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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Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People • William W. Fitzhugh et al
Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People

Japan’s indigenous people, the Ainu, inhabited Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands, southern Sakhalin Island, and a portion of northern Honshu. They had a unique culture and language, completely separate from that of the Japanese. By the middle of the 19th century, the destruction of this ancient culture was set in motion by Japan’s national government.

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About Old Photos of Japan

Search Options
Geographic Context
Japanese Names
Help Make this Site Better
Licensing Images
About Us & Contact Info
Contact Us

A Window into Japan’s Past

“You have to know the past,” wrote American Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan (1934-1996), “to understand the present.”

This is especially true for Japan’s dramatic transformation from an isolated feudal country to a modern world power between the 1850s and 1930s. It is during this period that the modern Japan that we know today was born.

Many of the customs that are now called traditional were invented during this time. And many that are still seen as new can trace their origins to this time as well.

Using rare vintage photographs, stereoviews, glass slides, negatives and postcards as a starting point, Old Photos of Japan shows what life, architecture and urban planning was like in Japan during this period.

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Carefully Researched

Each photo is carefully researched using both modern and contemporary sources from Japan and abroad, and the findings are presented on this website.

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Powerful Search Options

If you are looking for something specific, you will appreciate the ability to search by time period, location, photographer, publisher and even medium as well as by theme or keyword.

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Geographic Context

Photos of locations easily become meaningless if you don’t know the place. Many descriptions on Old Photos of Japan feature maps that show the exact location where the photo was taken some 100 years ago. Some images even have a photograph showing the current situation.

If you want to dig even deeper, footnotes and links allow you to do so.

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Japanese Names

While most academic books use the Japanese order for Japanese names (last name – first name), Old Photos of Japan uses the Western order for all Japanese people whose main activities occurred after the beginning of the Meiji Period. The Japanese order is used for people who lived (and died) in the Edo Period and earlier. This is done to accommodate people who are as yet fairly unfamiliar with Japan. People who are familiar with the Japanese custom will have no problem understanding the right order of the names.

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The attribution of the photographs is based on a variety of sources, the most important being Photography in Japan 1853-1912 and Old Japanese Photographs: Collectors’ Data Guide, both by Terry Bennett. We also look at the title on the print if it there is any.

If several sources attribute an image to different photographers, the attribution in the above two books is selected as the most reliable.

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Help Make this Site Better

If you have information about a location, custom, piece of clothing, tool and so on that has not been mentioned, please feel free to mention this in the comment for that image. Your input helps to make Old Photos of Japan a better resource for all who use it.

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Licensing Images

The great majority of the images on Old Photos of Japan come from the Kjeld Duits Collection, a private collection of photographs, stereoviews, glass slides, negatives, postcards, illustrations, books and maps of prewar Japan.

Ownership or copyright of all the data on this site, including the images, belong to the holder of this collection.

If you wish to use these images in publications, broadcasting, lectures, for advertising and so on, you can purchase licenses at MeijiShowa.

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Use the contact form below if you have any questions about licensing an image, to request an interview, or to discuss a collaborative project. To discuss the images, please use the comments.

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DUITS is a boutique journalism and stock photography agency in Tokyo. We are small and personal, but we work with a broad range of clients, from news media to publishers and advertising agencies.

4-27-26-301 Yoyogi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
151-0053 JAPAN

Phone: (+81) 03-6276-4372

Company Site: duits.co

Days: Monday through Friday
Hours: 09:00 – 20:30, Japan Time
Current time in Japan: 8:20 pm on Monday, December 6

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