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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Osaka 1870s • The Octopus Pine

Tako no Matsu

This very rare image shows the Tako no Matsu (鮹之松, Octopus Pine) on Osaka’s Nakanoshima. This pine tree was located in front of a kurayashiki (蔵屋敷, a combined warehouse and residence) of the daimyo (lord) of Kurume (久留米), a town in Fukuoka Prefecture. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), the banks of Nakanoshima were lined with many kurayashiki of daimyo who brought their domain‘s rice and other products to Osaka for sale. The daimyo would also rest here on their way to Edo (current Tokyo). The Shogunate‘s requirement that daimyo spent alternate years in the capital (Sankin Kotai), meant that daimyo ended up traveling a lot, so the kurayashiki was far more than merely a branch office.

Tako no Matsu got its name because it was shaped like a swimming octopus. During the Edo Period, the tree was considered one of the major sightseeing spots in Osaka and was represented on many ukiyoe (woodblock prints). It was also described in Settsu Meisho Zue Taisei (摂津名所図絵), a famous Edo Period travel guide for Osaka: “This large historical tree is of striking beauty, with leaves and branches growing luxuriantly. In the whole area along the river there is no finer scenic spot than here.”

It was clearly considered an important tree and was decorated with a shimenawa (sacred rope) during New Year. A large amount of money was spent on its upkeep. The tree died during the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). A stump is still kept by Osaka University of Education (大阪教育大学). In 2004 (Heisei 16) a new Tako no Matsu was planted, but not in the original location and not half as imposing as the one on this image. Whereas the original tree matched its surroundings perfectly, the current one looks very sad and lonely among all the concrete it is surrounded by.1

Houses near Tamino Bridge
Detail showing houses near the Tamino Bridge. Notice the cat enjoying the view from the roof.

The stone steps in the foreground show that this was a landing place for boats, which would unload their cargo here. The bridge in the back is the Tamino Bridge (田蓑橋). This almost 92 meter long wooden bridge was built in 1693 (Genroku 6). It was destroyed by a flood in 1885 (Meiji 18). Although quickly rebuilt by another wooden bridge, it was replaced by an iron bridge in 1901 (Meiji 34). The current Tamino Bridge dates from 1965 (Showa 40).2

Taminobashi
Tamino Bridge

What makes this image special is that the bridge in the foreground, called the Kurume Bridge, is made of wood. Other images of this tree usually show a bridge with railings made of cast iron. This dates this image to the early Meiji Period. The bridge, a so called funairibashi (舟入橋, bridge to let boats in) spanned a small canal that allowed boats to enter the domain’s compound for easier loading and off-loading of cargo.3

Kurumebashi
Kurume Bridge. The long exposure has reduced the person on the left to a ghost-like image. The man standing on the middle of the bridge clearly didn’t move much.

1 蛸の松. Retrieved on 2009-01-11.

2 ウィキペディア、「田蓑橋」。Retrieved on 2009-01-11.

3 Yomiuri Shimbun Shakaibu (1987). Scenes of Naniwa: Osaka Time Tunnel. Warajiya Publishing Co., Ltd, 8-10.

4 The same image is also part of the Teijiro Ueda Collection, the only other print of this image that I am aware of.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 80626-0003

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Posted by • 2009-01-11
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