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:
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.