While the origins of the modern pageant are firmly rooted in 19th century America and P.T. Barnam’s popular photo competitions, Japan apparently didn’t take long to get on the bandwagon. The first beauty pageant was held in Japan in 1891, with a vote on Tokyo’s most beautiful geisha, and we just happen to have the winner and four runners-up in photo form for you here today.

The event was held as part of the opening festivities for a new high-rise building in Asakusa which was supposed to house Japan’s first elevator. However, in the run-up to opening, the elevator had so many problems, it was taken out of service, leaving the stairs as the only option. Worried about the possible loss of business, management cooked up a plan to hang photos of beautiful women in the stairwell.

In those days, the display of the female form was still considered somewhat scandalous, so the photos were not of average women, but of well-known geisha from Tokyo and the surrounding areas.


After the public had voted, the winner was declared to be 17-year-old Tamagiku from Shinbashi, Tokyo. She and the other four leaders were presented with gold and diamond necklaces and fine sashes.


▼ The runners-up, Momotaro, Kotoyo, Azuma and Kotsuru





If any of these images look slightly familiar, it may be because they often turned up in later works related to Japan, sometimes colorized.

▼From an American book called Japan, Described and Illustrated


▼ From a post card


A far cry from the sequin ball gowns and barely-there bikinis of today’s pageants! They may have been risqué at the time, but to the modern eye, they project a calm grace and sophistication.

By the way, the excellent Meiji Taisho Project has many more photos from this event and from that era in general for those that are interested.

Source: Meiji Taisho Project via Japaaan Magazine
Images: Meiji Taisho Project