The Taisho Period and a Fantastic Blog

Photo of a Shinto priest, from Old Photos of Japan

I’ve just spent a fascinated hour or more looking at a site appropriately called Old Photos of Japan.  I lived in Tokyo for a bit over two years.  I wasn’t one of those who go to learn martial arts or tea ceremony or zen meditation.  When I set off, I was almost completely uninterested in the historical culture of Japan; I loved the modern, crowded, neon-lit Tokyo, I loved Comme des Garçons and Muji and Nintendo.  If it was older than the 1980s, it wasn’t really what I was there for.  But the longer I stayed, and the more of the language I learned, the more interested I became.

I was lucky enough at one point to see an exhibit on Taisho-era art at the Teien Art Museum.  The Taisho period, from 1912 to 1926, was a relatively democratic moment in pre-WWII Japanese history, and a fascinating time of the mixing of cultures.  One of the most memorable pieces was a screen painting, in a traditional style, of three women in kimonos riding in a 30s car:

"Three Sisters" by Yamagawa Hidetaka

The museum itself is a beautiful 1930s Art Deco mansion, originally the home of a prince, and perfectly appropriate to the exhibit, and at the same time I was there, two lovely young women in kimonos (an uncommon, but not unheard of sight) were perusing the art.  I felt like I had stepped back in time, and felt horribly underdressed.  Designing costumes for a play taking place in Taisho Japan is a longtime dream of mine.

Anyway, this site has an amazing collection of beautiful old photos, and each one is accompanied by a very detailed blog entry about it.  All of them are from a fascinating place and time.  Very highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject.

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