Photography in Japan: Meiji to present Tokyo lady via the trick of time

Photography in Japan: Meiji to present Tokyo lady via the trick of time

Tomoko Hara and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times 

These photos span the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) period to modern Tokyo. However, despite the obvious photographic angle – which denotes the distance in time – the theme is focused on binding the “past” with “now.”

Intriguingly, while the lady of the present was caught naturally on a snowy day in Tokyo (a rarity, especially when the snow is thick), the older images of Meiji 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 trick of time is Kimbei. After all, he is playing on the sentiments of international tourists. Thus the real image of ladies in this period – on the whole – was far from the cultural clichés being provided by Kimbei. 

Of course, certain windows did point in the direction of what Kimbei alluded to. For example, the kimono was all too common in this period of history but without the sexualization or glamorization that Kimbei focuses on (the kimono is still popular on special occasions in modern Japan – or within certain narrow circles related to high culture).

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

Overall, the images of ladies in the Meiji Period to modern Tokyo contrast greatly concerning the setting. Hence, the modern images were a golden opportunity on a rare snowy day in Tokyo: that naturally fused – to a certain degree – with the trick of time that was unintended. However, images taken by Kimbei allude to the mindset of tourists, who expected a set image that was all too familiar with the glamorization of Japanese ladies in this period of history. 

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