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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Tokyo 1872 • Anjincho in Nihonbashi

Anjincho in Nihonbashi, Tokyo

Rackety wooden houses with shingled roofs in Tokyo’s Anjincho (安針町) in the Nihonbashi district. This image was published in the June 17 1872 issue of the newsmagazine The Far East, published in Yokohama by the famous Scottish publisher J. R. Black between 1870 and 1878. So we know this photo is at least as old as that date. The area looks dilapidated and squalid, quite different from the views of Japan on the souvenir photos that were soon sold all over the world. These portrayed Japan as a land of infinite beauty and charm.

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Tokyo 1880s • Sakashita-mon

Kunaisho

A horse-drawn carriage has just passed through the Sakashita-mon gate, while three jinrikisha (rickshaws) are waiting for passengers. In the back the Kunaisho (Imperial Household) building can be seen. The Sakashita-mon was part of the original Edo Castle.

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Tokyo 1880s • Ginza Streetcar

Ginza

A wonderfully relaxed Ginza, full of empty space, with magnificent willow trees, a simple sandy road and a horse-drawn street car. It can hardly be any more different from the Ginza that we know today. Photographer Kimbei Kusakabe stood near what is now the Wako Building and pointed his camera towards Kyobashi. The small clock tower rising above the trees stood on the Ginza Branch of the Kyoya Watch Shop (京屋時計店の銀座支店時計塔). The simple yet elegant clock tower was for many years the symbol of Ginza and appears in many a nishiki-e (woodblock print). It was located on Ginza 4-chome, which at the time was seen as the end of Ginza Avenue.

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Tokyo 1880s • Shintomiza Theater

Shintomiza Theater, Tokyo

Tokyo’s Shintomiza Theater (新富座) was managed by the legendary Morita Kanya (守田勘弥, 1846-1897), who introduced direct ticket sales—which used to be monopolized by theater teahouses—, bright lights and evening performances to the Japanese theater. His experiments and modernizations in both method and content made the Shintomiza Tokyo’s premier theater. When former US president Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was invited to watch kabuki during his 1879 (Meiji 12) stay in Japan, it was this theater that he visited

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