I’ve always been fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture, so I was delighted when I came across these photos from the Meiji era, which someone took the time to painstakingly recolor by hand. The Meiji era was a time of great change for the Far Eastern country – the Imperial regime implemented a number of innovations, which meant that new technologies and industries began to arrive. Take a look at these breath-taking photos from the 1890s:
An inlet at Takaboko-Shima, Nagasaki
The Nunobiki Falls are just a short drive from downtown Kobe, one-time capital city of Japan. They have great cultural significance in terms of both literature and art.
The Shiraito Falls is a national monument. Located close to Mount Fuji, it is considered sacred to the Shinto religion.
A view of the inland sea at Matsushima Island.
The Meiji era lasted from October 23rd, 1868, until July 30th, 1912. This era represented the rise of the Empire of Japan, coinciding with the reign of the 122nd Emperor of Japan, Meiji the Great. He was the one who oversaw the major societal changes in the country, which transformed Japan from being an inward-looking feudal state into a capitalist, imperial world power. An industrial revolution ensued, and the Japanese set about colonizing much of Southeast Asia.
Cherry blossoms line the streets of the Akasaka district of Tokyo. Today the area has changed almost beyond recognition due to urbanization.
A rather flexible group of young performers dance to the beat of a drum.
A group of women preparing dinner for their children and husbands.
Women stand in front of a statue at the Bronze Horse Temple in Nagasaki.
Although Japan has had an Imperial Family for the greater part of its history, the de-facto rulers of the country between the 11th and 19th centuries were the shoguns. These men were hereditary military dictators who called the shots and exercised almost absolute power over the nation. The Tokugawa shogunate, which had been in power since the 17th Century, had previously issued an edict known as Sakoku, which forbade Japanese citizens leaving the country on penalty of death.
All that changed after Emperor Meiji seized the Shogun’s law-making powers and subsequently announced the glorious restoration of Imperial rule on January 4th, 1868.
Traditional fishing boats on the water of the Inland Sea at Matsushima
Workers harvest tea in a tea yard in Yamashiro Province.
Farmers plant rice sprouts in paddy fields.
People look on as the photographer snaps a picture of the Spectacle Bridge in Otani, Kyoto.
Emperor Meiji in 1873 also oversaw the abolition of the Samurai class, which numbered some 1.9 million men. For many centuries prior, the samurai had enjoyed perks, privileges and status within Japanese society. They collected salaries from the government, were legally allowed to wear a katana (samurai sword) in public, with which they could execute ‘disrespectful’ commoners at will.
After 1873, many young members of the newly-abolished Samurai class went on to become Japan’s very first exchange students. Since they were highly literate and well-educated scholars, many of them eventually ended up in big business, turned their hand to writing in newspapers, or began governmental service.
Newly-harvested rice being threshed by farmers.
People make their way over a wooden rope bridge in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
A waterfall in Yumoto Onsen.
Colorful signs line Theater Street in Yokohama. The street gets its name from a theater that was built there in the 1860s.
Further changes included the introduction of a national education system, together with a new constitution. These changes were designed both to earn the respect of Western powers, and to foster a favorable environment for a modern, industrialized state to flourish. One of the principles fundamental to the newly-implemented national curriculum was “moral training”, which placed emphasis on the importance of Japanese citizens’ duty to their Emperor.
In this kago (litter) a well to-do woman can be seen going about her business.
A boy looks out over the Inland Sea at Miyajima Island.
Two young women share a futon while sleeping on a traditional tatami mat.
A farmer takes his rice bales to market.
The year 1885 marked two major changes in Japan. The first one was the installation of a (then highly advanced) telegraph system throughout all the country’s major cities, allowing for a level of interconnectedness that the Japanese people had never experienced before. The second major change was the passing of a new conscription law, which saw the Japanese government begin to remodel its ground forces on the foreign military models. In fact, the Japanese military’s hierarchical structure completely mirrored that of France.
An elderly couple enjoy a roadside bite to eat while on their travels.
A young mother and father, together with their daughter, enjoy a meal.
A Buddhist sepulcher in the Shiba district of Tokyo.
A view of Mount Fuji from the Yoshiwara rest stop along the Tokaido, one of the Five Routes of the Edo Period.
Less than a decade later, in 1894, Japan went on the offensive in order to capture the Korean Peninsula and strategically keep it out of Russia’s hands. But since China claimed Korea as a vassal state, war broke out, with the Japanese humiliating the proud Chinese. The victory was brutally swift, and included the colonization of the island of Taiwan for good measure. A further victory, this time over Russia, ensued in 1905, cementing Japan’s position as a colonial power in East Asia.
Inevitably however, Japan’s sheer will to prove itself an equal to Western powers over the following few decades set the nation on a collision course with many of them, culminating in its surrender following the defeat of Japan and its allies at the end of World War II in 1945.