PhotoHistory 1868-1919

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Chronological history of photography in Japan in 1868-1919 (Meiji 1 - Taisho 8)

Researched and compiled by Philbert Ono

1868 (Meiji 1)

The Meiji Restoration occurs with Emperor Mitsuhito (Emperor Meiji) restored to power after the last shogun (Tokugawa Yoshinobu) steps down in 1867. The nation's capital is moved from Kyoto to Tokyo (renamed from "Edo"). Western ideas and products permeate Japan. Before the Restoration, most people posing for photos were samurai or the wealthy. After the Restoration, more common people had their portraits taken. Prior to the Meiji Restoration, many samurai desired to have their photograph taken before what they thought was imminent death in battle.

Portrait studios start to open nationwide. Following the Restoration, a foreign-tourist boom begins and lasts until 1910.

1869 (Meiji 2)

TAMOTO Kenzo opens a photo studio in Hakodate. He was the one who photographed scenes of the rebellion by ENOMOTO Takeaki and other samurai opposed to the Meiji Restoration who tried to establish a republic in Hakodate.

1870 (Meiji 3)

The number of professional photographers in Japan exceed 100.

The use of albumen paper starts to become popular.

The rickshaw (invented around 1868) starts to become a popular means of transportation.

1871 (Meiji 4)

By this time, Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Ratenicz (1839-1911), an Austrian, establishes a photo studio in Yokohama.

ASANUMA Tokichi establishes Asanuma Shoten, a photo supply shop in Nihonbashi, Tokyo.

1872 (Meiji 5)

In September, Japan's first railway linked Shimbashi Station (in Shiodome, Tokyo) and Yokohama Station (Sakuragi Station). The ride took 53 minutes.

UCHIDA Kuichi (1844-1875) photographs a young Emperor and Empress Meiji (and again in 1873). This was the first time a Japanese Emperor and Empress were photographed. Since viewing the face of the Emperor by his subjects was forbidden, the photograph was put out of circulation. It was not until 1889 when the Emperor was photographed again. These later photographs became very popular and prominent painters and woodblock artists used them as a model for their own artistic depictions of the Imperial couple.

1873 (Meiji 6)

ASAKURA Matsugoro is sent to Austria by the Japanese government to study the manufacturing of optics. He returned to Japan in 1875 and started to build a lens factory with government approval, but passes away before its completion.

Konishi-ya, forerunner of Konica, is established in Kojimachi, Tokyo. It later moves to Honcho in 1876 and changes its name to Konishi Honten.

Emperor Meiji cuts off his top-knot and adopts a Western hairstyle. By 1890, the top-knot on men becomes a rare site in Japan. Men's clothing also begins to Westernize, first with Western hats and umbrellas (combined with the kimono) which were the least expensive to adopt.

Western hairstyles for Japanese women was met with much criticism. Finally in 1885, a movement promoted Western hairstyles for women. From the 1890s, such hairstyles become more common.

1876 (Meiji 9)

Students of ASAKURA Matsugoro complete the lens factory and start to produce ophthalmic lenses with imported glass. (Glass melting technology was still undeveloped in Japan.)

The samurai is longer allowed to wear swords.

1877 (Meiji 10)

Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Ratenicz acquires the stock and studio of Felice Beato.

The number of professional photographers in Tokyo alone exceed 100.

1879 (Meiji 12)

"Shashin Shimbun," a weekly photo by Zenshin-sha, is published with albumen prints pasted on. Publication ceases after 10 issues.

1880 (Meiji 13)

With the easing of travel restrictions, more Western tourists start to visit Japan from the 1880s. Targeting these tourists, curio shops (for lacquerware, porcelain, etc.) become common at the major ports of entry. Tourist photographs and postcards also become popular souvenirs. The Western tourists in search of traditional Japan disliked the increasing Western ways of the Japanese. So their photograph and postcard collections tended to emphasize the exotic and feudal images of Japan. To meet the demand, many of these images were recreated in the photo studio.

1881 (Meiji 14)

In Jan., George Eastman of Rochester, New York starts a small company called Eastman Dry Plate Company, the forerunner of Eastman Kodak Co. "Kodak" was coined by Eastman in 1888.

1883 (Meiji 16)

The first dry plates were supposedly imported into Japan. The dry-plate process greatly promotes the development of photography in Japan. More photo studios are established. As photography became more commercial, photographers came to be called "shashin-ya" (photograph seller) rather than "shashin-shi" (photography practitioner) which early photographers were called.

ASAKURA Matsugoro's son, ASAKURA Kametaro, developed a photographic lens at his factory in Yotsuya Denmacho and displayed the lens at the 3rd National Industrial Exhibition in 1890 where it won 1st prize. This was the first photographic lens produced in Japan, except for simple single-element lenses.

