40 Colorized Photos from Early 20th Century Japan

At the beginning of the 20th century, large-scale industrialization in Japan begun during the Meiji Restoration, a period of rapid modernization that lasted from 1868-1912, was well under way. The subsequent Taishō period (1912–1926) saw a continuation of the country's rise to international power, while political reform and ongoing Westernization permanently altered the face of Japanese society.

Earlier this month, The New York Public Library released photographs from Japan during this period as part of a cache of 180,000 digitizied public domain images from a collection previously available only at its New York City locations. The images presented above — produced by Western publishers as postcards for foreign visitors to Japan — were artificially colorized from black and white photos though photocrom or handpainting processes, and have been digitally enhanced here. Some depict maiko — young women in traditional dress who performed songs, dances, and played instruments for visitors during feasts — while others revealed signs of Western expatriate influence. Still others show more typical scenes of rural laborers, bustling crowds in large cities, or young children sharing a light moment. 

The surrounding context and precise date of many photos have been lost to time, so they are presented here only with their original title, approximate year of origin, and publisher when available.

About the Author

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.