After posting some gorgeous vintage Japanese travel posters last week, I decided to carry on the theme. Here I have curated a collection of stunning old Japanese photos by the photographer Kusakabe Kimbei.
Born in 1841 Kusakabe Kimbei was a Japanese photographer that worked mainly for western clients and visitors. He liked to photograph Japanese women in traditional dress for his clients.
Personally, I think that these photos are beautiful and fascinating to look at. It really gives you a glimpse of old Japan. I would love to create a gallery wall of a collection of these photos as they are so interesting to look at.
Another great glimpse into Japanese culture is with the woodblock prints of Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
The Colouring of Old Japanese Photos
The colouring of photographs by hand was first developed in Europe. It, however, became very popular in Japan in the late 19th century.
The skills of Japanese watercolourists and woodblock printmakers were easily applied to the colouring of photographs and became very popular.
These hand-coloured photographs were like early postcards and very popular with foreign tourists and collectors.
With hand-colouring photography, colour is added to black and white photos manually to make them more realistic and artistic. Many different materials are used for hand colouring, such as oils, pastels, crayons, watercolours and other paints and dyes. Brushes, cotton swabs or even fingers are often used to apply the colour to the black and white photographs.
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Kusakabe Kimbei Coloured Photos of Old Japan
This old Japanese photo by Kusakabe Kimbei is of a pilgrim in a traditional dress about to climb Mt Fuji.
Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan and one of the “Three Holy Mountains”. It is an iconic symbol of the country and is named after the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi.
Mt Fuji is a beautiful cone-shaped mountain located to the west of Tokyo in a national park. Every year, thousands of Japanese pilgrims climb the mountain throughout the night to reach the summit at dawn. Just to witness the magnificent sunrise from the mountain’s summit.
I love the composition of this photograph and the colouring on the wonderful tattoo is amazing.
Traditional Japanese tattoos are known as Irezumi. This kind of tattoo is done by hand, with a special ink called Nara ink, using wooden handles and metal needles attached via silk thread. It is a painful and time-consuming process, done by a limited number of specialists.
A beautifully coloured photo by Kusakabe Kimbei of a group of prostitutes in Yoshiwara. Yoshiwara was a well known red-light district in Edo, present-day Tokyo.
The girls in this photo by Kusakabe Kimbei are playing a game similar to badminton but without a net. Instead of strung rackets, they are using paddles (hagotia) made from lightweight wood of the paulownia tree.
The shuttlecock is actually a berry and the idea is to keep the berry in the air. It was more of a game than a sport, traditionally played by girls at New Year.
A lovely colourised vintage photo of a group of children in the Japanese countryside. I love the children’s traditional dress.
This is a delightful photo of 2 girls in traditional kimonos doing their hair. I love how the kimonos and the painting in the background have been colourized.
A rather gruesome colourized photo by Kusakabe Kimbei of Harakiri. Harakiri is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. It was traditionally carried out by Samurai, to die with honor rather than be captured by the enemy.
I really like the way the delicate flowers have been coloured in this Kusakabe Kimbei photo of a flower seller. Another stunning photo of vintage Japanese everyday life.
Another lovely Kusakabe Kimbei photo showing women in traditional kimono’s from the back.
Another vintage colourized Kusakabe Kimbei photo of someone selling flowers.
It is the vivid red and pink pigments on the lanterns, in this colourized vintage Japanese photograph that makes it so wonderful.
Another vibrantly colourized photo of everyday Japanese life from the late 19th Century. A market trader carrying his wares the traditional way balanced on a pole.
If you liked these vintage Japanese photos by Kusakabe Kimbei then check out these old Japanese art prints from the Shin-bijutsukai. You will probably also like some of these other vintage images.