OGAWA Kazumasa

1885 (Meiji 18)

OGAWA Kazumasa (Isshin) opens a photo studio in Tokyo after studying dry plate production in the U.S. Dry plates were imported and photography in Japan spread dramatically.

The stock of Baron von Stillfried's studio with 15 employees is sold to Farsari and Company owned by Adolfo Farsari.

Adolfo Farsari (1841-1898) came to Japan in 1873 and stayed for 17 years. He was a businessman at first, and later learned photography. His studio in Yokohama sold many photo albums to Western visitors. His studios stayed in business until at least 1917. They were the last Western photo studios. The "Yokohama Shashin" culture enters its peak period.

1886 (Meiji 19)

By this time, Adolfo Farsari's photo studios in Yokohama were the only Westerner-operated ones in Japan. More Japanese were establishing their own photo studios themselves.

Hand-coloring of photographs was also popular. By 1891, 19 of Farsari's 33 employees were "painters." The painters were highly skilled as many were former artists who worked with woodblock prints.

The Empress wears Western-style robe in public for the first time, setting an example for Japanese women.

1888 (Meiji 21)

The Kodak camera is introduced in the U.S. with the slogan, "You Press the Button, We Do the Rest."

1889 (Meiji 22)

Dry plates made photography much more convenient for professional photographers. They replaced the wet plates which required the photographer to coat a glass plate with photosensitive material and make the exposure and develop the plate while the plate was still wet. This wet collodian process required the photographer to carry chemicals and a lightproof box wherever he went.

Dry plates could be coated with photosensitive material long before it was exposed. It also need not be developed immediately after exposure.

The dry plate method attracted amateur photographers. The Nihon Shashin-kai, a camera club, was founded by William K. Burton, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University (forerunner of the Univ. of Tokyo), OGAWA Kazumasa, and other foreign residents. It is Japan's first amateur camera club. ENOMOTO Takeaki becomes the club's chairman. They tried to promote photography as an artistic medium. Other amateur camera clubs were founded during the turn of the century and they were very active.

Noted photographer ESAKI Reiji succeeds in photographing fireworks at night.

"Shashin Shinpo" a photo magazine published by Hakubundo (later by Asanuma Shokai) is printed by OGAWA Kazumasa (Isshin) with collotype printing. It ceases publication in 1896 after 84 issues.

1890 (Meiji 23)

Sales of tourist photographs (especially from Yokohama) peaked during the 1890s. Not only tourists and foreign residents, but also people abroad who were interested in Japan but could not afford to come purchased souvenir photo albums. According to Japan Trade Bureau statistics, 24,923 photographs were exported to America in 1897 and 20,242 to Europe in 1897. Most stereotypical tourist photos could be categorized as traditional customs and scenes, Japanese beauties, and famous views. Photography was big business in Japan.

1894 (Meiji 27)

"Shashin Geppo," a photo magazine, was started by Konishi Honten, a photo supply shop. Another magazine called Shashin Shinpo was published by Asanuma Shoten, another photo supply shop. These magazines revealed the trade secrets of pro photographers and further sparked interest in photography among amateurs.

1900 (Meiji 33)

The wedding of 20-year-old Prince Yoshihito (the future Emperor Taisho) and 15-year-old Princess Sadako Kujo is held on May 10.

1901 (Meiji 34)

The Tokyo Shayu-kai photo club is founded by OZAKI Koyo in March. A club magazine called "Shashin" is published from the following Jan. The club disbands in 1910.

The Toyo Shashin-kai amateur photo club is started by MIYAUCHI Kotaro in Oct.

1902 (Meiji 35)

Taiyo, a generalist magazine published by Hakubunkan, started a photo contest. In 1904, another magazine, Shashin Reidaishu, established by Kuwada Shokai (a photo supply shop), held monthly photo contests. Both magazines promoted art photography.

Konishi Honten establishes Rokuoh-sha in Tokyo, a division dedicated to produce photosensitive materials (dry plates, etc.) and later photographic equipment. The Naikoku-kangyo Hakurankai V exposition is held in Osaka. It had a photo studio that issued ID badges printed as carte de visite. Perhaps Japan's first photo ID badges.

1903 (Meiji 36)

The Cherry Portable, the first portable Japanese camera, is made by Konishi Honten (forerunner of Konica). The box-shaped camera used a magazine which held twelve 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. dry plates. Konishi Honten went on to make various other cameras. Paper-backed roll films were still not made in Japan. Only sheet film and glass plates were being made in Japan. Imported roll films were still very expensive and usually arrived in poor condition because there were no refrigerated cargo holds.

Japan's first photographic paper, the Sakura Hakkin type paper, is marketed by Konishi Honten.

1904 (Meiji 37)

In Shashin Geppo, budding art photographers assert that photography could be used for self expression, not just for recording reality.

