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  
  • Kjeld Duits

    That’s a beautiful passage. Thank you for sharing!

  • ms2

    “He passes the bridges of the Nakashima River, whose names he recites when he cannot …

Nagasaki 1890s • Amidabashi Bridge

Amida Bridge and Korai Bridge on Nakashima River, Nagasaki

A beautiful romantic view on Amidabashi (Amida Bridge) over Nagasaki’s Zeniyagawa (Zeniya River, nowadays called Nakashimagawa), photographed between 1883 and 1897. In front of Amidabashi is a well. Buckets are seen, but no people. Possibly because of the long exposure time used by the photographer. The bridge in the back is Koraibashi. Rocks and boulders strewn all over the river bed create an image of wild untamed nature, right in the middle of the city of Nagasaki.1

The graceful stone arched Amidabashi was built in 1690 to connect Nagasaki’s Ise-machi and Yahata-machi. It was privately financed by the Nagasaki trader Sonoyama Zenji and was 13.4 metres long and 4.5 metres wide.

Interestingly, bridges in Nagasaki did not have names. Starting upstream with Amidabashi being number 1, they were actually numbered. In daily life, many people identified them using the name of the neighborhood in which they were located. Naturally, this caused some confusion, so a physician and classical Chinese scholar by the name of Nishi Dosen, gave each bridge a name.

He named Amidabashi after the amida-do (a hall of a Buddhist temple revering Amida), which is located on the right of this image, and Koraibashi after its location in Shin Korai-machi (New Korea Town, later to become Ise-machi).

Amidabashi was also called Gokurakubashi (Heaven Bridge). During the Edo Period, convicts walked over this bridge on their way to their execution at Nishizaka. The name “Gokuraku” came from their apparent wish for spiritual salvation.

Although these days the river is only known as Nakashimagawa, it actually had many different names along its flow. Up to the confluence with Narutakigawa, it was called Ichinosegawa. From that point on to the confluence with Dokadogawa, its name changed to Ninosegawa. By the time it reached Nagasaki Harbor, the river’s name changed once again and was now called Ohgawa.

Zeniyagawa was named after the mint (Zeniza) that operated in Shindaiku-machi from 1660 to 1684.2

Ueno HikomaThe Amidabashi is often featured in photographs of Nagasaki. Partly because it was a very attractive and romantic subject for photographers, and partly because the residence and photo studio of Hikoma Ueno (1838-1904) was located nearby the bridge. Actually on the bank of the Zeniyagawa, a very short walk from where this photo was taken.

Ueno plays a very important role in the history of Japanese photography. He was first taught by Dr. Pompe van Meerdervoort (1829 – 1908) at the Dutch Medical School in Nagasaki (Igaku Denshusho). The school was established in 1857 and Ueno started his studies of chemistry and photography here the following year. Around 1859 or 1860, Ueno was shown the wet-plate process by French photographer Pierre Rossier.

In 1860, Lord Todo of the Tsu domain (in current Mie Prefecture) offered Ueno and his fellow student Horie Kuwajiro, who hailed from Tsu, money for the purchase of a camera. They experimented with this camera at Lord Todo’s estate in Edo (current Tokyo).

In 1862, Ueno returned to Nagasaki and opened his photographic studio on the bank of the Zeniyagawa. He ran his studio very successfully for over forty years and became very well-known.3

When his work was exhibited at the 1873 Exposition in Vienna, the Nagasaki Express wrote, “… photographs of the town of Nagasaki and the villages adjacent taken by Uyeno-hikoma of Nakasima, an artist not unknown to fame, as most foreign visitors to this place have taken away specimens of his talent.”4

Over the years, Ueno photographed many important figures of the Meiji revolution, such as Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867), Katsu Kaishu (1823-1899) and Takasugi Shinsaku (1839-1867).

In 2000, Kyushu Sangyo University Photo Contest established the Ueno Hikoma Award

Unfortunately, this beautiful view of Amidabashi and Zeniyagawa has completely vanished. Most of Nakashima River, like many other rivers in Japan, has been fully dressed in ugly concrete. In 1982 Amidabashi itself was damaged by the Great Flood of Nagasaki and replaced with a concrete bridge.
Map of Zeniyagawa, Nagasaki, 1851
1851 Map of Nagasaki: 1. Ichiranbashi; 2. Koeji; 3. Furumachibashi; 4. Amigasabashi; 5. Oidebashi; 6. Fudo Myoo-do; 7. Momotanibashi; 8. Domongawa; 9. Isenomiya Jinja; 10. Isemachi; 11. Koraibashi; 12. Yahatamachi; 13. Amidabashi; 14. Amida-do; 15. Zeniyagawa

1 Nakashimagawa is also called Nakajimagawa.

2 High-definition Image Database of Old Photographs of Japan, Old map of Nakashima River Area (1802). Retrieved on 2008-02-15.

3 Bennett, Terry (2006). Old Japanese Photographs: Collectors’ Data Guide. Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 293. ISBN 0-9550852-4-1

4 Bennett, Terry (2006). Photography in Japan: 1853-1912. Tuttle Publishing, 75. ISBN 0-8048-3633-7

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 70523-0009

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Posted by • 2008-03-03
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“He passes the bridges of the Nakashima River, whose names he recites when he cannot sleep: the proud Tokiwabashi Bridge; the Fukurobashi, by the cloth merchants’ warehouses; the Meganebashi, whose reflected double arches form round spectacles on bright days; the slim-hipped Uoichibashi; the matter-of-fact Higashishinbashi; upstream, past the execution grounds, Imoharabashi Bridge; the Furumachibashi, as old and frail-looking as its name; the lurching Amigasabashi; and, last and highest, the Oidebashi. Uzaemon stops by a row of steps disappearing into the mist and remembers the spring day when he first arrived in Nagasaki”

from David Mitchell, “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet”, 2010

# ms2 · 2012-04-30

That’s a beautiful passage. Thank you for sharing!

# Kjeld Duits · 2012-05-01








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