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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Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 • Donald Keene

When Emperor Meiji began his rule, in 1867, Japan was a splintered empire, dominated by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over the country’s more than 250 decentralized domains and who were, in the main, cut off from the outside world, staunchly antiforeign, and committed to the traditions of the past. Before long, the shogun surrendered to the emperor, a new constitution was adopted, and Japan emerged as a modern, industrialized state.


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Osaka 1920s • Osaka City Hall

Osaka City Office

Osaka City Hall in Nakanoshima. Built between 1918 (Taisho 7) and 1921 (Taisho 10), Osaka City Hall was designed by representative Meiji Era architects like Yasushi Kataoka, Hikotaro Imabayashi and others, who followed an original design by Yokichi Ogawa. It was said that the tower on the roof was built to make City Hall look just a little higher than the nearby District Court, which had been completed in 1917 (Taisho 6) and had a very imposing red brick tower (partly visible behind City Hall on this image). Osaka already looks thoroughly modern on this postcard, with the stone City Hall in the foreground, the street cars, automobiles and the concrete and brick buildings in the back. A far cry from the townscape full of traditional wooden architecture that had graced this area until the Great Kita Fire of 1909 (Meiji 42).

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Osaka 1909 • Shijimi River after the Fire

Shijimi River

Dojima and Sonesaki on both sides of Osaka’s Shijimi River (蜆川) were devastated by the Great Kita Fire of July 31, 1909 (Meiji 42). The river, which played an important part in Osaka culture was filled in with the rubble and forever vanished from Osaka’s town scape. For more information about this devastating fire, read Osaka 1909 • Great Kita Fire.

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Osaka 1909 • Great Kita Fire

Kita no Taika (Great Kita Fire), Osaka

At 4:20 in the morning on July 31, 1909 (Meiji 42) a fire broke out at a knit-wear factory in Osaka’s Kita-ku, the northern part of the city. In late Meiji (1868-1912), there were only two fire engines—powered by steam—for the whole city, and most of the buildings in Osaka were made of wood. This proved disastrous. As a strong north-eastern wind drove the fire from one bamboo gutter to the next, it soon went wild. Within hours, a huge area south of Osaka station was engulfed in flames.

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1930s • Pet Bird Shop

Japanese Shop Selling Pet Birds

This postcards shows a delightful scene of a shop selling pet birds. Birds used to be extremely popular as pets.

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