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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Kobe 1930s • Elevated Railway Tracks

Steam Train on Elevated Railway Tracks in Kobe

A steam locomotive pulls passenger cars on elevated railway tracks in Kobe. When the railroad connection between Kobe and Osaka was opened in 1870 (Meiji 3), Kobe was still a small town and the tracks didn’t appear to be in the way. But as the town grew, the tracks ended up being right in the middle of the city center, cutting the town in half. As traffic increased, this division turned into a major drawback. So in October 1931, the tracks were elevated. In neighborhoods that attracted many people, shops and even some homes were built under the tracks, people didn’t seem to mind the thundering trains above their heads…During WWII the area below the tracks serviced as a welcome shelter for countless people who lost their homes to fire bomb raids.

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Tokyo 1910s • Ginza

Street Cars at Ginza, Tokyo

Looking north-east towards Ginza not too far from the spot where the current Shinbashi subway station is located. Two electrified streetcars, first introduced in 1903 (Meiji 36), are in the front, others can be seen in the far background. The empty space in front of the building with the tower is Shinbashi Bridge. The building itself is the celebrated Teikoku Hakuhinkan Kankoba (帝国博品館勧工場, current Hakuhinkan), established in October 1899 (Meiji 32). The building featured a large variety of shops and was similar to our modern shopping center. It is generally considered to be the origin of the Japanese department store.

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Nagasaki 1870s • Minamiyamate

View on Oura and Nagasaki Harbor

A view on Nagasaki Harbor and the southern tip of the city’s foreign settlement. The main settlement in Oura is behind the hill in the right background. The lone pine tree located on that hill marks the location of the residence of the influential Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911). The house was completed in 1863 (Bunkyu 3) and is today the oldest extant Western-style building in Japan. The area to the left of that is Kozone (小曾根). The Japanese houses in the front are located in Naminohira (浪の平). On the fields in the right foreground, a modern school (Chintei Elementary School, 尋常鎮鼎小学校) would be built in 1887 (Meiji 20). Several Western residences can already be seen, soon more would follow and by the early 1890s all the fields seen on this image were gone.

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Kobe 1910s • Sannomiya

Sannomiya, Kobe

Ikuta-mae, the street leading to the shinto shrine Ikuta Jinja. In the background the shrine’s torii can be seen. One Western style building made of stone stands out among the otherwise traditional wooden architecture. When Kobe opened its port for trade in 1868 (Meiji 1), this was a beautiful rural sand-road that lead from the shrine to the sea and was lined on both sides with plum and cherry trees and countless stone lanterns. The Dutch located their first consulate around here on the left side of the road. The consul must have had an incredibly beautiful view in spring when all those trees were in flower. The trees and lanterns, however, were removed in the 1870s and the country road became a bustling shopping street that connected Ikuta Jinja with the Foreign Settlement.

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