Famous sites like Ueno Park and Sensoji temple look amazingly like they do today, but the people look entirely different.
Japan is filled with historic sites that still stand today with centuries of history behind them. And while pamphlets, guides, and even ages-old ukiyoe prints do their best to paint a picture of this history for visitors to the country, nothing tells the story quite like a moving image, especially when they include everyday scenes that show people of the time living their lives in the shadow of famous monuments and natural formations.
Now it’s time to take a peek at the past with a new video showing some amazing scenes of daily life filmed in Tokyo and Mount Fuji between the years of 1897-1915. Interspersed with some scenes from today, these black-and-white images capture the mood of the period, with young children playing games, carrying siblings on their backs, and going on school excursions while surrounded by adults dressed in kimono from the Meiji era (1868-1912) and the East-meets-West fashion style of the Taisho Period (1912-1926).
Take a look at the video below:
The clip starts with some grainy footage, showing a rickshaw rider alighting from a ride dressed in a coat and top hat, which was originally filmed by French filmmaker and visual travelogue pioneer Constant Girel in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi in 1897. The video then transitions to modern-day Japan with a walk through the streets of Nihonbashi (literally “Japan Bridge”), which is well-known for being Tokyo’s traditional centre of commerce and has been the kilometre-zero marker for the country’s national highways since the 17th century.
After a minute’s stroll, we step back in time once again, this time to view “Japan Under The Snow” at a village “on a slope of the Fouzi-Yama” (富士山, the Japanese for “Fuji-san”, or Mt Fuji, is transcribed here as “Fouzi-Yama”).
▼ Here, children enjoy snowball fights and stilt-walking, while ladies shelter under parasols.
The video then takes us back to today’s world, with a snowy scene filmed at Shirakawa-Go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Gifu Prefecture. Then it’s back to 1913-1915, with fascinating views of Tokyo showing some familiar places that haven’t really changed all that much, even today.
▼ There are scenes showing the huge lanterns at Asakua’s Sensoji temple…
And scenes showing people enjoying “to the fullest the pleasures afforded by the numerous parks of the Empire” at Ueno Park in Tokyo (written out as “Uyeno Park, Tokio” in the film). The park was then, as it is now, “a very popular place, especially on Sunday afternoons”.
▼ The famous sakura trees at Ueno Park are bare in this winter scene, with people rugged up in coats over their kimonos outside restaurant buildings that still stand today.
While some children play and jostle for the camera’s attention, others help to look after their siblings by carrying them around on their backs, at a time when mothers were busy with big families at home.
The clip then ends at about 9:45, with the remainder of the video showing the busy streets of Shibuya today. Somehow, there’s a little less charm with people walking around in modern-day clothing, instead of kimonos and top hats, yet we’re left with a deeper appreciation of the city and the people who once walked about inside it. And now we’re inspired to go for a deep dive into Japan’s past with more videos and photos from the country’s archives!