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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  • Kjeld Duits

    @Llyn Hunter: What a surprise to find you here, too. Thank you for your kind …

  • Llyn Hunter

    I am so delighted and amazed at this collection of photographs. Almost every day …

Tokyo 1890s • Yoshiwara Brothels

Nakanocho, Yoshiwara Brothel District, Tokyo

Brothels in the Yoshiwara red light district in Tokyo at the tail end of the 19th century. The architecture at the time was heavily influenced by Western ideas, although Yoshiwara still had a unique Japanese feel to it.

When Yoshiwara was first created in 1617, it was located near Nihonbashi. In the second half of the 17th century, it was moved out of the city to a spot nearby Asakusa and renamed Shin Yoshiwara (New Yoshiwara), but the shin was soon dropped.

Over the years, Yoshiwara was repeatedly burnt down. Each time it rose from the ashes, albeit with a totally new look. The total number of fires that ravaged the quarters in its new location is almost too large to grasp. Between January 10, 1677, when the first fire took place, and March 15, 1896, shortly before this photograph was taken, no less than 34 fires were counted.

Quite a few of them burnt down most or all of Yoshiwara. There is no pattern. One fire broke out in a bath-house, another in a tobacco store, another again in a buddhist temple and so on. Not only did the fires create much damage, but over the years many lives were lost.1

After this photo was shot, fires would once again destroy Yoshiwara. The most devastating ones happened in 1913, 1923 and 1945.

Map of Yoshiwara Brothel District
Map of Yoshiwara in 1846: 1. Kyomachi Ichome (京町一丁目); 2. Ageyamachi (揚屋町); 3. Edocho Ichome (江戸町一丁目); 4. Suidojiri (水道尻); 5. Nakanocho (仲ノ町); 6. Omon (大門); 7. Kyomachi Nichome (京町二丁目); 8. Sunicho (角町); 9. Edocho Nichome (江戸町二丁目)

1 De Becker, J. E. (1899). The Nightless City or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku. Max Nössler & Co: 249-254.

2 As it is unclear at which brothel this photo was shot, the Google Map below shows the location of the former entrance gate, the Omon (大門), located in current-day Senzoku 4-chome, Taito-ku (台東区千束4丁目).

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 70621-0002

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70621-0002 @ MeijiShowa.com.

Usage of this image requires a reproduction fee.
Posted by • 2008-06-24
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I am so delighted and amazed at this collection of photographs. Almost every day I find a new treat in my in-box and you have all of this amazing extra information. This period of Japan is so fascinating, and the photos are so amazing. I feel so fortunate to have discovered both of your amazing sites. I especially love the constant mixing of east/west styles – and with you information about the fires in Yoshiwara, this is truly a rare moment frozen in time.

# Llyn Hunter · 2013-06-15

@Llyn Hunter: What a surprise to find you here, too. Thank you for your kind words! I just received your artwork and sent you an e-mail a few minutes ago.

# Kjeld Duits · 2013-06-15

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