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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1890s • Lantern Craftsman

Japanese Lantern Craftsman

This studio photo reconstructs the work place of a lantern and umbrella craftsman and his assistant. The name of the shop is Tojo (東城). The craftsman is writing on a lantern, while his assistant is coloring a paper umbrella. That Japanese umbrellas were made of paper never ceased to amaze Western visitors.

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1930s • Kimono, but Modern Hairstyle

Woman in Kimono

While this woman still wears a kimono in this studio photo, her hairstyle is thoroughly modern. This is very likely to have been an omiai photograph. At omiai (お見合い), two single people are introduced to each other to consider marriage. Around the time that this photo was taken, some 70% of Japanese marriages were established through omiai.

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1930s • Woman in White Dress

Woman in White Dress

A woman in a stylish white dress sits on a coach in a photographer’s studio. She is wearing a hat, stockings and high-heeled shoes. The well-balanced styling, as well as the choice of the clothes themselves, suggests that she is thoroughly familiar with Western fashion. Although an increasing number of Japanese women started dressing in Western clothes during the 1920s and 1930s, to be as stylishly dressed as this woman must have still been an enormous challenge for most. For more information about modern Japanese women, see 1930s • Woman with Modern Hairdo.

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1920s • Ainu Playing the Mukkuri

Ainu Woman

An Ainu woman playing the Mukkuri (a Jew’s harp). The Mukkuri is a traditional Ainu musical instrument played by women. It is made of carefully cut bamboo with two strings, and measures about 10 by 1.5 cm (3.9 by 0.6 inches). The player vibrates the tongue cut out of the bamboo by pulling one of the strings, while holding the instrument in front of the mouth. Volume and tone colors are changed by changing the shape of the mouth. Although a simple instrument, and similar to mouth harps found all over the world, accomplished players can create truly amazing music with the Mukkuri.

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