Japanese researchers are ecstatic after discovering 136 rare glass negatives from photos of Japan taken in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912) preserved in Austria.
The team from the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo was led by Toru Hoya, a professor who specializes in modern Japanese history.
This unprecedented collection of landscapes from the period vividly record how the city was changing from a feudal society to the modern era.
The negatives were among mementos left by Michael Moser (1853-1912), who worked in Japan as a cameraman for some years. His descendants kept the albums and many of his possessions.
Moser arrived in Japan as an assistant photographer for the Austro-Hungarian Empire's East Asian Expedition in 1869. He stayed on, and in 1870 became a cameraman for The Far East, an English-language newspaper published in Yokohama.
It was the first newspaper in Japan to publish photos.
In its time, it carried some 600 photos, including many taken by Moser. It ceased publication in 1875.
Among the newly discovered negatives and albums are 48 shots that never graced the pages of The Far East.
One is of Yokohama Station. The negative and the print are both dated 1872. The picture depicts the bustling boom town of Yokohama, the inside of the station and a steam locomotive as well as numerous ships moored at the port in the background.
In October of that year, Japan's first railroad opened, linking Shinbashi in Tokyo with Yokohama.
The photo was apparently taken soon afterward.
"I've never seen a photo showing the inside of the station," said Yoshinobu Oikawa, a Rikkyo University professor whose area of expertise is the history of transportation. "It's a valuable discovery."
A photo of mansions, that belonged to Edo Period daimyo taken from Atagoyama in Tokyo's Minato Ward, shows roof tiles that had come unstuck.
Another photo shows the moat in front of the severely damaged stone wall and turret of Odawara Castle in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, which had been drained and converted into a rice paddy. Both photos seem to be from 1871.
The technology necessary for photography was introduced in the late Edo Period prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
At that time, taking a photo outdoors meant lugging around a darkroom the size of a telephone booth. Hence the paucity of landscape photos from the period.
"The photos show the processes that led toward to cultural enlightenment in the Meiji Era," Hoya, the research team leader, said. "The clarity of the images is startling."
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