OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

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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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Hiroshige & Eisen. The Sixty-Nine Stations along the Kisokaido • Andreas Marks, Rhiannon Paget

The Kisokaido route through Japan was ordained in the early 1600s by the country’s then-ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu, who decreed that staging posts be installed along the length of the arduous passage between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto. Inns, shops, and restaurants were established to provide sustenance and lodging to weary travelers.

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Kobe, 1906 • New Year Celebrations 22

New Year Celebrations

Firefighters in happi coats perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders. The ladder stunts were the main event of Japanese New Year celebrations. The demonstrations, called dezome-shiki, were intended to warn people of the dangers of fire, and to demonstrate the agility and courage of the firefighters. The old way to fight fires was to tear down surrounding houses, so ladders were needed to climb on roofs. Because of the climbing involved, especially scaffolding workers served as firemen. They had incredible strength and stamina because of having to build scaffolds on a daily basis. The demonstration was preceded with the firemen praying at a shrine for their safety during the coming year. Dezome-shiki are still held at many towns today.

This image is part of The New Year in Japan, a book published by Kobe-based photographer Kozaburo Tamamura in 1906. In the back of the photo, Hyogo Kencho can be seen, making it possible to actually locate the place where this event took place. Original text:

On the fourth day the fire brigades give practical illustrations of their capabilities. Engines are screaming along the street; ladders are lashed together in a moment or two, held high in the air, and then the younger members imitate the moneky family by rushing up to dizzy heights, and in no hurry to come down—a well-known habit of the real “Jacko.” The men are given presents of money, and are regaled with wine, and then they get home just in time to prevent “accidents.”1

There is an amazing 1925 video clip of Hiroshima firefighters showing their acrobatics on the site of British Pathé. When you see the men performing you can’t help but become deeply impressed.

See all New Year images on Old Photos of Japan.


1 Tamamura, Kozaburo (1906). The New Year in Japan. Tamamura Shashinkan.

Photographer: Kozaburo Tamamura
Publisher: Kozaburo Tamamura
Medium: Collotype Print
Image Number 80115-0046

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 80115-0046 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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

Duits, K. (2009, January 1). Kobe, 1906 • New Year Celebrations 22, Old Photos of Japan. Retrieved on 2021, Jun 23 from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/661/new-year-celebrations-22

Posted by • 2009-01-01
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