Hand-colored photographs of Japan on the brink of modernity, 1870s

In this article, we have collected some rare photographs from the 1870s taken by Shinichi Suzuki (1835–1918), who photographed Japan for a foreign news magazine called The Far East.

After his woodworking family business was destroyed by a tsunami in 1854, Suzuki traveled to Yokohama, where he became an established photographer. Many of his photographs were hand-coloured, which is why they appear more realistic and modern than the black and white photographs of the period.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Japan was on the verge of a large-scale transition. For the first time, the country opened doors to foreign trade and Western technologies and lifestyles were already making their mark on Japanese culture.

Suzuki Shinichi (1855–1912) was the youngest of two Japanese photographers to bear that name. Suzuki's original name was Okamoto Keiz and he was born in Izu.

From an early age, he was fond of drawing and painting, and at the age of thirteen or fourteen he set out to become an artist for Yokohama. He became a student of artist Charles Wirgmann, a friend and former partner of photographer Felice Beato.

Working first in silk production, Suzuki often traveled to Yokohama, where he soon apprenticed in 1867 at Shimuka Renzo's Yokohama Photographic Studio. In 1872–1873, he was assigned to J.J., the publisher of The Far East. Village life.

Images from this series continued to appear in Suzuki albums until the 1880s. In November 1873, Suzuki established its own studio, producing portrait and souvenir albums.

By the time the photographer died in 1918, Japan had changed a lot, its society, politics and economy on par with the Western world.

The traditional Japanese lifestyle that Suzuki Shinichi captured in these photographs was increasingly being replaced by Western standards and values.

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