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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Kobe 1920s • Mercantile Houses

View on Mercantile Houses in Kobe
Kaigandori, Kobe
click to enlarge

A view on stately buildings along Kobe’s Kaigandori, known among foreigners as the Bund, sometime between 1922 and 1927. This street originally directly faced the sea (see Kobe 1880s • Houses at Bund for the same location 40 years earlier). By 1921, reclamation work in the bay had increased the harbor’s capacity by 2.1 million ton1. Kobe Port now handled 40% of Japan’s trade in monetary value. As can be seen on this image, the construction moved the street inland quite a bit. This photo was almost certainly taken from the roof of the Kobe branch of the major shipping company Nippon Yusen (日本郵船神戸支店). Finished in 1918 (Taisho 7), this building still stands and is known as the Kobe Yusen Building.

The buildings on the left hand side from left to right are:

1. Canadian Pacific Steamships, Ltd., 1 Kaigandori.2
Canadian Pacific Steamships was started in 1884 as the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Trans-Pacific services were launched in 1887. In 2005, its successor company became part of Hapag Lloyd. Canadian Pacific’s steamers called on Kobe from early on, but the company’s first office in the city was only opened in 1898. The company moved its Kobe office several times. It was located on 1 Kaigandori from 1915 (possibly 1914) through 1927.

Confusingly, a company with a similar name also had offices in Kobe, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (太平洋郵船). This US based company started a shipping connection between Kobe, Nagasaki and Shanghai in 1870 (Meiji 3). Many books and internet sites place the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in this corner building, but as any directory from the early 20th century clearly shows, they are mistaken. Incidentally, this company also still exists, but is now known as APL.

Canadian Pacific Offices on Kaigandori, Kobe
Canadian Pacific Offices on Kaigandori, Kobe.

2. Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, 2 Kaigandori.2
Founded in 1865 by the Scot Thomas Sutherland and now better known as HSBC. Number 2 used to be the office of Walsh Hall & Co, which established a paper mill in Sannomiya. This incidentally grew into the Mitsubishi Paper Mills. In 1881, the lot was sold to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. According to the 1918 Jubilee Number of the Japan Chronicle for a hefty sum:

“Captain Swain mentioned incidentally that when the firm of of Walsh Hall was in difficulties and owed money to the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, the latter took over its present site on the Bund from the firm at a price reported to be 17,000 dollars, which was regarded as a fancy figure.”3

3. Mitsui Bussan (三井物産), 3/4 Kaigandori.2
Designed by Kouzou Kawai (河合浩蔵), the Kobe branch of Mitsui Bussan was constructed by the large construction firm Takenaka Komuten (竹中工務店) in 1918 (Taisho 7). Kawai also designed the Kobe District Court Building (神戸地方裁判所庁舎), the beautiful Kodera Stables of Sorakuen and the Okuhirano Water Purification Plant (奥平野浄水場施設). This is now used as the Kobe City Water Science Museum (神戸市水の科学博物館). After the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the Mitsui Bussan building was incorporated into the Kaigan Building, a large glass tower.

4. Osaka Shosen Kaisha (大阪商船), 5 Kaigandori.2
This building was designed by Watanabe Setsu Kenchiku Jimusho (渡辺節建築事務所) and built in 1922 (Taisho 11) by Obayashi Gumi (大林組). The lot was previously used by the American Consulate. Osaka Shosen Kaisha (OSK) was established in 1884 (Meiji 17) and had its head office in Osaka. It was one of Japan’s main shipping companies and serviced lines to, among other destinations, the USA, Russia, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines. In 1964 it merged with Mitsui Steamship Co., Ltd. to form Mitsui O.S.K. Lines.

5. Oriental Hotel, 6 Kaigandori.2
Kobe’s main hotel for foreign visitors. It was founded in 1882 (Meiji 15) at number 80 in the foreign settlement, on the corner of Kyomachi and Nakamachi streets. In 1907 (Meiji 40), it moved to its new location on Kaigandori. In the late 1910s, the hotel was purchased and completely refurnished by the Toyo Kisen Kaisha (Imperial Mail S.S. Co.).

Oriental Hotel and Osaka Shosen Kaisha in Kobe
The same row of buildings shot from the opposite direction. Part of the Nippon Yusen building, from which the photo above was taken, can be seen on the far left. (OPJ ref: 70314-0023.)

The 1920 edition of Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire describes the Bund as follows:

“A massive sea-wall runs along the attractive foreign Bund, and the luxurious houses which stand back from it impart an air of prosperity and solidity not always features of Japanese ports.”4

“Where 40 yrs. ago wooden junks and sampans were being built, there are now dockyards where steamships of all classes and sizes are constructed, from tub-like tramps to turbined torpedo-boats. This transformation is typical of what is going on right round the coast of Osaka Bay. The dawn is no longer poetically heralded by the deep booming of the temple bell, but by the shrill blasts of steam hooters and sirens whose strident notes fall discordantly upon the ears of those whom they awaken, and remorselessly upon the ears of those whom they summon to the daily task in factory or workshop…. On every side there are indications of a steady development of industrial and commercial activity, and though lovers of the picturesque may bemoan the fact that one-time moss-grown shrines and torii are now soot-begrimed from the surrounding factories, it remains an incontrovertible fact that smoking factory chimneys are much more valuable as a national asset in these prosaic days than the most mossy of temples or the most mystic of shrines.”5

Map of Kobe 1937
1937 (Showa 12) Map of Kobe: 1. Canadian Pacific Steamships, Ltd.; 2. Hongkong and Shanghai Bank; 3. Mitsui Bussan; 4. Osaka Shosen Kaisha; 5. Oriental Hotel; 6. Kobe Branch Office of Bureau of Civil Works (内務省土木出張所); 7. Meriken Hatoba.

1 Kobe City Office (1912). The City of Kobe. Mitsumura Printing Company (光村印刷株式会社), 8.

2 (1921). Kobe Guide, Everyman’s Directory 1921-1922. The Japan Commercial Guide Co., 141. Several other directories list this address as 1 Bund.

3 (1918) Jubilee Number 1868-1918. The Japan Chronicle, 47.

4 Terry, T. Philip (1920). Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire, including Korea and Formosa. Houghton Mifflin Company, 623-624.

5 ibid, 624.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Taisho Hato
Medium: Postcard
Image Number 70420-0027

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70420-0027 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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Posted by • 2008-07-09
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