JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when traveling.

Most viewed - Vintage Postcards
Oiran courtesan. Also see my photos of an oiran show here. My oiran video at YouTube here.3872 viewsThe highest-ranking geisha is called an oiran or tayu. She is escorted by two little attendant girls called kamuro. Notice her high clogs. It takes some skill to walk in those and she usually requires someone's shoulder to hold onto while walking. Sometimes at festivals or special events, you can see the Oiran Dochu procession where she walks in a parade together with geisha attendants. 23 comments
Nude woman lying down2119 views
Out of all the geisha that have appeared on postcards, this ever-smiling geisha was unsurpassed in popularity. Her smiling visage appeared in 40 to 50 different poses in photographs and postcards made in Yokohama from the 1890s.1954 views
Brothel maids or prostitutes. Maids were employed to guide patrons to their rooms and serve sake and food. Or they could be low-class (cheap) prostitutes. Hand-colored, undivided back.1397 views
Meiji Era postmarks. When you want to know how old your postcard is, the first and obvious thing to do is check the postmark if there is one. A postage stamp or written date in the message are also a great help.1011 viewsBecause Japan bases its years on the Emperor's reign (besides using the Western world's Gregorian calendar), the year of the postmark could refer to the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Taisho Era (1912-1926), Showa Era (1926-1989), or the current Heisei Era (1989-present). So if you see "1" as the year, it could be Year 1 of any of these eras (1868, 1912, 1926, or 1989). (See the year conversion table.)

So how do you determine which era the year refers to? In normal Japanese documents, you would see an initial before the year to indicate the era. For example H.1 for Heisei Year 1 (1989). Unfortunately, none of the postmarks provide an initial for the era. But it is not so hard to determine the era.

Look at the postmark images above. The left postmark is in Japanese with the numbers "36-9-12." The first number indicates the year, followed by the month and day. Above the date are the kanji characters for "Yokohama." Below the date is the time the postcard was accepted at the post office (6:20 pm).

Fortunately, right next to this postmark is the English version. The date is September 12, 1903. This matches Year 36 for the Meiji Era in the Japanese postmark. (See the year conversion table.) In case the English postmark were not provided, we could still determine the era. If you look at the year coversion table, you will find that only the Meiji and Showa Eras have a Year 36. Showa 36 is 1961. And if you look at the card and the postage stamp, it is obvious that it is not as recent as 1961, so it must be Meiji 36 (1903).

Now look at the right postmark. This postmark is also in English with the words "Yokohama Japan" in English. The date is "25.2.08." If the postmark has the location name in English, the date's format is day-month-Gregorian year, different from the Japanese postmark. So it is February 25, 1908.

Other tidbits about Japanese postmarks:

- In the early years until 1879, postmarks were used to indicate the date of collection and the date of receipt from out of town. Stamp cancellation marks were also separate from postmarks. They could be a series of dotted lines or text like "Postage Paid" (in Japanese). Some postmarks were square in shape. Each postal district had their own postmark system and style.

- In November 1879, the Communications Office issued official recommendations for postmarks. In September 1888, the name of the local area was included in the postmark. By 1909, postmarks became standardized nationwide.

- Up to September 1912, postcards and letters had two postmarks (except for special mail). One was imprinted when the postcard was mailed (canceling the stamp), and another was imprinted when the postcard was received.

- Until 1911, postmarks were imprinted by hand (at a rate of 100 pieces per minute). Automatic postmarking machines were introduced in this year. At the end of 1919, the latest postmarking machines were imported from America and used in Tokyo.

- Stamp collecting is a major hobby in Japan. All the stamps that have ever been issued are documented in a number of comprehensive Japanese stamp catalogs issued every year. You can identify the issue date of any stamp by referring to the stamp catalog.
Shin-Yoshiwara prostitutes. They are sitting behind the "cage" which fronted the street for all to see (and choose) within the licensed quarters. Shin-Yoshiwara was a famous red-light district of Tokyo. Note that they are not geisha.928 viewsGeisha were not prostitutes. This photo was taken during 1907-1911. The woman in the far back was the brothel's matron who supervised this live display and everything else. In 1912 when Emperor Meiji died, this live display of women was later replaced by framed photographs of each woman hung near the brothel's entrance. In 1958, prostitution was outlawed in Japan, and Yoshiwara was history.
Flower arrangement. She's about to put the flower into the vase made of bamboo. On her lap, there's a pair of scissors used for flower arrangement. Her purple kimono has a design showing wisteria flowers. The season must have been spring.891 viewsThe card was printed in color so it's not that old.1 comments
Japanese Beauty. I would call this a representative example of a "Nihon Bijin" or Japanese Beauty photograph. She's posed formally, dressed in a kimono, and looking serene and attractive. She might bJe a geisha. Hand-colored, and undivided b872 viewsI bought it for 1,200 yen.1 comments
Girl with Umbrella. Hand-colored postcard dating before 1918. The kimono looks like casual wear, and the design pattern was typical during the turn of the 20th century. She's still in her teens it seems. One of the first vintage postcards I bought. Y2783 views1 comments
Swimsuit Beauties. These are typical swimsuits worn during the late 19th century. Horizontal stripes were in vogue. They are not posed very well, but there's something charming about them. This postcard is postmarked Aug. 1912. A nice summertime greet782 views
Maiko in Her Room775 viewsA private moment. This maiko is lying down in her kimono reading a comic book after getting tired of playing cards. Her mama-san probably would not be pleased to see her wrinkle the kimono like that. Not sure if this was staged or a candid shot. It's hard for anyone to lie down like that in a kimono.1 comments
Undivided back. The earliest tourist postcards had a picture side and an address side. The message had to be written on the picture side which usually had a large white area to write on (like this postcard).736 viewsSince the address side was only for the recipient's address, it had no dividing line for the address and message. This was called an undivided back, and this type of postcards were produced between 1900 (Meiji 33) and March 28, 1907 (Meiji 40) in Japan. After this date, the message was allowed to be written on the address side. See the next image.
Swimsuit pin-up. Another picture that makes you laugh. Apparently she felt sexy in that suit and knew how to pose like a pin-up swimsuit model.714 views1 comments
Laughing Geisha with umbrella. As you may have noticed, the umbrella (and fan) was a commonly used prop in tourist photos. Postmarked 1903 from Yokohama. The actual card is more yellowed and almost brown, but I bleached it with Photoshop.686 views1 comments
Early postcard history: Japan's Postal Service was first established in March 1871. Japan's first postcards, pictured above, were issued in December 1873, a few years after the first postcards were issued in Europe. Click to read more.661 viewsIn 1900, a revision of the postal act allowed private-sector (non-governmental) postcards to be made and used. Picture postcards then became very popular and gave rise to a new postcard culture and a new era in postal history.

