Even without ever having gone to Tokyo one can probably imagine the sprawling metropolis of 13 million people. It’s an ocean of buildings spackled with LED lights and paper signs threaded by vines of elevated walkways sitting atop a massive labyrinth of a subway system.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. Thanks to an incredibly well made and well preserved piece of film we can get a glimpse of a rare Tokyo. It was taken right between the city’s two 20th century destructions during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1944 firebombing campaign.
Even in 1935, the city looked sizeable and bustling. I was surprised the most by how eerily American parts of it looked in terms of architecture. In fact, if it weren’t for the Japanese writing on signs and half of the women wearing kimonos, you could have easily convinced me this was Chicago in 1935.
Some of the sights shown include 1935 images of Ginza, Marunouchi (above), and Asakusa.
Among these scenes you can also get a clear look at the courtyard of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial hotel which miraculously survived the earthquake and bombings but was controversially demolished in the 60’s.
The final minute of footage was shot a couple years later by Yasuo Kaneko. Although the quality is a little weaker it ends with a poignant scene of a young woman dressed in western fashion happily saying hello as she walks under a streamer of Rising Sun Flags.
If it were 15 years ago, I would recommend everyone go out a take a record of our environments because images of the past like these are so rare. However, nowadays everyone walks around with a camera in our pockets, so I guess this generation’s got it covered.