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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Recent Comments  
  • Jackie A

    Hello, i am tracing a relative that came to Hyogo around 1868, his name was …

  • Kjeld Duits

    @Phil: That would be Hyogo, Kobe. During the 19th century, each year a Japan Directory …

  • Phil Brown

    I am looking for a relation of mine who, it is told died in Hyogu …

  • Kjeld Duits

    Thanks a lot, Terry. Fixed it. I seem to do make that kind of typo …

  • terry

    Slight typo: from the First Sino-Japanese War (1984-1895), I think you mean (1894-1895).

Kobe 1880s • View from Yamate

View on Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture

Kobe seen from a location in the mountains, close to where Shin-Kobe Station is located today. The broad street in the center is Takimichi (Waterfall Road, now known as Flower Road). It was so called because it lead to Nunobiki Falls, a short walk away from where the photographer took this photo. The road followed the old riverbed of the Ikutagawa river, which was relocated in 1871 (Meiji 4) to prevent flooding of the foreign settlement. At the time of this photo, the town had existed only about twenty years but it had already developed into a major harbor with a foreign population of over 1,000 people, three quarters of them Chinese.

The Port of Kobe was opened to foreign trade on January 1, 1868 (Meiji 1). Foreign merchants initially lived in Japanese buildings while a sea wall was built and the settlement ground prepared for construction. In September of that year, part of the land was ready and building was started.

Uniquely, the administration of the settlement was done by a Municipal Council consisting of foreign Consular representatives, local Japanese officers and democratically elected members of the foreign community. This Municipal Council would continue to successfully govern the Foreign Settlement until July 17, 1899 (Meiji 32), when it was returned to the Japanese government.

Almost from the very start Kobe was a boomtown. The population exploded from just 2,000 inhabitants when the port was opened to 20,000 only ten years later. Parallel with this growth, came the introduction of modern communications. In 1870 (Meiji 3), a telegraph service between Kobe and Osaka was started. Two years later, the Kobe-Osaka postal service was inaugurated. A train connection between the two cities was opened in 1874 (Meiji 7). Just three years later it was extended to Kyoto.

The first newspapers, the Hiogo and Osaka Herald and the Hiogo News, both English, were started during the very first year of the port’s opening. The Kobe Minato Shimbun, a Japanese paper, was started in 1872 (Meiji 5). It didn’t last long. But in 1884 (Meiji 17), another Japanese newspaper, the Kobe Yushin Nippo (神戸又新日報), was launched. The Hiogo and Osaka Herald didn’t survive long either. In 1888 (Meiji 21), a new English daily, called the Kobe Herald was started.

The first police force was set up about 1873 (Meiji 6) and consisted of three foreigners and about seven Japanese. The law in the Foreign Settlement was administered by the Consular Corps. In 1875 (Meiji 8), the first gas lights appeared on Kobe’s streets, undoubtedly helpful for the small police force.

As the city grew, the small streets of the original village became too small and many new streets were laid, Sakaemachi eventually becoming one of the most important of them. Many banks and large offices would settle here.

Almost from the beginning, a shipbuilding industry grew up in the booming port town. In 1886 (Meiji 19), this became serious business when the Satsuma-born shipbuilder Shozo Kawasaki (川崎正蔵, 1836-1912) established a shipyard in Kobe. He already owned one in Tokyo by the name of Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard (川崎築地造船所). His shipyards would benefit enormously from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and in 1896 (Meiji 29) the two companies merged as the Kawasaki Dockyard Company, Ltd (川崎重工業株式会社). This became the gigantic Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation (川崎造船) that we know today. Kawasaki was just one of many companies that would grow large with Kobe.

When in 1889 Kobe was formally incorporated as Kobe City, it boasted a population of no less than 130,000 inhabitants, handled over a million tons of shipping annually and was one of the most important ports of Japan. All of that, in just two decades.

See more photos of Kobe, by clicking on Kobe under Places (right column).

Map of Kobe, 1891
1891 (Meiji 24) Map of Kobe: 1. Minatogawa; 2. Railroad connection between Kobe and Osaka; 3. Sannomiya Station (current Motomachi Station); 4. Amerika Hatoba; 5. Foreign Settlement; 6. Ikuta Shrine; 7. Recreation Grounds (Higashi Yuenchi); 8. Takimichi (滝道); 9. Shin-Ikutagawa.

Photographer: Kozaburo Tamamura
Publisher: Kozaburo Tamamura
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 70219-0028

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
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Posted by • 2008-10-01
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Slight typo:

from the First Sino-Japanese War (1984-1895),

I think you mean (1894-1895).

# terry · 2008-10-02

Thanks a lot, Terry. Fixed it. I seem to do make that kind of typo a lot. Brain researchers could have a field day with it! :-)

# Kjeld Duits · 2008-10-02

I am looking for a relation of mine who, it is told died in Hyogu Kobe Japan 1899.
I am informed he was in the Tea trade.
His name was William de Rusett

# Phil Brown · 2013-05-16

@Phil: That would be Hyogo, Kobe. During the 19th century, each year a Japan Directory was published with the names, occupations and addresses of pretty much all foreigners in Japan. I would try to find a library that has these directories and start back from 1899. If you manage to come to Japan, you can do this research at the Kobe Central Library (site in Japanese only), the National Diet Library in Tokyo, or the Yokohama Archives of History. There you can also check the English language newspapers of those days. The newspapers always published the names of the passengers on ships, so you should at least be able to get that info for William de Rusett.

# Kjeld Duits · 2013-05-16

Hello, i am tracing a relative that came to Hyogo around 1868, his name was Edward Byrne & by all accounts he was well respected, he died in 1889 & the flew the flags at half mast in his honour. He was referred to as “the father of the settlement” I have some details from Kobe city archives & i am hoping to hear back from a local historian, i wondered if you have heard of him & in particular his son Aden Byrne or his wife? A Japanese lady i believe to be called Tonyama Tetsu.
TIA

# Jackie A · 2015-01-28








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