Website Review

Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period

The Japanese Old Photographs of the Bakumastu-Meiji Periods collection housed at the Nagasaki University Library offers a rich assembly of images of Japan, most of which were taken in the latter half of the 19th century. The collection currently holds approximately 6,000 photographs from that period, many of which are hand-tinted. The collection runs rich in its themes and subject matter with a broad assembly of images of landscapes, architecture, religious sites, city and work-site scenes, as well as individual and group portraits of people of all ages.

The site offers a variety of methods by which to search and explore its content. The two most profitable ways to do so are via the "Defining Your Search" tab or via the "Category or Keyword" tab. "Category or Keyword" offers 77 different keywords within broader categories (e.g. "Person," "Urban Facilities," "Manners and Customs"). The keyword of "child" is also offered here and leads to 126 photographs.

"Defining Your Search" can also be useful as it allows one to enter a word that might appear in a photograph's own description. While those texts are somewhat limited, generally running just a few lines to describe a scene and not necessarily accompanying each photo, searches using this method can prove profitable.

For example, while the keywords of "toy" and "game" are not offered on the provided "Category or Keyword" page, a search within the "Defining Your Search" mode produces 52 hits for "toy" and 24 for "game." The search engine thus has a fair amount of flexibility that, with some creativity in approach, can be quite usefully employed.

One may also view each of the 14 photographers’ collections individually. The contingent of photographers whose work resides in the collection includes a majority of Japanese photographers as well as others from England, the U.S., Austria, and the Netherlands. Finally, searches can also be conducted by location, with provided listings not only in Japan but also, to a limited degree, in China, Thailand, and Singapore.

The content of the images related to children is quite useful. While some photographs are more formal in their posed composition than others, a fair number offer a view towards household scenes and daily life. Suzuki Shin-ichi’s image of a "Girl Playing with a Baby" presents a domestic image of a baby being cared for by an older girl, surrounded by a number of toys which she appears to be employing in an effort to entertain the infant (who, it would also appear, may actually have been more interested in the photographer beyond the frame). While this would appear to be a posed studio image, others can be found of children in the fields, city streets, in country schools and the like.

This collection of images can be utilized in explorations of a diverse range of themes. Students might explore the presentations of domestic ideals related to the child in posed scenes such as "A Woman Putting her Child to Bed" and the "Girl Playing with Baby" noted above, as well as others like these that can be found in the collection.

Other lines of exploration might include the elements of material culture, particularly clothing and toys, that can be seen here (see, for example, "Country Children"), as well as the photographs of game-playing and work itself – indeed, sometimes the two seem to overlap (see "Children Playing in a Flume" for fishing as fun).

Limitations to the site do exist. The descriptions often lack dates, locations, and other identifying information. The images themselves are generally small in size and limited in their clarity for powerpoint (or other) reproduction. These limitations do not hamper constructive use of the collection, however, which can be usefully mined in a student’s own survey of the material and further compared with other collections on the topic.

How to Cite This Source

Susan Fernsebner, "Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period ," in Children and Youth in History, Item #363, (accessed August 10, 2021).

The "Japanese Old Photographs of the Bakumastu-Meiji Periods" collection housed at the Nagasaki University Library offers a rich assembly of images of Japan, most of which were taken in the latter half of the 19th century.