The postcards featured a great variety of subjects: Scenics, women, geisha, war, disaster scenes (especially earthquakes), Japanese customs, the Emperor, buildings, animals, etc., etc.

Color printing had not been invented yet so hand-painted postcards became very popular up to around the 1910s when offset printing gradually replaced collotype printing.

In June 1902, the postal service issued its first commemorative picture postcard. It marked the 25th anniversary of Japan's membership in the International Postal Union.

The postal service later issued more commemorative postcards and stamps for other important events and imprinted commemorative postmarks on letters and postcards for the occasion. Especially popular were postcards commemorating triumphs in the Russo-Japanese War during 1904-5 and the enthronement of Emperor Taisho.

During the war with Russia, people lined up all night in front of post offices before new war-related commemorative postcards went on sale. Postcard exchange meetings were held and many collectors had tens of thousands of postcards. However, after the war ended, the postcard boom waned in Japan.

Meanwhile, foreign tourists visiting Japan continued to send souvenir photographs and postcards back home. Because of them, many of the postcards that were published were able to escape and survive the natural (earthquakes) and man-made (World War II) disasters Japan was to experience later on.
Those early postcards became highly collectible overseas and have continued to delight their owners and collectors for over a century.
Geisha and maiko659 viewsNot a good photo, but their names are written in hiragana on the back. They read "Suimatsu" on the left and "Shigezuru" on the right who is a maiko, not geisha. She has more ornaments in her hair than the geisha. Also notice their blackened teeth. If they are in Kyoto, a geisha is called "geiko." In Tokyo, a maiko (apprentice geisha) is called "hangyoku." This is a postcard-size photo and not a postcard.1 comments
Yubin Hag(k)aki. All postcards were required to bear the words "Yubin Hagaki (or Hakaki)" which means "Post Card." The words appeared on the address side of the card along the right edge of the horizontal card.645 viewsThis string of Japanese kanji characters underwent two changes during Japan's postcard history. (If you don't read Japanese, it might be a little difficult to understand the changes.)

The image above shows a closeup of three postcards. At the top, "Yubin Hakaki" is read from right to left. On February 15, 1933, the word "Hakaki" was changed to read "Hagaki" as shown by the middle card above. Then after World War II ended in 1945, the Japanese reading style from right to left changed to left to right (when written horizontally) similar to English. Japanese captions on the picture side also changed to read from left to right after 1945.

Also note that from July 22, 1905, private postcards were allowed to have a foreign-language designation (i.e. "Carte Postale" or "Post Card") in addition to the Japanese "Yubin hakaki."

On the bottom card, notice the five red boxes. They are for the postal code within Japan. From Feb. 1998, Japan's postal code system was expanded to seven digits. Postcards having seven red boxes were made after Feb 1998. (See next image.)
Commodore Perry Landing Monument. The Perry monument at Kurihama on the Miura Peninsula (Kanagawa Pref.) was built on July 14, 1901. It marks the spot where he first landed in Japan in 1853.644 viewsClick to see what the monument looks like today. I wonder what happened to it during the World War II. Was it destroyed or left untouched? This postcard was made to commemorate the visit of the US Fleet in Oct. 1908.1 comments
Beauty with fan. The white space around her was for writing the correspondence. You could not write the message on the same side as the address. The back of the postcard was for the address only.636 viewsSo it has an undivided back, which means there is no dividing line between the address side and correspondence side, Postcards with an undivided back were made between 1900 and March 28, 1907. That's how we know the approximate age of this card even though it has no postmark.1 comments
Woman with pen and scroll. Judging from her hairstyle, this photo was probably taken during the Taisho Period (1912-1926).532 views1 comments
Cherry Blossoms, Potomac Park, Washington, DC。. Postcard made in the USA in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It was in 1912 (the year the Titanic sank) when Viscountess Chinda, the wife of Japan's Ambassador to the U.S., gave 2,000 small cherry trees.518 viewsIt was in 1912 (the year the Titanic sank) when Viscountess Chinda, the wife of Japan's Ambassador to the U.S., gave 2,000 small cherry trees to Mrs. Helen Taft, the wife of President Willian Taft. In a quiet ceremony, Mrs. Taft and Viscountess Chinda planted the first two cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Potomac Park in Washington, DC. These two trees still exist today, marked by a special plaque. .

