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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Recent Comments  
  • Erica Grainger

    I really enjoyed reading this article and wonder if I could please have permission to …

  • Kjeld Duits

    @Japanese words: I have to come and visit!

  • Japanese words

    Here in Miyako where a lot of the posters in restaurants haven’t been updated, some …

  • Kjeld Duits

    You’re welcome. I love Junichiro Tanizaki. My favorite book is the “The Makioka Sisters.” It …

  • mcvmcv

    thanks for your response – just got around to checking this now. that’s interesting you …

1930s • Woman with Modern Hairdo

Young Japanese Woman
Young Japanese Woman in Harajuku, Tokyo
click to enlarge

A confident young Japanese woman in modern dress and hairdo during the early Showa Period (1926-1989). Japanese women first started to experiment with Western fashion during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). By the 1920s, the trendy moga (modern girl) sporting the latest Western fashion and short fashionable hairstyles, had made her entry. (Inset shows current Japanese hairstyle).

An increasing number of urban young Japanese embraced Western culture wholeheartedly during this period. They dressed in Western styles aspiring to look like Western flappers and listened to Western music, especially jazz. Moga read newly launched magazines which featured articles and fashion tips on the moga lifestyle. To these young people, Japanese culture seemed outdated and from the past.

Asahi Weekly (Shukan Asahi)
Modern Japanese women on advertising posters for the Shukan Asahi (Weekly Asahi), a weekly magazine that was established in 1922 (Taisho 11) and is published to this day. Left: 1922 (Taisho 11). Right: 1933 (Showa 8).

The term moga, and the male counterpart mobo (modern boy) were loaded with political tension. The moga and mobo were often criticized for the foreign influences they absorbed and displayed.

Social conservatives felt especially threatened by the moga, whose popular image exuded sexual power, westernization and independence.

“In many ways,” writes Kendall H. Brown, a professor of art history at California State University at Long Beach, “women were at the very core of the social and cultural tension in interwar Japan.”

Both the new roles of women and modernization itself raised difficult questions.

How could one be both Japanese and modern, if modernity is defined as Western? Were modernity and Japaneseness antithetical? Or could individuals and society synthesize some new middle ground? If so, how?1

Questions that may still confound some Japanese today.

The onset of the Showa Period, with its ultranationalist ideology, spelled the end of moga and mobo, but not the end of Western fashion as can be seen in this image. And certainly not the end of Western influence. It returned with a vengeance after the end of WWII.

In the mid-1990s however, young Japanese in Tokyo’s Harajuku district started to experiment with fashion in a typical Japanese way. Many of them reached back to their Japanese roots to come up with fashion ideas.

Japanese Street Fashion in 2006
Two young Japanese women in ultra-modern street fashion inspired by traditional Japanese themes. Photos from JapaneseStreets.com. ©2006 Kjeld Duits.

1 Brown, Kendall H. (2004). The ‘Modern’ Japanese Woman. The Chronicle Review, Volume 50, Issue 37: B19

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Silver Gelatin Print
Image Number: 70122-0006

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Posted by • 2008-04-09
Add Comment

nice one, kjeld. i like the lady on the right with the cigarette between her lips. would that have been somewhat shocking for the times?

# mcvmcv · 2008-04-10

Thanks, mcvmcv.

I am not sure if it was shocking. It was common in Meiji Japan for women to smoke pipes, surprising as that may sound. By the Taisho Period that custom was seen as outdated. I haven’t been able to find sources yet about how people thought about women smoking cigarettes and I haven’t interviewed anybody yet about this either. I can imagine it differed according to social class. Images of smoking women, both photographs and other art, are very common in the Taisho period. I also know of several writers of this period who described smoking women. If I am not mistaken, the main persona in Junichiro Tanizaki's novel Naomi also smoked.

# Kjeld Duits · 2008-04-10

thanks for your response – just got around to checking this now. that’s interesting you mention Junichiro Tanizaki, i read his short essay “In Praise of Shadows” and found it to be very interesting. perhaps i’ll try to track that book down somewhere…

# mcvmcv · 2008-04-16

You’re welcome. I love Junichiro Tanizaki. My favorite book is the “The Makioka Sisters.” It describes a lot of places in my neighborhood, so that makes it extra interesting.

# Kjeld Duits · 2008-04-16

Here in Miyako where a lot of the posters in restaurants haven’t been updated, some of these old pictures still exist. Not quite that old, but still going pretty far back.

# Japanese words · 2009-08-02

@Japanese words: I have to come and visit!

# Kjeld Duits · 2009-08-07

I really enjoyed reading this article and wonder if I could please have permission to cross-publish it for a non-profit online monthly magazine called, ‘Connect’. It’s a foreign magazine based in Japan and I am the fashion editor for ‘Connect’. I think this article would really help educate people about Japanese culture, fashion and history. Is it possible at all to cross-publish this article? I assure you the author and this website would get full credit and publicity in our magazine. For information about ‘Connect’, please visit this website to view our latest issue: http://ajet.net/2014/11/05/ajet-connect-magazine-november-2014/
Thank you very much for your time

# Erica Grainger · 2014-12-02








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