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Old Photos Show How the West Perceived Japan

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

Flickr user yves Tennevin has located and uploaded some fascinating hand-colored photos of Japan from the 19th century, just after the country had opened its doors to the rest of the world.

The photos are all available as part of the public domain, and are assumed to have been taken in Japan in the late 1880s by Italian-born early photographer Adolfo Farsari. Many of his prints are hand-colored, a practice that was fairly common in Japan in the late 19th Century when Farsari traveled there.

Judging by his photos, Farasari traveled far and wide around Japan, and documented almost everything he came across.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

It is fairly obvious that Farsari staged most of his photos. This means that his portrayal of Japan was not always accurate, and may have contributed to the perception the outside world had about the newly opened country, rather than reflecting how Japan perceived itself.

Unfortunately, not all of Farsari's prints feature captions, so it can be difficult to determine where they are taken.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

It is hard to say if this is how Japanese people would have enjoyed a garden, or if it is just the way Farsari asked his subjects to pose for the photo.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

It is possible this photo is of Yokohama. Just thirty years before this photo was taken, Yokohama would have been a quiet fishing village.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

Some of Farsari's travels took him to more remote locations where it was possible to capture what daily life would have been like for people outside of the cities.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

These are likely fishermen, posing for Farsari to show how they launched their boats.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

Many of Farsari's images would be of ubiquitous symbols of Japan.

old photos of japan

Japan circa 1886. Source: Flickr user yves Tennevin, licensed under public domain.

A bigger selection of Farsari's photos are available in a variety of places around the web as well. The Nagasaki Library Collection's selection of Farsari's photos includes descriptive captions about where the photographs were taken.

If you like these you may want to check out another old Japan photoset from the same era, taken by Japanese photographer T.Enami.

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