To read more about the interesting history of these cherry trees, see the National Park Service's Web site on the Washington Cherry Trees. You can read about how the original shipment of 2,000 cherry trees from Tokyo in 1910 had to be destroyed upon arrival in the US due to the infestation of harmful insects and diseases.
Geisha Pair Outside Geisha House. These two geisha know how to pose for the camera. It looks like Kyoto. You can tell that they are geisha because of the shorter kimono sleeve, subdued kimono design (mostly black), and their clogs (for rainy weather).501 views
Maiko with umbrella. The quickest way to tell if she is a geisha or maiko is by looking at her back. The tell-tale sign of a maiko is her long obi sash hanging down behind. Whereas the geisha's sash has a short knot instead.486 views1 comments
Off-center divided back. After March 28, 1907 when the message was allowed to be written on the address side, a dividing line was printed on the address side to separate the message and recipient's address. However...482 viewsHowever, this line was not at the center of the card. Only one-third of the card could be used for message writing and the other two-thirds portion was reserved for the name and address. Such postcards with an off-center divider were made between March 28, 1907 (Meiji 40) and March 1, 1918 (Taisho 7). From March 1, 1918, the dividing line was moved to the center of the card. (See the next image.)
Teruha with chrysanthemum. The flower she's holding matches her kimono design that shows the same flower. Her name was Teruha and she appeared in many postcards. She was born in 1896 in Osaka and worked as a geisha in Shimbashi, Tokyo. Click to read m472 viewsTeruha with chrysanthemum. The flower she's holding matches her kimono design that shows the same flower. Her name was Teruha and she appeared in many postcards. She was born in 1896 in Osaka and worked as a geisha in Shimbashi, Tokyo before becoming a Buddhist priest in Kyoto. Read more about her interesting life by James A. Gatlin at geikogallery.com.2 comments
Poor posture and how not to pose in a kimono.446 views
Tres Flores. Intriguing pose. It looks like a modern postcard, but it's postmarked 1907!437 views1 comments
Woman on bicycle. That's a thick shawl she's wearing. Must've been winter. It's unusual to see a bicycle used as a studio prop. Riding a bicycle while wearing a kimono must have been difficult. The postmark looks like 1908. Hand-colored.425 views1 comments
In front of mirror. Hand-colored postcard sent as a Christmas card in 1914.420 views1 comments
Typical woman and flower. Give a woman a flower and ask her to pose with it, and this is how she typically would hold it.420 views
Drawing of Commodore Perry, Grossly distorted if not humorous rendition of Commodore Perry by a Japanese artist who apparently never knew what Perry really looked like. It was drawn at a time when the Japanese thought all foreigners were barbarians.411 views1 comments
Early postcard image quality. Both images above are magnified by 650%. The top image sample is a collotype image, hand-colored. The photograph in early postcards printed by collotype had very fine grain.407 viewsHowever, collotype was not suitable for high-volume printing and it was soon replaced by offset printing from the 1910s.

The bottom image is from a real-photo postcard. It was an actual photograph printed on paper as a postcard. These are easy to recognize with their characteristic sheen or gloss. The grain is the finest of all.
Naosuke Ii and Commodore Perry. Issued in 1909, this postcard commemorates the 50th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama Port. It has a commemorative postmark marking the "Jubilee of Opening of Yokohama Port."396 viewsYokohama Port was officially opened to foreign trade on July 1, 1859 in accordance with the US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

The card honors Naosuke Ii and Commodore Matthew C. Perry. You could say that Japan-America relations started with these two men. Ii was the Tokugawa shogunate's Great Elder (Tairo) who favored and concluded commercial treaties with the Western powers and thus broke Japan's isolation from the world. Foreigners were then allowed to trade with Japan and take up residence in cities like Yokohama and Hakodate. Ii was later assassinated in 1860 by people who sought to oust the foreign "barbarians."

