SHIMOOKA Renjo 下岡 蓮杖 (1823.2.12-1914) Shimoda, Shizuoka Pref. One of Japan's first professional photographers along with UENO Hikoma in Nagasaki. Opened one of Japan's first photo studios in Yokohama.
Born as SAKURADA Hisanosuke. Moved to Tokyo at age 13. Studied art under KANO Tosen to become a painter. Became interested in photography in 1844 after seeing a daguerreotype. Henry Heusken, U.S. Consul Townsend Harris' interpreter, taught Shimooka the basics of photography. (Heusken and Harris were in Shimoda from 1856.)
After Yokohama was opened to foreigners in 1859, Shimooka went there and stayed with an American merchant, Raphael Schoyer. An American photographer named Captain John Wilson who was also staying with Schoyer taught photography to Shimooka who later opened a makeshift photo studio (with equipment acquired from Wilson) in Yokohama in 1862.
He moved the studio to more permanent quarters in Benten-dori in 1863. Adopted "Shimooka" as his family name in 1865 or so. He became successful taking portraits and tourist photos. One of the originators of "Yokohama Shashin" tourist photos.
In the beginning, he served the foreign community and spoke English. Japanese patrons later increased. YOKOYAMA Matsusaburo from Hakodate, Hokkaido became an apprentice in 1866.
Built a new studio in Ota-cho (on Bashamichi) in 1867 and called it Zenrakudo. Other students who later became prominent photographers include USUI Shuzaburo, SUZUKI Shin'ichi I, and ESAKI Reiji.
Ventured into other businesses such as a horse carriage coach line between Tokyo and Yokohama, a dairy business with imported cows, a coffee shop, and billiards parlor. The dairy business was not successful and put Shimooka in deep debt.
Baptized as a Christian in 1872. Moved to Asakusa in Tokyo in 1876 and retired from the photography business. Took up painting of backgrounds and panorama images. His son took over the business.
Continued to submit his works to art fairs and commemorative events like the 50th anniversary of Yokohama Port's opening to foreign trade in 1909. (2000.12.15)