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

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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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Recent Comments  
  • Kjeld Duits

    @Kathy Morris: Thanks, Kathy. Fixed the text.

  • 写真のバフ

    Nice work. FYI- there are actually four people in this image.

  • Kathy Morris

    Hi. I have aquired 2 vases with the nogawa mark on bottom and a signature …

  • Kjeld Duits

    I am afraid that I don’t know where you can find an appraiser familiar with …

  • Damo

    Hello…literally today I found a miniature bronze vase with 3 cranes standing in water with …

Kyoto 1890s • Bronze Ware Craftsmen

Bronze Ware Craftsman N. Nogawa, Kyoto

Four bronze ware craftsmen are at work in the workshop of Noboru Nogawa (能川登) in Kyoto, founded in 1825 (Bunsei 8). Nogawa acted both as a manufacturer and dealer and ran a very popular shop on 35 Shijo Otabicho, as well as showrooms in the Kyoto Hotel and the Miyako Hotel, the city’s most exclusive hotels. Although there is surprisingly little documentation on the company, it appears to have been well-known at the time. It exhibited at several large overseas exhibitions between 1893 (Meiji 26) and 1910 (Meiji 43) and the Kyoto shop was listed in A Handbook for Travellers in Japan written by the famous British Japanologist Basil Hall Chamberlain (1850–1935) and telecommunications specialist William B. Mason (1853-1923). First published in 1889 (Meiji 22), this was for decades the most authoritative English language guide on Japan.

Buddha StatueIn advertising, the company introduced itself as “a manufacturer of bronze and fine art wares,” which included garden items, birds, animals, human figures, Buddhas, gongs and bells, vases, lanterns and small pieces. Nogawa also sold cloisonné ware, damascene works, ivory carving, lacquer ware, pearls, prints and Satsuma ware.1 The image on the left shows a Buddha statue that was recently sold at auction and came with a receipt from the Nogawa company. These kind of items were very much loved by foreign visitors who bought trunk loads of them.

Intriguingly, at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), many Japanese were just about throwing items like these out with the garbage. It actually took an American professor of philosophy and political economy by the name of Ernest Francisco Fenollosa (1853-1908) to rekindle Japan’s interest in its treasures. Fenollosa helped found the Tokyo Fine Arts Academy and the Imperial Museum, assisted in drafting the law for the preservation of temples, shrines and their art treasures, and made the first inventory of Japan’s national treasures (国宝, Kokuho), apparently a word that was introduced by him. Japan was grateful, Fenollosa was decorated with the orders of the Rising Sun and the Sacred Mirror.

Nogawa MarkBecause of the lack of documentation, until recently Nogawa metalwork was identified as being from the Hattori Co. It was only during the early 2000s that experts discovered that the distinctive mark they had believed as belonging to Hattori, was actually Nogawa’s trade-mark. It features the stylized hiragana character no (の) with three vertical lines in the background signifying the kanji character for river (川, kawa, or gawa in compounds). This is effectively pronounced as Nogawa.2 This new discovery meant a drastic evaluation of Nogawa’s small but productive workshop. Undoubtedly, as a result more Nogawa pieces will be discovered in the future.

It is truly fascinating to realize that all over the world are beautiful items bearing this mark —a mark often probably even unknown to the current owner— and that they were all made in the small workshop shown in the above photograph, maybe even by one of these four men.

Map of Kyoto and Vicinity with Shopping Directory, 1928
The Nogawa shop marked on “Map of Kyoto and Vicinity with Shopping Directory,” an English language map, published by the Miyako Hotel. The map is not dated but contains markings for the “Grand Exposition in Commemoration of the Imperial Coronation,” which dates it to 1928 (Showa 3) when an exhibition for the coronation of Emperor Showa (Hirohito) took place in Kyoto. The pen markings were made by or for the foreign visitor who used this map.

The Google Map below shows the approximate location of where the Nogawa shop used to be. Nearby are a McDonalds and a Mos Burger. How times have changed…

1 Schneider, Fredic T (Winter 2004). Meiji Japan’s Hattori Co. no more. N. Nogawa Bronze Company and its Mark., Daruma, Japanese Art & Antiques Magazine, Issue 40: 46-47.

2 ibid.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 71005-0005

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 71005-0005 @ MeijiShowa.com.

Usage of this image requires a reproduction fee.
Posted by • 2008-11-21
Add Comment

The N. Nogawa shop at the same address was still in operation as late as November 1935. A British tourist picked up a card from the store in that month.

# Michael Nichols · 2008-11-26

Thanks, Michael. I have also seen N. Nogawa receipts for the 1930s. I haven’t seen anything yet from after the 30s, though.

# Kjeld Duits · 2008-11-26

Do you recall anything about the Buddha figure you posted an image of? I have a similar one that was brought by my family from Japan in the 1930s. They lived in Kobe and I had always thought it was from there, but appears identical to the photograph.

# Mike Wood · 2010-11-26

Unfortunately Buddha statues are outside my area of expertise, so I highly recommend contacting someone with knowledge of them. Incidentally, Buddha statues like these are not really rare; having a contemporary invoice or receipt can make a big difference.

# Kjeld Duits · 2010-11-26

thanks for your help. I know it is inscribed extensively on the base, but aside from the の I can’t read Japanese characters. I will have to photograph it and send it to someone / do more research. I had planned on photographing it today anyway for a blog post. :)

thanks again.

# Mike Wood · 2010-11-26

You’re welcome, Mike. I just had a look at the photo that you shot of your Buddha statue. It is a beautiful minimalist shot; I love how you angled your shot and how you included the tree trunk. It actually looks like it is a huge statue on a mountain.

I see that you are based in London, Ontario. Spent a month in the Waterloo-Kitchener area in 2000, and also visited London at the time. Really loved it there.

# Kjeld Duits · 2010-11-26

Thanks for your help I found a Nogawa vase in a dump 38 years ago.

# David · 2013-10-28

@David: Yes, the Japanese used to throw away beautiful treasures in those days. Friends of mine even built a business on collecting Japanese antiques on thrash day. Thankfully, those days are gone and people have become a little bit more careful. Nowadays these kind of things are sold on Yahoo Auction…

# Kjeld Duits · 2013-10-28

Hello…literally today I found a miniature bronze vase with 3 cranes standing in water with a few reeds that bears the makers mark as shown above for $1.25. How can I find out if it is real?
Thanks, Damon

# Damo · 2015-06-07

I am afraid that I don’t know where you can find an appraiser familiar with Nogawa’s work. You could try contacting Kogire-kai.

# Kjeld Duits · 2015-06-08

Hi. I have aquired 2 vases with the nogawa mark on bottom and a signature on both pieces. 11 inches tall. One has birds flying by the moon. The second birds r walking in water and they have red on their crest( I think u would all it crest) the second is also missing the bottom that would hold water or whatever in vase. Any info on history or worth today would be greatly appreciated

# Kathy Morris · 2015-07-29

Nice work. FYI- there are actually four people in this image.

# 写真のバフ · 2016-06-14

@Kathy Morris: Thanks, Kathy. Fixed the text.

# Kjeld Duits · 2016-06-14

Textile help

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