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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Art And Artifice: Japanese Photographs Of The Meiji Era • Sebastian Dobson, Anne Nishimura Morse, Frederic Sharf
Art And Artifice

A brief introduction to Meiji-era photographs and to the world in which they flourished. Three essays and dozens of images explore the social function of these photos, their remarkable artistry, and the personal stories of those who collected and preserved these images.

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1890s • Kago Bearers Taking a Break

Kago Bearers and Customer Taking a Break

During a break, two kago bearers smoke kiseru pipes while their customer is being served tea by a waitress from a teahouse. The woman’s luggage is tied to the roof of the kago. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), only samurai were allowed to ride horses, while horse carriages were unknown. The kago therefore was Japan’s main mode of transportation until the invention of the jinrikisha (rickshaw) around 1868. The jinrikisha quickly replaced the kago in the cities (Tokyo for example had already some 56,000 jinrikisha in 1872), but its use continued in mountainous areas where the jinrikisha was often not practical.

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Kyoto 1890s • Gion Matsuri

Festival Float at Gion Matsuri, Kyoto
Gion Matsuri Float
click to enlarge

A festival float is being pulled down a street during Kyoto’s famed Gion Matsuri, which takes place during July. The festival was started when in 869, Kyoto was suffering from pestilence. By order of Emperor Seiwa (850-880, 清和天皇), the people of Kyoto prayed to the god of Yasaka Shrine for deliverance of the disease. For each of the sixty-six provinces of Japan, a decorated halberd was displayed, together with mikoshi (palanquin to carry a god) from the shrine. In later years, if disease broke out again this ritual was repeated. It was made an annual event in 970. Over the years, the festival became increasingly elaborate and rich merchants started to use it to display their wealth. Today’s Gion Matsuri (click on the photo on the left) still looks very much like it did on this photo from the 1890s. Unfortunately, very few of the wooden buildings of those days remain.

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Nara 1934 • Rural Houses

Koinobori Streamers and Typical Rural Houses near Nara, Japan (May 1934).

Typical rural houses near Nara. It is late April or early May as can be seen from the Koinobori streamers fluttering in the wind in celebration of Boy’s Day on May 5.

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Tokyo 1920s • Asakusa Nakamise

Asakusa Nakamise

The Nakamise souvenir shops at the Buddhist temple Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo. In the back the huge Niomon (仁王門) entrance gate can be seen. The first shops were built on this location in 1885 (Meiji 18). They were destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but they were rebuilt in concrete in 1925. For detailed information about the Nakamise, read Tokyo 1934 • Asakusa Nakamise. Also see Tokyo 1910s • Asakusa Nakamise.

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