Glossy postcards of today have nothing on these atmospheric images.
This collection of postcards, which dates back to the early 1900s, provides a beautiful snapshot into a time in Japanese history when trolley cars and modern buildings were slowly beginning to appear on the landscape. The hand-coloured photographs also serve as an important document of the Tokyo and Yokohama regions in the years preceding the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which devastated the area and several surrounding prefectures.
Let’s take a look at some of the popular locations and see how much they’ve changed across the years.
▼ Cherry blossom at Mukojima in Tokyo (1907–1918). Meaning “the island on the other side”, Mukojima is located opposite the Asakusa side of the Sumida River and is still famous for its beautiful display of cherry blossom trees.
▼ Yoshiwara in Tokyo was known as a famous pleasure district during the Edo Period (1603–1868). This postcard, dating back to the first decade of the 20th century, was taken at a time when thousands of prostitutes still lived in the area. The practice of displaying prostitutes behind harimise, or wooden-slatted windows, ceased here in 1916.
▼ Hanayashiki of Asakusa at Tokyo (1907-1918). Established in 1853, this is believed to be the oldest amusement park in all of Japan. Located close to the famous Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, the amusement park still operates today, and is managed by Hanayashiki Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Bandai Namco Holdings.
▼ The Asakusa Park Tokyo (1922) was Tokyo’s main entertainment district, filled with dozens of cinemas. Their large banners and huge signboards gave the area a lively atmosphere. Following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and heavy bombing during World War II, the only memory of the area’s former glory is a few banners like these which can be seen in Asakusa’s Rokku district today.
▼ Iris Garden at Horikiri, Tokyo (1907–1918). Amazingly, this iris garden is still blooming today, with 6,000 flowers and 200 varieties. Located in Katsushika City, Tokyo, this remains one of the city’s most popular spots to see the beautiful flowers when they bloom in June. Even better is the fact that admission is absolutely free.
▼ Nihonbashi Dori Tokyo (1922). Pictured in the foreground here is Nihonbashi (“Japan Bridge”), which still stands today, although it’s now unfortunately located beneath a massive expressway which was built over it in the 1960s.
▼ The photo below, which was taken a year after the postcard image above, shows that while the bridge survived intact, buildings in the area were destroyed by 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake.
The port town of Yokohama in Tokyo’s neighbouring Kanagawa Prefecture is also depicted in a number of beautiful, hand-coloured photo postcards.
▼ Theatre Street, Yokohama (1907–1908) was the main entertainment district for locals.
▼ 100 Stone Steps, Yokohama (1907-1918) paints a beautiful image of old and new Japan, with traditional clothing appearing alongside western dress and rickshaws operating beneath telegraph poles. At the top of the 100 stone steps is a tea house which was once the headquarters for Commodore Perry when he was in Japan in 1854.
▼ Motomachi Street, Yokohama (1907–1918). Also known as Motomachi-dori, this street dates back to the opening of Yokohama Port back in 1859, which opened the area up to foreign trade, foreign residents, and signs written in English. Today, Motomachi-dori remains a pleasant, shop-lined street.
▼ Motomachi-dori, Yokohama (1911) shows the same street, only this time with a lady in western dress.
With such a rich and interesting history and culture, we’d love to be able to go back in time and go sightseeing along the dusty streets of Japan in fancy kimono. Until we master the physics of time travel, these fascinating postcards will have to keep us entertained!
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