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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Enoshima 1890s • View from Katase

View on Enoshima Island

The island of Enoshima in Sagami Bay, Kanagawa Prefecture as seen from the dunes on shore. A reach of sand stretching from the beach to the island can be seen to the left of the man with his back to the camera. The tiny island with a circumference of just 4 km was connected to the mainland during low tide, but could only be reached by boat during high tide.

On the left of the island the small island of Shotenjima can be seen. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (Taisho 12) made land around the island rise so much that the two islands ended up being connected.

Enoshima has been a place of worship since ancient times. Benzaiten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods and a protector of seafaring people, is enshrined on the island. In the second half of the Edo Period, it became a very popular destination of pilgrims. Once nearby Yokohama was opened in 1859, an increasing number of foreigners started to visit as well, starting the island’s career as a tourist attraction. Many well-known foreign visitors of the time have left accounts of their visits. A particularly detailed one was written by Lafcadio Hearn:

And our path turns sharply to the right, and winds along cliff-summits overlooking a broad beach of dun-coloured sand; and the sea wind blows deliciously with a sweet saline scent, urging the lungs to fill themselves to the very utmost; and far away before me, I perceive a beautiful high green mass, an island foliage-covered, rising out of the water about a quarter of a mile from the mainland, Enoshima, the holy island, sacred to the goddess of the sea, the goddess of beauty. I can already distinguish a tiny town, grey-sprinkling its steep slope. Evidently it can be reached today on foot, for the tide is out, and has left bare a long broad reach of sand, extending to it, from the opposite village which we are approaching, like a causeway.

At Katase, the little settlement facing the island, we must leave our jinrikisha and walk; the dunes between the village and the beach are too deep to pull the vehicle over. Scores of other jinrikisha are waiting here in the little narrow street for pilgrims who have preceded me. But today, I am told, I am the only European who visits the shrine of Benten. Our two men lead the way over the dunes, and we soon descend upon damp firm sand. As we near the island the architectural details of the little town define delightfully through the faint sea-haze, curved bluish sweeps of fantastic roofs, angles of airy balconies, high-peaked curious gables, all above a fluttering of queerly shaped banners covered with mysterious lettering. We pass the sand-flats; and the ever-open Portal of the Sea-city, the City of the Dragon-goddess, is before us, a beautiful torii. All of bronze it is, with shimenawa of bronze above it, and a brazen tablet inscribed with characters declaring: “This is the Palace of the Goddess of Enoshima.”

About the bases of the ponderous pillars are strange designs in relievo, eddyings of waves with tortoises struggling in the flow. This is really the gate of the city, facing the shrine of Benten by the land approach; but it is only the third torii of the imposing series through Katase: we did not see the others, having come by way of the coast. And lo! we are in Enoshima. High before us slopes the single street, a street of broad steps, a street shadowy, full of multi-coloured flags and dark blue drapery dashed with white fantasticalities, which are words, fluttered by the sea wind. It is lined with taverns and miniature shops. At every one I must pause to look; and to dare to look at anything in Japan is to want to buy it. So I buy, and buy, and buy!1

Unfortunately, the island’s increasing popularity probably helped to persuade the local people to build a bridge. Enoshima’s first bridge was built in 1897 (Meiji 30). People were levied 3 sen in tolls to cross and return. In 1930 (Showa 5), Kanagawa Prefecture took over the bridge and lowered the toll to 2 sen.

In 1949 (Showa 24), a new concrete bridge was built, the tolls were now 5 yen. This was changed to a ferro-concrete bridge in 1958 (Showa 33). In 1964 (Showa 39), the island was linked by a massive concrete bridge to accommodate modern traffic, accompanied by lots of development on the island itself. By then, all of Enoshima’s once enchanting charm was completely lost.

The beautiful dunes of this photograph have been completely erased by concrete buildings and asphalt roads, one of the countless victims of uncontrolled development.

1 Hearn, Lafcadio (1910). Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan. Bernhard Tauchnitz, 57-59.

Photographer: Kozaburo Tamamura
Publisher: Kozaburo Tamamura
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 70820-0005

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Posted by • 2008-06-04
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