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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Art of the Japanese Postcard: Masterpieces fom the Leonard A. Lauder Collection • Kendall Brown et al

From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Japan was a vital world center for postcard art. More than just casual mail pieces, these postcards were often designed by prominent artists and had a visual impact that belied their modest format.

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Tokyo 1920s • Saving Battleship Mikasa

I love it when I discover the story behind a photo. Especially when that story is as amazing as this one.

I purchased this photo in March 2016. It doesn’t seem to be anything special or important. A Japanese man wearing glasses posing next to a photo of a ship. But when I dug a little deeper, I discovered an amazing story of an extraordinary man.

There are important hints in the photo itself. Look more closely at the photo and you will notice that the newspaper on the desk is the Japan Times. The ship in the photo is the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Mikasa (三笠). This was the flagship of Admiral Heihachiro Togo (東郷 平八郎, 1848–1934) during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 (Meiji 37–38). The photo is actually signed by Togo. I have a poster signed by Togo and you can clearly recognize his signature on the far left.

Admiral Heihachiro Togo and his signature.

According to some text pasted to the back of the photo, the man with the glasses was Japan Times editor Kimpei Shiba (芝均平, 1903–1996), photographed in 1929 (Showa 4).123

Shiba was instrumental in saving the Mikasa from destruction in 1923 (Taisho 12). Following the Washington Naval Treaty (九カ国条約) of 1922, the ship was scheduled to be scrapped. Thanks to Shiba’s negotiations, the signatories of the treaty agreed that the Mikasa could be preserved as a memorial ship. As a token of thanks, the Japanese Ministry of the Navy and Admiral Togo presented him with this photo signed by the admiral.4 The command that Togo gave at the start of the Battle of Tsushima is written on the photo:

“The Empire’s fate depends on the result of this battle,
let every man do his utmost duty.”

Crowds waiting to greet “war hero” Admiral Togo upon his return to Tokyo, 1905.

So, who was Kimpei Shiba?

Shiba was born in Hawaii, but graduated from the Canadian Academy in Kobe (神戸カナディアン・アカデミー).5 In 1924 (Taisho 13), he began working for The Japan Times.6

From 1929 (Showa 4) through 1941, Shiba was the Chicago Tribune’s Tokyo correspondent, after which he became editor of The Japan Times.7 In 1954 (Showa 29), Shiba founded the Asahi Evening News, the English-language edition of the Asahi Shimbun.8 He retired from the company in 1986 (Showa 61).9 He wrote several books, such as I cover Japan, in which Shiba explored Japan’s decade following the end of WWII.

Online, I could find no information about Shiba’s role in saving the Mikasa. There is not even a Wikipedia page for the man. He seems to have been mostly forgotten.

But the ship he saved is still well-known. The Mikasa is now a museum ship in Yokosuka.

Just a photo of a Japanese man wearing glasses posing next to a photo of a ship…

Museum ship Mikasa in Yokosuka. Photo by Monado.

1 In text pasted to the back of the photo, Shiba’s name is written as Kimpei Sheba, the spelling he used for the Chicago Tribune.

2 Webcat Plus. 芝 均平. Retrieved on 2019-12-14.

3 Chicago Tribune. Kimpei Shiba, Ex-Tribune Writer. Retrieved on 2019-12-14.

4 Text pasted to the back of the photograph.

5 Chicago Tribune. Kimpei Shiba, Ex-Tribune Writer. Retrieved on 2019-12-14.

6 ibid.

7 ibid.

8 Asahi Shimbun. Corporate Overview. Retrieved on 2019-12-14.

9 Chicago Tribune. Kimpei Shiba, Ex-Tribune Writer. Retrieved on 2019-12-14.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Gelatin Silver Print
Image Number 160306-0009

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 160306-0009 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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

Duits, K. (2019, December 14). Tokyo 1920s • Saving Battleship Mikasa, Old Photos of Japan. Retrieved on 2020, May 25 from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/852/saving-battleship-mikasa

Posted by • 2019-12-14

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