New camera clubs emerged to establish photography as an art form. One group was called Yutsuzu-sha, with core members KUNO (AKIYAMA) Tetsusuke, KATO, Seiichi, and SAITO Taro. They advocated pictorialism in photography, with the same possibility of self expression as in painting.

1907 (Meiji 40)

After Yutsuzu-sha triggered the art photography movement, the Tokyo Shashin Kenkyukai was founded with the support of Konishi Honten. It held its first Tokyo Shashin Kenkyukai Exhibition (abbreviated as "Kenten") in Ueno, Tokyo. Other prominent groups such as the Naniwa Shashin Club of Osaka and Aiyu Shashin Club of Nagoya participated. The exhibit had a strong impact among amateur photographers with soft focus and other artistic techniques.

Kuribayashi Seisakusho, the forerunner of Petri Camera, is founded.

Konishi Honten markets Japan's first single-lens reflex camera, the Sakura-flex Plano with a Tessar f/6.3 lens. Priced 225 yen.

1908 (Meiji 41)

FUJII Ryuzo establishes the Fujii Lens Seizosho factory. Ryuzo was a Mechanical Engineering major at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and became a naval engineer. He was sent to Europe for three years to study optical design and lens manufacturing in Europe (mainly Germany). He returned to Japan in 1901 and quit the navy in 1908 to start his company. His younger brother Kozo joined the company after quitting his job at the Aichi Cement Company.

They studied the production of prisms and lenses in a rented dirt-floored entrance hall of a house. In March 1909, they moved to a new factory in Shiba, Tokyo and equipped it with the latest lens manufacturing equipment from Germany. It became Japan's first modern lens factory. In 1917, the company was consolidated into Nippon Kogaku Kogyo K.K., forerunner of Nikon.

1911 (Meiji 44)

Rokuoh-sha markets Japan's first pocket-size camera called the "Minimum Idea." Its relatively affordable price of 9 yen and 50 sen creates a Minimum Idea boom among amateurs. It became so popular that the Minimum Photo Club was established in 1913.

Taisho Period (1912-1926)

Pictorialism becomes the dominant photographic style in Japan. The leading practitioners included NOJIMA Yasuzo and ONO Ryutaro in Tokyo, KOMETANI Koro and YOKOYAMA Kinkei in Osaka, and HIDAKA Chotaro and MASUKO Aitaro in Nagoya.Most pictorialist photographers took photos of landscapes. Pigment processes were used to control the tone and image.

Shashin Geijutsu-sha, established by FUKUHARA Shinzo who had studied in the West, his younger brother FUKUHARA Roso, KAKEFUDA Isao, and OOTAGURO Motoo, started a magazine named Shashin Geijutsu (Art Photography). They advocated another approach to photography with an emphasis on gradation and light and shadow. People unhappy with the pigmented images of Tokyo Shashin Kenkyukai went for this approach. The effect was more sculptural.

1915 (Taisho 4)

The Japanese Navy starts to develop optical glass manufacturing since glass imports from Germany stopped due to World War I.

The Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (Tokyo Art School) adds a photography dept. The first class had 13 students.

1917 (Taisho 6)

Nippon Kogaku K.K. (forerunner of Nikon) was established in Tokyo as a munitions optical instrument shop to meet the needs of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The company was a consolidation of three companies: Tokyo Keiki Seisaku-sho's optical division, Iwaki Glass Seisaku-sho, and Fujii Lens Seizo-sho.

By the middle of the Taisho Period, photography spread among the masses as film replaced the glass dry plates and cameras became compact. The Vest Pocket Kodak camera (introduced in the U.S. in 1912) was imported in large numbers from 1915. It was a relatively affordable camera, putting photography into the hands of the middle class.

The Vest Pocket Kodak camera spawned the "Vesu-tan" (abbreviation for Vest Pocket Kodak camera) group of photographers. They showed that soft-focus images could be created by detaching the lens hood and allowing the aberrations of the single lens element to take effect. It did not require expensive accessories the pros used at the time. They also printed images on ordinary photo paper and retouched them with oil paints, etc. This pictorialist style influenced many people.

1919 (Taisho 8)

Asahi Kogaku Goshi Kaisha (forerunner of Asahi Optical Company, Ltd., maker of Pentax cameras) is established in Tokyo by KAJIWARA Kumao as a manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses. By 1934, it becomes a major supplier of camera lenses for camera manufacturers such as Minolta and Konishiroku.

Takachiho Seisaku-sho, the forerunner of Olympus Optical Co., Ltd., is established as a microscope manufacturer. It made its first photographic lens in 1936.

Oriental Shashin Kogyo is established in Tokyo's Ochiai. The company produces photographic paper for portraits in 1921.

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