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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  • Marcus

    Just discovered your blog. Awesome! I love the pics. I climbed Fuji …

Mount Fuji 1920s • Tagonoura, Shizuoka

Sailing Vessel and View of Fuji from Tagonoura

A view of Numa River (沼川) and Mount Fuji as seen from Tagonoura (田子ノ浦) in Shizuoka Prefecture. In front is a comparatively large sailing vessel with raised square sail. Called Bezaibune (ベザイ船), these cargo boats were told to have a capacity of 1,000 koku of rice. The Numa River belongs to the Fuji River system and was an extremely important maritime highway during the Edo and early Meiji Periods. Large amounts of rice were transported over this system to Edo (current Tokyo).

Mt. Fuji was a popular subject for ukiyoe woodblock artists and photographers and there are countless ukiyoe, photographs and postcards of this sacred mountain. This view from Tagonoura was especially popular. It often featured sailing vessels like the one pictured here.

Poets loved this site as well. Yamabe no Akahito (山部赤人 or 山邊赤人, 700-736), especially famous for his 50 works in the Manyoshu (the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry), composed a poem inspired by the beauty of this location. It is part of the well-known and well-loved Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, a traditional anthology of Japanese waka poetry.


Tagonoura yu
Uchiidete mireba
Mashiro ni so
Fuji no takane ni
Yuki wa furikeru

When I take the path
To Tago’s coast, I see
Perfect whiteness laid
On Mount Fuji’s lofty peak
By the drift of falling snow.1

The area is now heavily industrialized and has a large number of factories for chips, paper pulp, corn, cement, as well as many fuel oil refineries. This has caused a lot of environmental problems that have seriously damaged the quality of the water in the river and Tagonoura Bay.

Starting in the 1950s, the pollution actually became so bad that it contributed to the destruction of primary fish resources. Since the introduction of new national water-quality regulations in the 1960s, the quality of the water has improved somewhat and in spite of all the factories, there are still some fishermen left in Tagonoura.

The romantic beauty of this photo however is gone. Only the snow on Mt. Fuji, about which Yamabe no Akahito so lyrically wrote, remains. Due to Global Warming, though, even that will soon fade away.

For more information on Mt. Fuji, read Mount Fuji 1890s • From Izumi, Shizuoka

The Google map shows the location of the modern Tagonoura Port.

1 MacCauley, Clay (1899). Hyakunin-isshu (Single Songs of a Hundred Poets): Literal Translations Into English, with Renderings According to the Original Metre. Asiatic Society of Japan.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Postcard
Image Number 70215-0004

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70215-0004 @ MeijiShowa.com.

Usage of this image requires a reproduction fee.
Posted by • 2008-12-15
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Just discovered your blog. Awesome! I love the pics. I climbed Fuji this past July from Tagonoura. It took 25 hours with no meals, no sleep and just short breaks in the hike. My group of 8 read the poem you listed above at the beginning of the trek and collected water from the port which we poured at the summit. It was sad how polluted the water was and the port scenery lacked all the beauty of this old pic. Perhaps when we make the climb this year, I’ll bring a copy of the pic with me and close my eyes as the poem is recited, imagining the world as it once was.

# Marcus · 2011-02-15

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