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100-Year-Old Hand-Colored Postcards Offer a Fascinating Glimpse of Pre-War Japan

Postcards can offer a fascinating glimpse into eras that have long since passed. The Digital Collections of the New York Public Library (NYPL) has released a selection of postcards from Japan in the early 20th century. Comprising hand-colored photographs, these landscape snapshots represent the country–specifically the Tokyo and Yokohama regions–and the culture at a time when it was on the cusp of modernity.

The images on the postcards feature picturesque sights that highlight the country's rich history. From bustling entertainment districts to gorgeous flowers and cherry blossom trees, the NYPL collection reads like a love letter to old Japan. The people in the photos wear traditional clothing, and Western culture has yet to make its societal impact.

Many of the photographs are dated from the years 1907 through 1922. This is significant, as it predates the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and was the largest natural disaster ever sustained by prewar Japan. It was so powerful it moved the Great Buddha statue that weighed about 93 tons.

Above: Iris garden at Horikiri, Tokyo, 1907 – 1918

Canals of Yokohama, 1922

Cherry blossom at Mukojima, Tokyo, 1907 – 1918

High lantern of Sumiyoshi, Osaka, 1907 – 1918

Toyokuni Shrine Nakanoshima, Osaka, 1907 – 1918

100 stone steps, Yokohama, 1907 – 1918

The Asakusa Park Tokyo, 1922

Theatre Street, Yokohama, 1907 – 1918

Hanayashiki of Asakusa at Tokyo, 1907 – 1918

Mihoto and Inukimon, Nikko

The pagoda of Toshogu, Nikko


Nihonbashi dor Tokyo, 1922

New York Public Library Digital Collections: Website
via [RocketNews24]

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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