Commodore Perry first came to Japan in July 1853 with his four warships which the Japanese called "black ships" (kurobune). No diplomatic breakthrough was made, but Perry's knocking on Japan's door was heard loud and clear. Running low on provisions, Perry departed for China and promised to return to Japan which he did in Feb. 1854. This time he got what he wanted. The Treaty of Kanagawa was signed about a month later. The treaty allowed US ships to call on two ports: Shimoda (Kanagawa) and Hakodate (Hokkaido). Permission for a US Consul (Townsend Harris) to reside in Japan was also stipulated. Official diplomatic relations between Japan and America thus began.
Pair of Geisha, autographed. One of my most treasured cards. This card was signed (on the chest area) by these two geisha with a fountain pen. Several other geisha also signed the back of the card. (See the next image.)395 views1 comments
Taisho Era postmark. This is a Japanese postmark with the date reading "2.7.24" and the location being Nikko (read from right to left). The time the postcard was accepted by the post office is indicated below the date.393 viewsAs with Meiji Era Japanese postmarks (see the preceding page), the date is in the year-month-day format. This can't be Meiji 2 (1869, before the Japan Post Office was even established), so it must be Taisho 2 (1913) or Showa 2 (1927). My postage stamp catalog tells me that the postage stamp (Chrysanthemum series) was issued in 1899-1907, so it must be Taisho 2. This is confirmed by the English postmark elsewhere on the card.
Girl in Storm. Wires were used inside the kimono to make it look wind-blown like in a rainstorm. Even her clogs are for rain. Early photographers commonly imitated the poses and scenes depicted in ukiyoe woodcut prints and Nihonga paintings.393 viewsAlthough the photographer and model were serious in making this picture, it makes you laugh.
Laughing Geisha with low neck. She's almost semi-nude. It is probably her sexiest pose of all. A great summertime card and one of my favorites. Hand-colored and postmarked Feb. 25, 1908 in Yokohama. The actual card is more yellowed.387 views1 comments
Two Patriotic Maiko. To cheer up the soldiers on the front line, pretty and smiling maiko (apprentice geisha) often appeared on postcards for military mail. This card was postmarked Aug. 1940 from Shizuoka city. It was not addressed to a soldier though.386 viewsBoth women are maiko and not full-fledged geisha yet. The sleeves of a maiko's kimono reaches toward the ground as you can see here. (The sleeves of a geisha is shorter.) The kimono design is also more colorful and gaudy. Maiko also wear clogs called pokkuri. They are wedged at the front, so if you are not careful, you can trip forward. Geisha do not wear pokkuri.
Center divided back. From March 1, 1918, the dividing line moved to the center of the card to separate the message and recipient's address.385 viewsIn this way, if the postcard has no postmark or stamp, you can still estimate the date of the card by checking the address side and see if there is a divider or not, an off-center divider, or a center divider.
Mona Lisa Smile. She's cute, ideal for a passport photo. But her hairstyle is more striking than anything. What do you call it? A Westernized Japanese hairstyle?380 views
Wartime Mitsui Life Insurance ad card. Dated Feb. 1942, this advertising postcard shows a Japanese torpedo bomber dropping a torpedo aimed at a US battleship under heavy attack. An American flag (faint) can be seen on the ship's mast.377 viewsDated Feb. 1942, this advertising postcard shows a Japanese torpedo bomber dropping a torpedo aimed at a US battleship under heavy attack. An American flag (faint) can be seen on the ship's mast. The advertising copy reads, "This one shot is a phenomenal force." On the left, the text reads, "A new weapon for national savings." "Very low insurance premiums." "Mitsui's provision for old age" "It has no enemies!" For some reason, the left corners of the card were cut with scissors, perhaps to remove it from an album.

Needless to say, the lowest point in US-Japan relations was World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack, the internment of Japanese-Americans, battles at Midway and other Pacific islands, Tokyo fire bombing raids, land battle on Okinawa, and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still reverberate among the generations today. Every year in August in Japan, ceremonies are held to mark and memorialize the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war's end. All the while, Dec. 8 (7 in Hawaii) is just another day in Japan with no particular significance.

Of course in Hawaii, Dec. 7 is a day of national mourning as much as Hiroshima/Nagasaki Day in Japan. Each country mourns its own and neither seems to care about the other's war dead. I await the day when both countries mourn for each other as well as for themselves. After all, we all belong to the same family, the Family of Man.
Laughing Geisha with Basket. It looks like she's dressed for picking tea leaves. This card, which has an undivided back, dates before 1907. The actual card is more yellowed.374 views
Baby Baby Sitter. Such scenes were common in those days. Mom and dad were both busy farming, leaving the baby in the hands of older children. Hand-colored.373 views
Later postcard image quality. Offset printing replaced the collotype and color printing came to fore from the 1930s. You can see how the little dots composed the picture. (Magnified by 650%.)370 views
Showa Era postmarks. The Showa Era was 1926 to 1989 (Showa 1 to 64) during the reign of Emperor Hirohito. On the left, you can see a Showa Era postmark (round). Notice how different it looks compared with the hand-stamped Meiji and Taisho Era postmarks.364 viewsShowa Era postmarks. The Showa Era was 1926 to 1989 (Showa 1 to 64) during the reign of Emperor Hirohito. On the left, you can see a Showa Era postmark (round). Notice how different it looks compared with the hand-stamped Meiji and Taisho Era postmarks (see preceding images). The lines and markings are much thinner, imprinted by a postmarking machine (introduced in Japan at the end of 1919).

The location reads "Shizuoka" (from right to left), and below that is the year 15, then 8.21 (month and day), then the time period (8-12 pm) when the card was mailed. Showa 15 is 1940.

The postage stamp was canceled by a separate canceling mark. The stamp was issued in 1937, proof positive that the card is from the Showa Era.

On the right is a Showa Era postmark too light to be legible. But the stamp tells us the approximate date (around 1937). Also, the kanji characters in red says "Gunji Yubin" which means military mail.
Pair of Geisha, autographed (back). This is the back of the preceding card. It looks like four geisha signed it.356 views
Maiko on Gojobashi Bridge. Postcard-size real photo taken in Kyoto. She has been poorly posed. Her posture is bad, her kimono is ruffled, the sleeves look bad, and her feet are pointing in the wrong direction. Maiko usually know how to pose themselves.353 viewsPostcard-size real photo taken in Kyoto. She has been poorly posed. Her posture is bad, her kimono is ruffled, the sleeves look bad, and her feet are pointing in the wrong direction. Maiko usually know how to pose themselves for a photograph. But not this one. Perhaps she's an amateur.1 comments
Woman with two flowers. She's holding the flowers in a cross or "X" mark. I wouldn't call that a good way to hold flowers (unless you're a hula dancer).352 views1 comments
New Year's postcard. New Year's postcards are by far the most popular type of postcards in Japan, akin to Christmas cards in the West. The bulk of the cards are delivered on New Year's Day.351 viewsThe bulk of the cards are delivered on New Year's Day, and cards which were sent late arrive during the first week of January. The custom of sending New Year's postcards began almost the same year when postcards were first made in Japan in 1873.

