whatever decorates the windows — flowers, cakes, cloth — is a riot of loud Western color.”

Whereas Westerners usually commented on the smells in Chinatown, Tanizaki noticed the smells of Western culture: “The odor of cigars, the aroma of chocolate, the fragrance of flowers, the scent of perfume — the strongest were the cigars and the chocolate.”2

Although Motomachi still is a charming shopping district filled with shops that make you repeatedly grab for your wallet, the view has greatly changed. The once fabulous view of the harbor with its majestic ships is now completely blocked by a sea of concrete buildings. Maedabashi, and the canal it crosses, are hidden below a monstrous elevated highway. Perry and Tanizaki would be greatly shocked.

Map of Yokohama 1920
1920 (Taisho 9) tourist guide map of Yokohama’s foreign settlement.

1 Terry, T. Philip (1920). Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire Including Korea and Formosa. Houghton Mifflin Company, 20.

2 Richie, Donald (2002-12-08), Asian Bookshelf: Where West met East, Japan Times.

3 Tanizaki, Junichiro (1923). Nikkai (A Lump of Flesh).

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Tomboya
Medium: Postcard
Image Number 70124-0007

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70124-0007 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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Posted by • 2008-04-14
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