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Adolfo Farsari
February 22, 2010 7:30 AM   Subscribe

In the 1880s at a time when most Europeans were denied access to the Japanese interior an Italian photographer managed to capture many images of Old Japan. These were then beautifully and realistically hand painted and serve as a remarkable record of a world long since disappeared. Victorian-era photos of Japan.
posted by shakespeherian (28 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, the Samurai warriors in that first photo look so... normal. The dude with the bow looks like a guy I used to play at fighting games at the arcade. It's just weird seeing them in a casual (for Samurai) pose like that after seeing them depicted so often with huge eyes and snarling nostrils in Japanese art.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:36 AM on February 22, 2010


Wow is right. These are incredible. Thanks for the post!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2010


Maybe that kid I used to play video games against was actually a descendent of that noble Samurai, because he always kicked my ass hard.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2010


Victorian samurai could triforce? Wow indeed.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


wow, that was really neat.
the one with the two women being carried in a basket(?) - i'm guessing that is a conveyance for bound feet? or am i confusing japanese and chinese customs?

it just doesn't look big enough for two people.

also, towards the end, there a pic of 4 people, two men and two women, the woman on the very right has a sort of hood over her face. anyone know the significance of that?
posted by sio42 at 7:56 AM on February 22, 2010


They're from a little bit later, but the Etz-Trudell lantern slides collection from my colleagues at Harvard's Fine Arts Library is also pretty cool.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice, thanks very much! Also - the Flickr set - high res, etc.
posted by carter at 7:59 AM on February 22, 2010


the one with the two women being carried in a basket(?) - i'm guessing that is a conveyance for bound feet? or am i confusing japanese and chinese customs?

it just doesn't look big enough for two people.


The Japanese didn't practice foot binding, in fact, they banned it in places that did during their brief colonial period. As for the size of the basket, Japanese women are on the whole pretty small even now - I'm guessing they were even tinier 130 years ago.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:01 AM on February 22, 2010


Also, those might actually be young girls and not women - particularly the one on the left.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:02 AM on February 22, 2010


Of the 247 (wiki) Japanese Era names, none of them are called "Victorian" that I can tell.

Still old photos are cool.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:03 AM on February 22, 2010


That was silliness not snark, if it came across that way.

;-P
posted by humboldt32 at 8:05 AM on February 22, 2010


Of the 247 (wiki) Japanese Era names, none of them are called "Victorian" that I can tell.

From the link: ...late Victorian era Japan. This is purely to give occidental readers a timeline. In Japan this period was known as the Meiji Restoration which began in 1868.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:06 AM on February 22, 2010


humboldt32 -- the second line of the link reads
"Although the majority of Farsari’s pictures of people are posed, they give us a valuable insight in to the costumes and manners of late Victorian era Japan. This is purely to give occidental readers a timeline. In Japan this period was known as the Meiji Restoration which began in 1868."
posted by malphigian at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2010


I stand corrected and still silly.

Yes, I only looked at the pictures. Bad me.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2010


the one with the two women being carried in a basket(?) - i'm guessing that is a conveyance for bound feet? or am i confusing japanese and chinese customs?

They're being carried in a palanquin. If you had enough money (and the right social status) you could hire someone to carry you 300 miles from Edo (Tokyo) to Miyako (Kyoto) in one.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 AM on February 22, 2010


The Meiji period is very interesting as it coincides with the industrialization of Japan. There is not much evidence of that here, although this one has some 'modern' Japanese architecture. It looks like a fort and/or industrial complex. I particularly like Meiji period brick industrial buildings ...
posted by carter at 8:23 AM on February 22, 2010


Those are really lovely photographs. I love photos of long ago eras, and these are really interesting and beautiful. Thank you for sharing!
posted by sandraregina at 8:40 AM on February 22, 2010


I've been generally interested in the Victorian fascination with things Japanese for a number of years (it keeps coming up in books I'm reading), but this is the first time I've seen these photos. I had no idea about them. Thanks for posting them.
posted by immlass at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2010


it just doesn't look big enough for two people.

FWIW, an antique store near my (sigh-former) apartment in Japan has one of these "princess boxes", as we dubbed them, and 2 5-foot tall women with small-to-average build could definitely fit in it.
posted by whatzit at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2010


this post was GRRREAT!
posted by caddis at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2010


also, towards the end, there a pic of 4 people, two men and two women, the woman on the very right has a sort of hood over her face. anyone know the significance of that?

It looks like she's wearing a shiromuku, so I assume it's a wedding ceremony.
posted by jal0021 at 9:42 AM on February 22, 2010


The first photo is especially interesting. If it was taken after the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, the young men involved may have been taking a bit of a risk in displaying samurai arms and insignia.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Amazing how our ancestors were entirely black and white right up to the mid-1800s, then small amounts of colour began seeping into the world as captured in these images from the transitional period here, until today when we're completely chromatic. When you add the fact that no-one could move until the early 20th century, it's a wonder we managed to perpetuate our species, or indeed fight wars and build empires and carry out all the other events of history, at all.
posted by Abiezer at 5:35 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


He brought his half-Japanese daughter back to Italy with him? And he died there? What a life she must have led, even if it were a short one. I'd like to read her autobiography.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:56 PM on February 22, 2010


Thanks for the link. I'm really interested in seeing what Japan used to look like, especially in comparison with now. Considering how much the area I live in has changed (Chiba, near the top of Tokyo Bay, home of multiple towns, factories, and even a train line built on reclaimed land), I always get a thrill from pictures that give me a glimpse of before.

Fun fact: There's a bronze sign on a shrine across from landlocked Shinagawa Station that explains how the other side of the station used to be Tokyo Bay. Before all the reclamation projects started up, evidently, you could see the bay from the imperial castle.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on February 22, 2010


I was really hoping you'd poke your head in here, Gidorah.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:05 PM on February 22, 2010


Only spelled correctly.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:06 PM on February 22, 2010


Neat, thank you!
posted by Atreides at 5:32 AM on February 23, 2010


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