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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1910s • Children Carrying Children

Children Carrying Children

Foreign visitors were uniformly surprised by scenes like this one, children carrying their smaller brothers and sisters on their backs while playing with each other. As a result there are countless photographs and postcards showing Japanese kids doing their nursery duty. It must have been hard work, but probably also created close bonds and prepared them for their future role as parents. These days, most Japanese parents don’t even carry their kids around like this. They push them away from themselves in carts. It can’t be good for the parent-child bonding process.

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1910s • Drinking Tea

Japanese Family in Traditional Clothing Having Tea

What a wonderful and relaxed scene. Three women and two small kids, all wearing traditional clothing, having a welcome tea break at the engawa of a thatched house. The women’s clothing does not seem to be the working wear for these farm women. Perhaps this was a small social gathering of neighbourhood women for tea rather than a break during a day of hard work. Or perhaps they changed clothes for the photographer. Nonetheless, the pile of fire wood seems to imply that these moments of rest were rare. Life was hard for farm women, and they worked long days, both at home and out in the fields.

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Yokohama 1890s • Isezaki-cho 2-chome

Isezakicho, Theater Street, Yokohama

The area between Isezakicho and Nigiwai-cho was known among foreigners as Theater Street. Since around 1877 (Meiji 10), the street was filled with theaters, teahouses and restaurants which attracted lots of crowds and made this one of Yokohama’s most lively areas of the middle of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). This photograph shows the area around Isami-za theater (勇座) in Matsugae-cho (松ヶ枝町, current Isezaki-cho 2-chome) as it looked sometime between 1887 (Meiji 20) and 1897 (Meiji 30). In 1899 (Meiji 32) the area burnt down and all this vanished forever.

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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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