Photography in Japan: Meiji will introduce a lady from Tokyo via the time tour

Photography in Japan: Meiji will introduce a lady from Tokyo via the time tour

Tomoko Hara and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Time

These photos cover the period from the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) to modern Tokyo. However, despite the obvious photographic angle – which denotes distance in time – the theme is focused on linking ‘past’ with ‘now’.

Curiously, while the lady in attendance was naturally surprised on a snowy day in Tokyo (a rarity, especially when the snow is thick), the old Meiji images are more of a mirage. After all, the photographer – the esteemed Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) – focused heavily on the tourist market.

In this sense, the real thing of time is the Kimbei. After all, it plays on the feelings of international tourists. Thus, the true image of women at that time – as a whole – was far from the cultural clichés provided by Kimbei.

Of course, some windows pointed in the direction of what Kimbei was referring to. For example, the kimono was all too common at this time in history, but without the sexualization or glamorization that Kimbei focuses on. (the kimono is still popular on special occasions in modern Japan – or in certain narrow high-culture circles).

The images erase the enormous social convulsions that Japan witnessed from the Meiji period to modern Japan. Instead, the theme is beauty through the prism of simplicity.

Overall, images of ladies from the Meiji period to modern Tokyo contrast greatly with regard to setting. Therefore, the modern images were a golden opportunity on a rare snowy day in Tokyo: it naturally merged – to some degree – with the illusion of time which was unintentional. However, the images taken by Kimbei allude to the mindset of tourists, who expected a still image that was all too familiar with the glamorization of Japanese women at this time in history.


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