Photographs of Japan

Collection History

Photographic albums, photographically illustrated books, and archival photographs have been in the Library's collections and predecessor collections since the mid- to late-19th century. They therefore came to their present location in the Photography Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs through various means, including purchase, gift, and transfer from other divisions. Important early albums of photographs of East Asia are still entering the Library's collections, and their contents will eventually be added to this digital presentation.


The technology of photography was introduced into Asian countries soon after its invention in various forms in Europe. The first daguerreotype camera was imported into Japan in 1848 (the patent dates to 1839). Wet and dry plate photographic processes were introduced into Japan by Dutch photographers stationed on the island of Dejima, in Nagasaki Bay, beginning in the 1850s. Felice Beato accompanied the British expeditionary army into China in 1860, and photographed the first military campaign. Beato set up his photographic studio with Charles Wirgman in Yokohama in 1863. The peripatetic Beato opened a photography studio and curio shop in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1885. English photographers such as John MacCosh and Captain Linnaeus Tripe were photographing in Burma from the 1850s. These two photographers were also active in British India, and the introduction of photography into India follows the same patterns as for the other Asian countries. As was the case in Japan, Indian photographers were active at a very early stage, and made major contributions to the genre.

A major Japanese photographer whose work is represented in these digital images is Kimbei (Kusakabe Kimbei), thought to have been a pupil of Beato. He assisted Beato in the hand-coloring of photographs until 1863. He set up his own large and flourishing studio in Yokohama in 1881.

The digital images in this presentation provide a rich resource for the understanding of the political, social, economic, and artistic history of Asia from the 1870s to the early 20th century. Japan was first opened to foreigners following the entry of Admiral Perry into Tokyo Bay in 1853 (a daguerreotype photographer accompanied Perry's expedition). We thus have an extensive photographic documentation of Japan, and of interaction between the Japanese and foreigners, from this period on. In the broadest sense, photography entered Asia from Europe and America as part of the process of colonialism, but soon took root in those regions with local photographers, who learned the craft from European and American photographers, along with travelers, military people, and merchants.

Related Resources

Advent of Photography in Japan = Shashin torai no koro (1997).

Harris, David. Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China (1999).

Imperial China: Photographs 1850-1912, historical texts by Clark Worswick and Jonathan Spence, with a foreword by Harrison Salisbury (1978).

India: Pioneering Photographers:1850-1900 (2001).

India Through the Lens:Photography 1840-1911 (2000).

Japanische Photographie 1860-1929 (1993).

Nihon shashin zenshu = The Complete History of Japanese Photography. 12 volumes (1985-).

Singer, Noel F., Burmah: A Photographic Journey, 1855-1925 (1993).

Winkel, Margarita. Souvenirs from Japan: Japanese Photography at the Turn of the Century (1991).

Collection Data

Hand-colored albumen prints slipped into window mounts. Mounts with photographs were removed from two half-leather post-bound albums. The collection includes views of Japanese landscapes and cityscapes, as well as genre and occupational scenes. Most views are numbered and captioned in English in negative.
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1890 - 1909 (Questionable)
Library locations
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection
Shelf locator: MFY+ 93-6337
Japan -- Social life and customs
Content: Views of Japan, genre and occupationals: man and woman winding silk or yarn; women picking [tea] leaves; women collecting shellfish (?); women on porch and in garden; women musicians and dancers; women serving tea, having a meal, playing instrument and dancing, arranging flowers, playing a game, sitting in a garden, bowing to one another; children in costume ; priests; tattoed rickshaw driver and view tatpped, man's back; an actor; men and women planting rice; boats on a beach; kago with woman passenger; bullock carts; irises; chrysanthemums, including display with figures with theater masks; peonies; wisteria vine over pond with high arched bridge, and vine in a garden; prosession with man high atop decorated cart; shops including fruit sellers, sandal maskers, textiles and others.
Content: Views of Japanese landscapes and cityscapes: lakes, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls, including Lake Biwa, Chiuzenji, and Hakone; Fujiyama from Tokaido; Katsuragawa rapids at Kyoto, a river near Miyanoshita, a river at Tonosawa; Nunobiki falls, Ichinotaki falls, Sano Waterfall; cave near Enoshima; Torii and street at Chuzenji; bronze bell at Ikigami; Kamakura; front and rear view of Daibutsu, a street of thatched buildings, Hachiman shrine; a cherry tree at Kanazawa; Kyoto: general view from Maruyama, Maruyama at Kyoto, Gion street and the Bund, interior views of Sanjiu-Sangengo and Chion'in temple, Kiyomizu temple, the Castle; general view of the castle Nagoya; Nagasaki: Maruyama, Takaboko showing ships in the inlet; bronze bell at Nara; Nikko: Ypmeimon gate, Niwomon gate, pagoda, Dainichido Gardens, Imachi Road; street in Osaka; beach with boats, Tomioka; homes and river Shiba; interior view of Asakusa Temple, temple at Uyeno Park, gardens including cherry blossoms and a maple garden at Takinogawa; Yokohama: main street, a bridge, the road above Mississippi Bay, a private garden and European ships in the harbor.
Content: Views are numbered: 53A, 79B, 87A, 110A, 129A, 129B, 137A, 144B, 146B, 158A, 190B, 212, 213, 215, 266, 274, 275, 339, 382, 397B, 424, 460, 463, 522, 541, 560, 572, 583, 584, 601, 617, 641, 729, 741, 908, 912, 930B, 962, 974, 984, 1006, 1008, 1009, 1013, 1016, 1040A, 1055A, 1064, 1065, 1080, 1087, 1101, 1124, 1136, 1153.
Physical Description
Extent: 110 photographic prints : albumen, col. ; 19 x 25 cm. in window mounts, 27 x 38 cm
Albumen prints
Type of Resource
Still image
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11878005
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 137d4470-c6ca-012f-5023-58d385a7bc34
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