The card above was issued by the Japan Post Office in 2001. This is the address side of the card. The address side is considered to be the front side, and it is designed for the address to be written vertically from top to bottom, right to left. However, there's no problem with writing it horizontally which looks less formal, nor affixing an address label which looks less personal.

The seven red boxes at the top are for the postal code within Japan. Prior to Feb. 1998 when the postal code was expanded to seven digits, there were only five boxes for the postal code. The stamp is already printed on the card on the upper left corner. The price of the card includes the stamp which happens to be the same price as the card. On the bottom right corner is a lottery number for prizes.

Writing New Year's cards can be fun, but for many people it is a time-consuming chore if they do it at all. So it is common now to print out messages and addresses with an ink-jet printer at home. The Japan Post Office even offers New Year's cards made of paper suited for inkjet printing. The inkjet cards make the inkjet printout look a lot better than with cards made of regular paper. If you plan to use an inkjet printer, be sure to purchase the inkjet New Year's cards. Buy them early because they tend to sell out quickly.
Smiling for the camera. It's always nice to see a smiling woman on a vintage postard. This is not an ideal smile though. Kind of sheepish and unnatural. Sort of half-hearted and "halfway" like her fan which is only half open.349 views1 comments
Oil-painted card of Mt. Fuji. This is my favorite oil-painted postcard in my collection. The artist painted a few other cards like it. The artist's name was not signed, unfortunately. But the painting style is distinct.349 viewsI can't define what fine art is, but I know it when I see it.
A saucy little Geisha. The pose is good.336 views
Smiling Maiko Sitting. Real-photo postcard to cheer up soldiers. This card was sent as military mail from Kyoto on New Year's Day 1939. The kanji characters on the fan says "Banzai," the traditional Japanese cheer for victory and happy occas335 viewsReal-photo postcard to cheer up soldiers. This card was sent as military mail from Kyoto on New Year's Day 1939. The kanji characters on the fan says "Banzai," the traditional Japanese cheer for victory and happy occasions. It also means "long life," something that soldiers would like.1 comments
Cheek-to-Cheek. One of my favorite postcards. I wonder if they were sisters. Real-photo postcard with no divided back. The actual card is more yellowed, but I bleached it with Photoshop.334 views
After a bath. That's what it looks like. She was another very photogenic woman.331 views
Bride arrives at the groom's house.331 views
Laughing Geisha with cowboy hat & cigar. This must be the most humorous pose she created. Those tourists must've gotten a big kick when they saw this card. A geisha from the wild, wild West. Even today, it elicits an affectionate laugh. One of my329 views
Patriotic Maiko. Card designed to encourage soldiers on the front line. Notice that her sleeves are so long that you can see her right sleeve touch the ground. That's the kimono of a maiko. This is a modern postcard reproduction.329 views
Laughing Geisha with umbrella. The sender probably wrote about his incredible adventures in Japan. Postmarked 1904 from Yokohama addressed to Hamburg, Germany. The actual card is more yellowed and almost brown, but I bleached it with Photoshop.328 views1 comments
Teruha sitting.327 viewsHer name was Teruha and she appeared in many postcards. She's probably still in her teens in this photo. She was born in 1896 in Osaka and worked as a geisha in Shimbashi, Tokyo before becoming a Buddhist priest in Kyoto. Read more about her interesting life by James A. Gatlin at geikogallery.com.1 comments
Rear and side views. Nice side and back shot of a kimono woman. Can't see any wedding ring, but she looks married.324 views1 comments
Maiko hair ornaments. Maiko have more ornaments in their hair than geisha do. The hair ornaments differ depending on the current season. They usually have a flower motif, and if you look closely and see what flower it is, you can tell what season it is.322 views
Flower in Vase. Nicely composed photograph. With a serene-looking face, she's an ideal postcard model. She also appears in the next postcard.322 views
Smiling Maiko Standing. Great smile. This is the same woman in the card where two maiko are holding the Japanese flag.319 views1 comments
Russo-Japan Peace Conference representatives. Left to right: Russian Finance Minister Count Sergei Witte, Baron Rosen, US President Theodore Roosevelt, Japanese Ambassador to the US Kogoro Takahira, and Japanese Foreign Minister Jutaro Komura.316 viewsIt was a time when nations jostled for territory and trade. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was waged mainly for the control of Manchuria and Korea. The US fully supported Japan and hoped that Japan would keep Korea open to all nations for commerce. The war started before it was declared with Japan launching a surprise attack to destroy part of the Russian fleet at Port Arthur in Manchuria and landing troops in Korea. The US and Great Britain cheered Japan. The US assumed that Japan would open up Asian markets. President Theodore Roosevelt believed that Japan was fighting Russia for America. But then, he also feared that if Japan won the war, there might be a struggle between the US and Japan in the future.

