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 of the Japanese Postcard: Masterpieces fom the Leonard A. Lauder Collection • Kendall Brown et al

From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Japan was a vital world center for postcard art. More than just casual mail pieces, these postcards were often designed by prominent artists and had a visual impact that belied their modest format.


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Kobe 1880s • View from Yamate

View on Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture

Kobe seen from a location in the mountains, close to where Shin-Kobe Station is located today. The broad street in the center is Takimichi (Waterfall Road, now known as Flower Road). It was so called because it lead to Nunobiki Falls, a short walk away from where the photographer took this photo. The road followed the old riverbed of the Ikutagawa river, which was relocated in 1871 (Meiji 4) to prevent flooding of the foreign settlement. At the time of this photo, the town had existed only about twenty years but it had already developed into a major harbor with a foreign population of over 1,000 people, three quarters of them Chinese.

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Kyoto 1890s • Teahouses in Gion

View on Gion-machi, Kyoto

The entertainment district of Gion in Kyoto as seen from the steps of Yasaka Shrine. The street is flanked with a multitude of teahouses where customers could enjoy food, dance and music. The tower on the left is part of Yasaka Elementary School (弥栄小学校), established in 1869 (Meiji 2). The school’s tower was used as a lookout and to mark the time, every two hours a drum inside the lookout was sounded. Electricity poles already line the street. Kyoto’s electricity company, Kyoto Dento Gaisha (京都電灯会社), started operations in July 1889 (Meiji 22), so this photograph was taken after this date. Right in front of the pole next to Yasaka Elementary School, a gaslight can also be seen. Kyoto is rapidly modernizing itself.

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Nagasaki 1880s • Ebisu Shrine and Harbor

View on Harbor in Nagasaki

A beautiful view of Nagasaki Harbor and Ebisu Shrine (恵美須神社) taken from Akunoura (飽の浦). The mountains to the left are Mt. Konpira (金比羅山) and Mt. Tateyama (立山). Ebisu Shrine was located right across the bay from Deshima (also: Dejima), the fan-shaped artificial island where the Dutch merchants kept their trading post between 1641 and 1853. The shrine played a minor role in Japanese history when it became the special office of the Nagasaki Magistrate Matsudaira Zushonokami (松平図書守) during the so called Phaeton Incident of 1808, when a British warship entered and threatened Nagasaki Harbor.

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Tokyo 1890s • Prostitutes in Cage

Japanese Prostitutes

Prostitutes behind a window in the Yukaku (red light district) of Yoshiwara in Tokyo. Prostitutes from less expensive brothels were seated behind wooden latticed windows called harimise (張り見世). As a result of intense international pressure, putting prostitutes on display in harimise was prohibited in 1916. For more information about how Yoshiwara worked, read Tokyo 1910s • Yoshiwara Prostitutes and Tokyo 1900s • Yoshiwara Omon. Click Prostitution (Themes) to see all photos of prostitution in Japan.

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