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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  • Kjeld Duits

    Dan, done. The feed now shows the main thumbnail for each image. To see the …

  • Kjeld Duits

    Dan, thanks for the nice words and the suggestion. It is a good one. The …

  • dan

    hi, i just want to say… i would love to read this site, it looks …

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Tokyo 1890s • Koamicho, Nihonbashi

Warehouses in Nihonbashi, Tokyo

Heavily loaded boats are docked in front of a long row of warehouses in Koamicho (小網町) in Tokyo’s mercantile quarter of Nihonbashi. The photographer was looking towards Yoroibashi, a steel bridge built in 1873 (Meiji 6), but carefully kept it out of the image’s frame. Most probably he wanted to preserve the Edo Period atmosphere of the scene.

Before the city of Edo was built, this area used to be coastline. But by the time this photo was taken, the sea had already been pushed far away and Nihonbashi had transformed into a busy center of commerce.

Nihonbashi was the most densely populated area of Tokyo. It was also the heart of Tokyo’s shitamachi, the low city, where merchants and artisans lived and worked. It was a down to earth and conservative place where Meiji modernization took longer to take root than in nearby Ginza.

Nihonbashi was a place where people worked hard and merchants became rich. During the Edo Period, strict social constraints had kept the rich merchants here, living close to Tokyo’s many poor, who were stowed away in the area’s dark and dreary back-streets. But as soon as the Meiji reformation lifted these constraints, the rich moved their homes to more agreeable sections of Tokyo.

Eventually, business would prefer greener pastures, too. By the end of the Meiji Period, Nihonbashi was slowly loosing its position as commercial center of Tokyo to the newly built Marunouchi district in front of Tokyo Station.

But at the time of this photo, things had not gotten that far, yet. Nihonbashi’s waterways were crowded with boats full of heavy loads ferried in from all over Japan. Nihonbashi river, its banks jammed with white-walled warehouses, was still the busiest waterway in the city.

Japan did not use horse-drawn carriages during the Edo Period and did not really take to them during the Meiji Period either. Cargo was transported on large carts pulled by people or oxen; on the backs of people, horses and oxen; but especially by all kinds of boats, each made for a specific purpose. Tokyo’s waterways had chokibune (猪牙船, long flat bottom boat), takasebune (高瀬舟, shallow-draft boat), tenmasen (伝馬船, large sculling boat) and many others.1

Yoroi ferry at KoamichoTo spoil enemy attacks, the old city of Edo had been deliberately built within a spiral network of moats, rivers, and canals. This made transport by water especially attractive. Early in the city’s development, unloading points called kashi had been created. Warehouses and markets grew up around them. Nihonbashi was the most important one. From here, goods were distributed all over the city.

The area’s warehouses gave Nihonbashi a unique look that didn’t only attract the photographer who shot this photo, but also several famous ukiyo-e artists. Utagawa Hiroshige marvelously captured the essence of Koamicho in 1857 in his print “Yoroi no Watashi” (the ferry at Yoroi) included in his series of 100 famous views of Edo (see left).

Unfortunately, most of Nihonbashi, including the warehouses on this photo, was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (Taisho 12).

Nihonbashi Koamicho
1880 (Meiji 13) Map of Nihonbashi: 1. Ikkokubashi; 2. Nihonbashi-gawa; 3. Nihonbashi-dori; 4. Nihonbashi; 5. Ginza-dori; 6. Nishi-horidomegawa; 7. Edobashi; 8. Higashi-horidomegawa; 9. Yoroibashi


1 For those interested in Japan’s wooden boat culture, the Michinoku Traditional Wooden Boat Museum in Aomori and Douglas Brook’s site are highly recommended.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 80115-0003

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 80115-0003 @ MeijiShowa.com.

Usage of this image requires a reproduction fee.
Reference for Citations

Duits, K. (2008, March 29). Tokyo 1890s • Koamicho, Nihonbashi, Old Photos of Japan. Retrieved on 2021, Jun 19 from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/131/koamicho-nihonbashi

Posted by • 2008-03-29
Add Comment

hi, i just want to say… i would love to read this site, it looks great. (found it through japundit) however, could you please embed at least some of the images that you’re posting in your RSS feeds? there is no possible way that i will remember to check back at the site – i want to see the goods in my reader!!

#000009 · dan · 2008-03-30

Dan, thanks for the nice words and the suggestion. It is a good one. The rss feed is generated automatically. Let me see if I can make adjustments and add images.

#000010 · Kjeld Duits (author) · 2008-03-30

Dan, done. The feed now shows the main thumbnail for each image. To see the images and the maps inside the article, you will still need to visit the site. But at least now you have a taste of what you’ll find.

#000011 · Kjeld Duits (author) · 2008-03-30

Textile help

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