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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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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Osaka 1890s • Dotonbori Canal

View on Dotonbori Canal, Osaka

This image still kind of baffles me. According to the title on the negative this is a view on the Dotonbori canal in Osaka. But all other photographs of Dotonbori show a much wider canal and very different buildings. The scene on this image actually very much resembles images of Kita-Shinchi, Osaka’s famed entertainment area in the North of the city. If you happen to have information about this image, please do let me know. For images of the Dotonbori canal, see Osaka 1880s • Dotonbori Canal and Osaka 1890s • Ebisubashi Bridge.

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