It might be that our instant association of Japan is of super sonic trains that look as if they travel with the speed of light, or of modern skyscrapers and almost a psychedelic image of downtown Tokyo composed of numerous flashy adverts all over the place. Japan is also a country of more than hundred voice-acting schools that provide for its super successful anime films production, and a country which has more than 20% of an elderly population.
Way back in the 19th century, things looked so much different in the Far East. It would be during the 1850s and 1860s that Japan will undergo a dramatic shift from the conservative, isolationist policies, a trait of the Edo period, to a rapid and widespread drive to modernize and engage with the rest of the world.
Around this time, big ports such as Yokohama will open their docks for vessels from all around the world, welcoming foreign travelers as well as new technologies and occupations. Which is when photography was also introduced to Japan, thanks to the British-Italian photographer Felice Beato, noted for being one of the first persons to document East Asia in photos, and was one of the first war photographers too.
However, the photos shared below (the courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) are not Beato’s work, but one of the first notable Japanese photographers to learn the art. Reportedly, Suzuki learned from the Yokohama photographer Shimooka Renjō, and in 1872 he was assigned to create a series of photos for the Japanese expat magazine, The Far East.
Suzuki concentrated on rural life and occupations of people in his photo-documentary effort, hence the pre-dominant peaceful poses or the display of traditional Japanese costumes and habits. Once the photos were done, they were all hand-colored, and the result is brilliant.
Street minstrel, Gose
Three women in traditional Japanese costumes
Looks like they are family
An actor in samurai armor
A farmer wearing a rain coat
A woman with a traditional garment with a sword
Perhaps trying that new dress…
Man cleaning a fish
At the florist
The cobbler, making some new pairs of shoes
Is that Kamakura’s Great Buddha?
Osaki Kioto dancer
In the yard