In the famous Battle of the Sea of Japan on May 27-28, 1905, Japan astonishingly defeated the Russian fleet which had sailed from the Baltic Sea eighteen months before. Even before this battle, Japan was financially drained and asked Roosevelt to mediate an end to the war. Although Japan was winning the war, they were outnumbered by the Russians who had the troops and resources to keep fighting. The Russian czar, however, finally relented after seeing his Baltic fleet destroyed.

A peace conference was held at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in July and Aug. 1905. The principle representatives are pictured in the postcard above. The caption on the bottom of the card identifies these men. The Japanese handwriting in-between is only correspondence and not part of the original postcard which has a postmark dated Aug. 30, 1905.

Harvard-educated Jutaro Komura was a star in Japan's Foreign Ministry and a successful diplomat in Washington DC and Peking. He was in favor of obtaining control in both Manchuria and Korea. Komura also was instrumental in having Japan form an alliance with Great Britain in 1902. This move further strengthened Japan's position vis-a-vis Russia. Anybody attacking Japan would also have to face the British who had the world's largest navy.

Count Sergei Witte created the Trans-Siberian railway and he was highly respected by the US.

For mediating peace between Japan and Russia, President Roosevelt went on to become the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.
Dancing woman307 views
Calligraphy on a folding fan.301 views
Woman and cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, she's too hunchbacked in this picture.297 views1 comments
Bride leaving her house vis rickshaw.292 views
Heisei Era postmarks. We are currently in the Heisei Era that started in 1989 when Emperor Hirohito died and his son Akihito became the emperor.286 viewsOn the left is a recent postmark. It follows an ideal format. The location (Nakano Kita) is in both Japanese (read from left to right) and English. The year is in both Heisei and Gregorian. The "14" is for Heisei 14 which is 2002. In the middle, the numbers "02.1.5" is for Jan. 1, 2002. And on the right, "8-12" indicates the time period (8 am to 12 noon) when the postcard was mailed. This is nice.

But the postmark on the right is more abbreviated, showing only the location, Heisei year, month, and day.
Smiling Maiko sitting in garden286 viewsNotice her left sleeve reaching the ground. A sign of a maiko's kimono, not a geisha's. Also, the high clogs that she wears are called pokkuri. Maiko wear them, but geisha do not.
Girl with Bouquet. Would've been a great shot if she had smiled.282 views
The maiko uses her real hair, not a wig. When her hair is down, it reaches her chest.279 views
Another shot of her picking tea leaves.270 views
Her name has been a mystery, but I have come across hard evidence that she was a geisha named "Tokimatsu." But I will forever call her the "Laughing Geisha."267 views
Woman and flower patch. Same woman as in the preceding postcard.267 views
Her affable and infectious smile made her stand out during a time when most people posing for a photograph did not smile.266 views
Laughing Geisha in the rain. There's a horse in the background. Maybe she's watching a parade. The ground looks wet.262 views
Laughing Maiko. Another card to cheer up the men at the front line.262 views
"Japs" on hand-painted Mt. Fuji card. The message on this card reads: "Fujiyama, the mt. (mountain) the Japs worship. Been seeing Yokohama in a jinrichisha (rickshaw). Feb. 14."262 viewsThis person apparently learned a few Japanese words like "jinrikisha" which means "human-powered vehicle" that is the rickshaw. And the term "Japs" has been around well before World War II.
Girl at fence. Her posture is crooked, but somehow this photo looks nice. She's not sensationally attractive, but she's photogenic and comes across well. She also appears in the preceding postcard.256 views
Laughing Geisha with fan. There are two Yokohama postmarks on this card. One in Japanese (over the stamp) and one in English. The actual card is more yellowed and almost brown, but I bleached it with Photoshop.249 viewsThere are two Yokohama postmarks on this card. One in Japanese (over the stamp) and one in English. Japanese postmarks have the date in the Year-month-day format. And English postmarks have it in the Day-month-Western year format. As you may know, Japan bases its years on the Emperor's reign. In the Japanese postmark, you can see "36" for the year. That's not 1936, but Meiji 36 that corresponds to 1903. Besides the Meiji Period (1868-1912), there's the Taisho Period (1912-1926) and the Showa Period (1926-1989). Since the Japanese postmark only indicates the last two digits of the year, it can be a pain to figure out which period the year belongs to. In most cases, we can figure it out with the stamp or type of postcard back.1 comments
See, hear, nor speak no evil.244 views
Laughing Geisha with baby. She's nicely posed, and you can even see the baby's face. But the color of her kimono is somewhat drab. A mother (or married woman) does not and need not wear a colorful kimono.244 views
Woman with flowers. She's wearing two rings on her left hand. She looks like a wife alright. How can you tell? Well, her kimono has a plain design, and the word "married" is written on her face.244 views
Drawing water from a well.241 views
Iris Garden at Horikiri, Tokyo. This card is made of balsa wood. It shows a woman arriving at the garden in a rickshaw. I've seen this photo printed on paper postcards as well. The garden still exists in Tokyo and it's still famous for irises.235 viewsSee photos of the garden today. It's still famous for irises that bloom in June. Hand-colored postcard.
Tea house garden in Hikone, Shiga. This cozy Japanese garden has tea houses. It is directly behind Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture. Hikone Castle was the home of Naosuke Ii, the high official who met Commodore Perry.227 viewsToday, this garden still looks pretty much the same. It was even used for a garden scene in the TV mini-series "Shogun." See photos here.
Kameido Tenmangu Shrine, Tokyo. Famous since the Edo Period for wisterias, this shrine has been a popular subject for woodblock artists and early photographers. The wisterias bloom around late April. The shrine is near Kameido Station on the Sobu Line.220 viewsThe shrine is near Kameido Station on the Sobu Line in Tokyo. Hand-colored.
Japan Pavilion at Golden Gate International Expo, 1939. In 1939, the Golden Gate International Exposition was held in San Francisco, California's Treasure Island from February 19, 1939 to October 29, 1939. The expo theme was "Pageant of the Pacif219 viewsPacific Rim countries participated with pavilions having distinctive architecture, landscape, and art. The Japan Pavilion looked quite elaborate with a pagoda, Japanese-style bridge, and two large temple-like buildings.

