If you’re anything like us, you love old stuff from Japan. The temples, shrines, centuries-old festivals, and museums are some of our favorite things to check out when we have free time. There’s just something absolutely captivating about all the relics of the past that live on in Japan–but they’re just not quite as good as time travel! Come on, scientists, we want to hang out with Nobunaga! Well, while we’re waiting for Doc Brown to get back with the DeLorean, we can still at least look at old photos of Japan.

Though you might think there aren’t many–after all, it wasn’t like the samurai were running around with smartphones, snapping selfies–it turns out that there may be quite a few more than we realized! After a few hours clicking around the Internet, we’ve come up with our six favorite sites for finding old photos of Japan. Be sure to check them out and see what life was like over a hundred years ago!

Samurai Photographs (Pintrest)

I’ve never actually used Pinterest much–mostly because scrapbooking (on the Internet or otherwise) doesn’t really appeal to me. But I may be changing my tune after looking through this Pinterest page!

Titled simply, “Samurai Photographs,” the board has a seemingly endless supply of old photographs of samurai from the Edo and Meiji periods. Additionally, some of the photos have detailed English descriptions, giving patient readers a bit more information to do their own research. A small caution: There are a few gruesome photos of beheadings and other executions on the page. Not enough to ruin your browsing experience, but something to keep in mind if you’re squeamish.

Old Photographs of Japanese Castle (Pinterest)

Here’s another Pinterest page that is nothing short of amazing! Filled with old photos of Japanese castles, this board is true to its simple but accurate name, “Old Photographs of Japanese Castle.” While architecture might not seem quite as exciting as people with swords and naginata, we think you’d have to agree that castles are still pretty high up there. In fact, these old castle pictures might be even better than photos of samurai since you can actually go and see what the castles look like now!

The pictures have descriptions, but they’re all in Japanese. If you find yourself needing help reading everything, most of the photos have Wikipedia links–just go to the Japanese page and look for “English” on the menu on the left.

Meta Database of Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period (Nagasaki University)

As with many academic foundations and programs, the name for this site is quite the mouthful, but once you’ve gotten done reading the title, you are in for a huge treat! The Meta Database of Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period is a carefully curated website providing an incredibly wide variety of photos from the end of the Edo Period to the Meiji Period, all with explanations in both English and Japanese. While not all of the photos are exciting depictions of warriors in repose, there’s something incredible about seeing a “highway” from so long ago.

meta database

Housou Daigaku Fuzoku Toshokan Shozou Koshashinten (Housou Daigaku)

Roughly translated as “Exhibition of Old Photographs Belonging to the Broadcast University,” this webpage is a treasure trove of gorgeous old photos, like this one of a geisha seated in front of a koto or this one of a group of farmers after a harvest. Unfortunately, the website is Japanese only, so you may have some trouble navigating, but Google Translate will at least get you pointed in the right direction.


The Meijo and Taisho Eras in Photographs (National Diet Library)

The National Diet of Japan has, as you might expect, a ton of excellent photos, all with details in both Japanese and English, available on the Meiji and Tiasho Eras in Photographs website. Even better, the photos can be searched based on location–both historical and current! This might be a great way for sight-seers to plan historical trips–find an old photo you like and go see how it compares to the current structure, if it’s still standing. There are also some mesmerizing scenes to be found in the archives, like this photo of a kindergarten from 1911.


Asia and the Pacific Rim in Early Prints and Photographs (New York Library Digital Collections)

The Asia and the Pacific Rim in Early Prints and Photographs collection actually contains a number of smaller collections in it, with photos from Japan, China, India, and even Angkor Wat. That said, it looks like the majority of the photos are from Japan, like these stunning photos of Nunobiki Waterfall and Oyama. You can even purchase prints from the library, which would be a great way to decorate your home or office!

waterfallNew York Library Digital Collections

oyamaNew York Library Digital Collections

Even with all these excellent resources, there is still much that has been lost to time. Unfortunately, not everyone had a camera, so we can only assume that there are numerous gorgeous scenes that we’ll never get to see, making us grateful for the massive number of cameras everywhere now. Though it’s also a bit bizarre–just imagine your great, great grandchildren looking at all your selfies on Instagram!

Sources/images: Japaaan, Pintrest (1, 2), Nagasaki University, Housou Daigaku, National DietNew York Public Library
Top image: New York Public Library