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 1910s • Prefectural Office

Enokojima Prefectural Office in Osaka

A boat passes in front of the Osaka Prefectural Office on Enokojima Island (江之子島), between the Kizugawa River (木津川) and the Hyakkenbori Canal (百間堀). Started in 1872 (Meiji 5) and completed in July 1874 (Meiji 7), the Neo-Renaissance style building featured an impressive dome on top. These days, Osaka’s prefectural government buildings are located in Otemae (大手前), facing Osaka Castle. But during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, it was the small island of Enokojima which performed the role as Osaka’s governmental area.

Designed by Irish civil engineer and architect Thomas James Waters (トーマス・ジェームズ・ウォートルス, 1842–1898), the brick building in Neo-Renaissance style was Osaka’s first genuine Western-style building. It must have been extremely impressive to the eyes of the contemporary inhabitants of Osaka. Stone steps lead to the entrance which bore four columns supporting a pediment with the Imperial chrysanthemum crest. On top of the building stood a monumental dome which offered a beautiful panorama of Osaka, which at the time still consisted mostly of low-rise wooden buildings.

Enokojima and Osaka City View
The dome of the Osaka Prefectural Office with a panoramic view of Osaka, 1870s~1880s.

A document of the time describes the building in admiring detail:

“It follows the Western way of construction, and has stone foundations which are 2.7 m deep; the walls, are of brick and 14.5 m high; the tower with the dome is 30.3 m. Every effort has been made to make the building beautiful. The four wooden columns at the entrance are, of the finest wood of zelkova trees, which stood in the compounds of temples or shrines in Kanda Village (Kita-ku). The logs were 14 m long up to the thinnest part, the diameter at the thinnest part was 1.6 m and at the butt it was 1.9 m. Villagers considered the trees as sacred; nevertheless, they were cut down in April 1873 so as to promote the prestige of our government.”1

Chiyozo Akaho (赤保千代蔵) used to run a small restaurant opposite the Prefectural Office. In the early 1980s, when he was 86 years old, he recalled his memories of the building:

“Yes, it certainly was a fine building. It looked dignified and majestic. In those days, people did not go to the public office as freely or casually as they do now, and I was so glad when one day, a holiday, I was let in secretly by one of the, guards I had become acquainted with. I ran up the flight of stairs, all the way to the dome … It was as if we too, by the mere fact of living near the Government Office, had become more respectable.”2

130125-0037 - Osaka Prefectural Office on Enokojima
Osaka Prefectural Office as seen from the Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement, 1900s.

Osaka’s government offices had been located in Uchi Hommachi in Higashi-ku. But with expansive plans for the development of Osaka’s harbor, the governor saw the future of Osaka in Enokojima, which was located near the harbor. The area was also right next to the Foreign Settlement in Kawaguchi and the red light district in Matsushima (松島). The rivers and canals were still full with boats transporting all the products that supplied the city. It was a lively and exciting place.

The river bank in front of the Prefectural Office had stone steps leading right to the water. It became an important landing place for the boats partlcipating in the river procession (funatogyo, 船渡御) of the Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭), one of Japan’s three most important annual festivals. Said Akaho:

“All the people of the flotilla came ashore, one after another, the cows, the mikoshi… They all rested up in the front yard of the Prefectural Office and waited until everyone was there. Our place was a first-class location for viewing the procession.”3

100908-0059 - Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement in Osaka
The Kizugawa River and the Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement as seen from Osaka Prefectural Office, 1890s.

The building was popularly called Nishi no Seifu (government of the west), which clearly suggests its importance. It would keep that importance until November 1926 (Taisho 15) when the prefectural government was moved to Otemae. The Enokojima building now became the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Office (大阪府工業奨励館), the current Prefectural Industrial Research Institute (大阪府立工業技術研究所), and kept this function until it was destroyed by bombs during the Second World War.

The Hyakkenbori Canal was filled in a long time ago, while the Kizugawa River’s beautiful stoned walls were replaced with ugly concrete banks. Tall apartment buildings now stand where once the Prefectural Office stood. The romance of the area has completely vanished.

Kizugawa River, Osaka
The Kizugawa River in 2009, as seen from around Matsushima Park, South of Enokojima.

1 Yomiuri Shimbun Shakaibu (1987). Scenes of Naniwa: Osaka Time Tunnel. Warajiya Publishing Co., Ltd, 129.

2 ibid.

3 ibid, 131.

Osaka Map 1893
1893 (Meiji 26) Map of Osaka: 1. Nakanoshima (中之島); 2. Kawaguchi Foreign Settlement (川口居留地); 3. Hyakkenbori River (百間堀); 4. Prefectural Office on Enokojima (江之子島); 5. Kizugawa River (木津川); 6. Matsushima Red Light District (松島遊郭).

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Postcard
Image Number 70219-0004

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Posted by • 2018-08-11
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