It was a peaceful gathering of nations and it's sad that only two years later, Japan and America were at war with each other.
1993 Sapporo Snow Festival. In Sept. 1992, US-Japan relations literally reached new heights with Mamoru Mohri becoming the first Japanese to fly on a US Space Shuttle.218 viewsOn board the Endeavor, Mohri worked on numerous Skylab experiments as a payload specialist during the eight-day mission. He even conducted a "space classroom" with kids in Japan via a live TV broadcast.

This postcard shows the snow sculptures of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, the mission's patch, and a bust of Mohri built for the 44th Sapporo Snow Festival held in Feb. 1993 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. On the left side of the sculpture, you can see ice slides for children.
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Oil-painted card of Mt. Fuji 2. Another postcard oil painting of Mt. Fuji.216 views
Laughing Geisha on Shore. It's kind of strange to see her at the beach but dressed to pick tea leaves. The message on this postcard was written in French, dated 1905.210 views
Oil-painted card of Matsushima. Matsushima is a picturesque group of pine tree islands near Sendai, Miyagi Pref. The island pictured is one of the main islands and a major tourist stop.209 viewsAlong with Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima, Matsushima is known as one of the three most famous views of Japan (Nihon Sankei).
Combing her hair.208 views
Laughing Geisha looking out. The card is postmarked 1903 from Yokohama. The actual card is more yellowed and almost brown, but I bleached it with Photoshop.208 views
Painting by high school girl? This is my only oil-painted card that has a message and postmark (1910 from Nagasaki). It was addressed to a lady in Alameda, California and says in English that the card was hand painted by a Japanese high school girl.206 viewsWhether this is true or not, I don't know. But the painting style of this card and the others you see here are the same. (I bought them as a set.)
Oil-painted card of ocean and mountain. Apparently by the same artist as the preceding card.185 views
Oil-painted card of river. Apparently by the same artist as the preceding card.184 views
Young girls in kimono.175 views
Young baby sitters. The girls look around 8 or 9 years old. The artist went slightly overboard with the hand coloring. Colorful, but too bold.168 views
Laughing Geisha on terrace. It looks like she's on the veranda of a restaurant along a river. If she's a Kyoto geisha, it would be the Kamo River. But these cards were made in Yokohama. I wonder if she was from Yokohama.167 views
Speak, Hear, and See No Evil. A common pose imitating the monkeys. Postmarked 1914. Hand-colored.162 views
Russo-Japan Peace Conference at Portsmouth. The Japanese delegation headed by Jutaro Komura is on the left and Count Sergei Witte leads the Russian delegation on the right side of the table. The room apparently had a nice view of the ocean.147 viewsAlthough President Roosevelt did not attend the peace conference at Portsmouth, he supervised every detail from Washington and his home on Long Island. Komura was instructed by Tokyo to make sure to obtain a free hand in Korea and control of Southern Manchuria and the railway. Also, for the frosting on the cake, to obtain an indemnity and all of Sakhalin. Japan was in dire financial straits and needed the indemnity to pay for the war and have enough capital for projects in Korea and Manchuria.

Komura got his demands for controlling Korea and Manchuria, but Count Witte rejected demands for an indemnity and Sakhalin. Komura then threatened to walk out of the conference. However, Tokyo told him to compromise. Komura offered to give up on the indemnity if Russia left Sakhalin. Witte accepted and Japan got the southern half of Sakhalin. The Treaty of Postsmouth was signed in Sept. 1905. However, when the Japanese people back home found out that there would be no indemnity, anti-peace rioting occurred. Mobs surrounded the US legation in Tokyo. Komura feared for his life when he returned to Japan.
"Great White Fleet" Visiting Japan in Oct. 1908. On Dec. 16, 1907, sixteen U.S. battleships departed Hampton Roads, Virginia for a historic tour around the world. President Theodore Roosevelt was on hand to see the fleet off.144 views"Great White Fleet" Visiting Japan in Oct. 1908. On Dec. 16, 1907, sixteen U.S. battleships departed Hampton Roads, Virginia for a historic tour around the world. President Theodore Roosevelt was on hand to see the fleet off. Dubbed the "Great White Fleet" because of the white-painted hulls of the ships, the powerful flotilla's mission was to promote goodwill and to show any potential enemy (especially Japan) the U.S. Navy's vast naval power.

The fleet was first commanded by Rear Admiral Robley "Fighting Bob" Evans. He later fell ill and was replaced by Rear Admiral Charles Sperry. The person pictured in the postcard is Sperry. A series of postcards were issued by Japan's Department of Communications in commemoration of the fleet's visit to Japan (Yokohama). The card above and below are from this series. The kanji characters above the eagle's head reads "Kangei" which means welcome.
Welcome Parade for the American Fleet. The fleet's crew enjoyed a few days in Japan and was given the red-carpet treatment. A welcoming parade was given in downtown Tokyo around Shimbashi (pictured above) and Hibiya Park.144 viewsA large turnout is apparent in this photo showing a horse-drawn carriage carrying the US and Japanese flags.

