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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Hiroshige & Eisen. The Sixty-Nine Stations along the Kisokaido • Andreas Marks, Rhiannon Paget

The Kisokaido route through Japan was ordained in the early 1600s by the country’s then-ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu, who decreed that staging posts be installed along the length of the arduous passage between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. Inns, shops, and restaurants were established to provide sustenance and lodging to weary travelers.


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Arima 1890s • Hot Spring Village

View on Arima Onsen
Arima Onsen
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Houses, onsen ryokan (spa inns) and white kura (traditional storehouse) are crammed together at Arima Onsen, the ancient hot water spa nearby Kobe. The Arimagawa winds itself along the edge of the village. The white bridge crossing the Arimagawa is Taikobashi (太古橋). It connects the village with the Sanda Kaido (三田街道), the highway that lead to nearby Sanda. The large mountain in the back is Mount Rokko, still largely without trees at this time. In 1902 (Meiji 35) massive tree planting programs were started. In 1903 (Meiji 36), for example, some 730,000 trees were planted in the Futatabisan (再度山) area.

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1880s • Shinto Priest

Japanese Shinto Priest (Photo by Kimbei Kusakabe)

An absolutely gorgeous photograph of a Shinto priest wearing vestments. This is one of my favorite ones in my collection. Shinto is native to Japan and was originally a strongly local form of worship. It is older than Japan itself and existed before there was a unified nation. Worshipped are kami (deities), which are often ancestors, natural objects (for example Mount Fuji or a particular tree) and natural processes, such as fertility and growth. More than worship, though, it is the tension between purity (清め, kiyome) and impurity (穢れ, kegare), and the strong emphasis on cleansing impurities from one’s life and space that makes Shinto what it is. Many of the rites and ceremonies in Shinto are specifically performed to cleanse out kegare.

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Kobe 1910s • View from Sea

View of Kobe

View of Kobe city as seen from the harbor, sometime between 1908 and 1918. The building with the orange roof at the foot of the mountains far left is the Tor Hotel (built in 1908). The big building on the right of the center is the Oriental Hotel (built in 1907). The building with the arches, on the left, is the Kobe branch of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. The office buildings of the trading company Mitsui Bussan (built in 1918) and the famed shipping companies Nippon Yusen (built in 1918) and Osaka Shosen Kaisha (built in 1922) have not yet been built. To see a close-up of part of this area in the 1880s, see Kobe 1880s • Houses at Bund. For information about the above-mentioned buildings, see Kobe 1920s • Mercantile Houses.

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Kyoto 1920s • Kiyamachi

Bird's Eye View of Kyoto

Kiyamachi (木屋町) towards Sanjo Kawaramachi, as seen from a building nearby Shijo bridge. The clock tower in front belonged to Murata Watch Shop (村田時計店) and was a famous landmark on Shijodori. The brick building in the very middle is the office of electric power corporation Kyoto Dento (京都電燈株式会社). It stood along Takasegawa, the narrow canal which can just be seen on this photo. Opened in 1611, the canal ran from Nijo to the Yodogawa in Fushimi/Chushojima and for several centuries was Kyoto’s most important trade route for transporting goods like rice, charcoal, salt and wood. Kiyamachi plays an important role in Japanese history as it became a popular clandestine meeting place during the 1860s for forces wishing to overthrow the government.

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