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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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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1920s • Ainu Carving Wood

Ainu

An Ainu man is carving a piece of wood next to what appears to be a hut. Wood carving has long been an important part of Ainu culture. It has survived to this day because political developments in the late 19th and early 20th century forced the Ainu to find new ways of making a living. Eventually an Ainu wood and craft industry wood evolve. The history behind this development is extremely painful.

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1920s • Ainu Woman Carrying Wood

Ainu

A postcard showing an Ainu woman carrying wood. Although most postcards of Ainu look more like souvenir cards from Disneyland, this photo still features some reality. The spread out toes of the woman shows that she is used to walking barefoot. Most probably she doesn’t even own shoes. Her clothes are simple and well-worn, and the houses in the background are representative of Ainu housing at the start of the 20th century. For other cards of Ainu culture, click on Ainu under Themes in the right column.

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