American crewmen held Japanese paper umbrellas with a star design, while the Japanese and American flags were everywhere. Japan was highly in favor of peaceful relations with the U.S. The American sailors were surprised and delighted by the friendliness and hospitality of the Japanese.
Benten-dori street in Yokohama.144 views
U.S.S. Mississippi. This was one of the four "black ships" in Commodore Perry 's fleet when he first visited Japan in 1853. This postcard was made to commemorate the construction (in 1901) of the monument (see next postcard) marking Perry133 viewsU.S.S. Mississippi. This was one of the four "black ships" in Commodore Perry 's fleet when he first visited Japan in 1853. This postcard was made to commemorate the construction (in 1901) of the monument (see next postcard) marking Perry's first landing in Tokyo Bay.
Japan-America Cable Route. With a crudely drawn map, this card shows the route of the undersea cable between Japan and America.132 viewsThe cable extended across the Pacific Ocean via the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Islands), Guam, Midway, and Hawaii. The cable also connected Japan with the Philippines and Shanghai, China.

On the upper half the card, you see the Imperial Palace on the left and the White House on the right. The caption at the center of the card reads, "In Commemoration of the Establishment of Direct Cable Communication between Japan and America." It's sad to think that these two friendly nations went to war with each other a few decades later.
Pictured here is one of the U.S. battleships in the fleet. The words "American Fleet" are also spelled out by the anchor rope along the bottom of the photo. The Amphitrite, Puritan, and Montgomery were among the ships making the tour.130 viewsWelcome American Fleet, Oct. 1908
After leaving the U.S., the fleet cruised around South America's Cape Horn, up the U.S. West Coast to San Francisco, across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, visited Australia and New Zealand, then stopped in Yokohama, Japan on Oct. 18-24, 1908. Then the fleet sailed across the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, and the North Atlantic ocean before returning triumphantly to Hampton Roads, Virginia on Feb. 22, 1909. President Roosevelt was there to greet the return of his proud Great White Fleet. It was a 46,000-mile cruise.

It's interesting to note that as a means of long-distance transportation, ships were much more advanced than anything else. Ford's Model T was built in 1908, and the Wright Brothers sold their first flyer (a one-seater) to the U.S. Army in 1909 after a dazzling and record-breaking flight time of 1 hour and 20 min. (altitude: 300 feet).
Child dancer. Postcard-size photograph. Date is unknown.128 views
Cherry Blossoms, Potomac Park, Washington, DC. In this postcard, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Capitol Dome are in the background. This card was made in the USA in the late 1930s or early 1940s.126 viewsThe cherry trees must be the prettiest and most appreciated gift Japan has ever presented to the United States. The trees are truly a national treasure, for both countries. Today, there are over 3,700 cherry trees accenting Potomac Park and the Washington Monument. They are carefully maintained by arbor specialists.
Rickshaw ride in Yokohama. The caption reads "Navy Musicians enjoying a Rickasha Ride in Yokohama, Japan." Since the card was printed by an American publisher, I'm assuming that they are Americans.124 views
Twins. They look like twins or sisters. Real-photo postcard postmarked 1918.124 views
Autographed as Yoko Aozora. She must have been some kind of teenaged entertainer. Probably a dancer. Looks charming enough.117 views
Opening of the Japan-America Cable. This postcard is one of a series of cards which commemorated the opening of the undersea communications cable between Japan and America on Aug. 1, 1906. The head of state and flags of both countries are shown.114 viewsOn the left is US President Theodore Roosevelt and on the right is Emperor Meiji.
Welcome Parade for the American Fleet (Hibiya Park)109 views
New Year's photo. The paper ball is for a traditional New Year's game. Postcard-size photograph.106 views
Commodore Perry and Naosuke Ii (embossed). This is another postcard issued in 1909 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama Port. It has a commemorative postmark marking the "Jubilee of Opening of Yokohama Port."105 viewsYokohama Port was officially opened to foreign trade on July 1, 1859 in accordance with the US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

Also see the caption for the preceding postcard.
Girl on stage. Postcard-size photograph. Date is unknown.99 views
Welcome Parade for the American Fleet (back). The back of the postcard (see preceding postcard) had a note talking about the American Fleet's visit to Tokyo. Postmarked Oct. 21, 1908.98 viewsNotice that the dividing line is not at the center of the card. Two-thirds of the card was for the recipient's address and only one-third was for the message. Cards like this with off-center dividers were published between March 28, 1907 and March 1, 1918 when the divider was moved to the center of the card. Before March 28, 1907, there was no divider on the back and only the recipient's address could be written. The message had to be written on the picture side which usually had a large white space for writing. Looking at the back of the postcard for the divider is another way to find out the approximate date of the card.
Japan-America Cable by Communications Department. Another postcard marking the cable's opening. This card was issued by Japan's Communications Department (building pictured) that was in charge of the postal system. On the right is the Comm. Minist94 viewsThe commemorative rubber stamp says "Congratulation for the Opening of the Japan-America Cable" and shows a map of the cable route and the US and Japanese flags.
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