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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1880s • Ainu Man

Ainu

A beautiful hand-tinted portrait dating back to the late 19th century of an Ainu man in traditional clothing. He is wearing a sword in a shoulder belt and a ceremonial crown (サパウンペ, Sapaunpe) used during the iomante ritual and other religious rituals.

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1920s • Ainu Women Using Mortar

Ainu

Two Ainu women using a traditional Ainu mortar (nisu), made from a hollowed-out sugi (cryptomeria) log. It was used for threshing millet (later replaced by rice), wheat, and roots, as well as for beating grains into flour and paste. The two-ended pestle (iyutani) was held in the middle, which was slightly thinner. Although photographs usually show the women holding the pestle with a single hand, English painter, explorer, writer and anthropologist Arnold Henry Savage Landor (1865–1924), who visited the Ainu during an exploration in the late 19th century, describes both hands being used:

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1920s • Ainu Mother & Child

Ainu

Ainu mothers carried their young children in a loose garment, or net, on their back. The garment or net was supported by a band round the mother’s head. Ainu men carried children by holding them in their arms. This is quite different from the Japanese way of carrying children. For a sample of this, see 1910s • Children Carrying Children. For an interesting passage about the bond between Ainu mothers and children, read 1900s • Ainu Family.

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1900s • Ainu Family

Ainu Family

This glass slide offers a rare snap shot of Ainu family life showing what appears to be a father and his children. Most of the photos of Ainu of this period were posed. However in this image, only the little boy’s attention is directed at the photographer. The conversation between the man and the little girl in her colorful clothes, and the soft expression on the man’s face, makes this image especially charming.

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