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.
Recent Comments  
  • Kjeld Duits

    Actually, Japan has its own native horses, but their origin is still a great controversy …

  • Mr. T

    Thanks for the answer. It is helpful for me as I try to understand how …

  • Kjeld Duits

    Good question! I was planning to introduce this with a photo of a packing horse …

  • Mr. T

    Very interesting photo. One question I have, the article mentions traveling by foot extensively in …

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1890s • Welcoming a Guest

Customer Arriving at Ryokan

Personnel welcomes an arriving customer at a Ryokan (Japanese inn) by sitting on the floor and bowing deeply. A scene that can still be seen in Ryokan all over Japan today.

The Ryokan has its roots in the Fuseya (布施屋), these were free rest-houses used during the Nara Period (710-784). As there was no accommodation yet at this time, travelers were forced to sleep outside, exposed to the elements and bandits. Getting food on long trips was a challenge and as a result many travelers died of starvation. To make travel less dangerous, Buddhist priests set up the Fuseya. It was also during the Nara Period that an organized system of roads was developed around the capital, which must have encouraged travel.

During the Heian Period (794-1185), it became very popular among the reigning elite to go on a pilgrimage. Pilgrims would stay at Shoen (荘園), manors owned by powerful families, temples and shrines, as well as at temple buildings. Temple accommodations would eventually develop into Shukubo (宿坊). Today Shukubo still exist and are open as lodgings to the general public.

Something that started to look like a real inn developed during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). They were called Kichin-yado (木賃宿). Guests just paid for firewood at these cheap inns and cooked their own meals.

As Tokugawa Ieyasu started to construct highways throughout the newly united country from slightly before the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868), lodging became more important. This became even more so when the economy developed and trade increased. This gave rise to Hatago (旅籠), inns where meals were served. By the second half of the Edo Period few Kichin-yado were left and the Hatago had become the norm.

Besides the Hatago, there were Honjin (本陣) and Waki-honjin (脇本陣), official inns for government officials at the way-stations along the highways. These became extremely important because of the so called Sankin Kotai system, which forced Daimyo (feudal lords) and their entourage to spent part of the year in Edo, far away from their homes.

Especially thanks to the Sankin Kotai and pilgrimages there was very heavy traffic on the new highways. Because virtually all this travel was on foot and the way-stations were only at a day’s walking distance removed from each other, an incredible large number of inns started to flourish along these roads.

Although the general public was officially not allowed to travel during the Edo Period, people could go on pilgrimages and other religious trips which naturally made them extremely popular. Short trips to hot springs and famous tourist attractions were generally also permitted. Many inns were built at these resorts and many exist to this day, now as Ryokan.

As travel restrictions were removed with the onset of the Meiji Period (1863-1912) and railways were developed all over Japan, people started to travel just for leisure. With the termination of the Sankin Kotai system and the fading away of travel by foot, the old way-stations and their inns slowly faded away. But enterprising entrepreneurs were quick to see the opportunities offered by railway travel and near the nation’s newly built stations Ryokan started to sprout up like mushrooms.

Initially, they were similar to the old Hatago, but after the end of WWII, many new Ryokan were built of concrete. And although these days there are some 55,000 ryokan in Japan, traditional wooden ones have become rather rare and usually quite expensive. Anybody who has ever stayed in one, knows that there is really nothing like a traditional wooden Ryokan in a beautiful natural setting. The experience is absolutely unsurpassed.


1 For more information about Ryokan, visit the site of the Japan Ryokan Association.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number 71205-0010

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 71205-0010 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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

Duits, K. (2008, May 14). 1890s • Welcoming a Guest, Old Photos of Japan. Retrieved on 2021, Oct 21 from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/243/welcoming-a-guest

Posted by • 2008-05-14
Add Comment

Very interesting photo. One question I have, the article mentions traveling by foot extensively in Japan, when did horses arrive in Japan? Where did they come from? China? We horses in Japan a long, long time ago?

#000046 · Mr. T · 2008-05-15

Good question! I was planning to introduce this with a photo of a packing horse later this year. Horses were used by Samurai and Daimyo, but other people did not use them to travel. Horse-drawn carriages didn’t make their appearance until the Meiji Period when they were introduced by foreigners. Transporting farm produce, straw etc. on horseback was common, but the person leading the horse would walk. I haven’t done any research yet about when horses first arrived in Japan and from where, but they are mentioned in very early records, so they have been around for a long time.

#000047 · Kjeld Duits (author) · 2008-05-15

Thanks for the answer. It is helpful for me as I try to understand how Japan evolved. Horses were introduced in the Americas by the Spanish.

#000048 · Mr. T · 2008-05-17

Actually, Japan has its own native horses, but their origin is still a great controversy among scientists. If you really want to go deep into genetic research done on the origins, I suggest reading the following scientific paper:
Ken NOZAWA, Takayoshi SHOTAKE, Shin’ichi ITO and Yoshi KAWAMOTO. Phylogenetic Relationships among Japanese Native and Alien Horses Estimated by Protein Polymorphisms (pdf file). J. Equine Sci.. Vol. 9: 53-69. (1998).

#000050 · Kjeld Duits (author) · 2008-05-17

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