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Earlier this month, we looked at a collection of photos taken by the late Kusakabe Kimbei that showed the cityscapes of Japan as they looked in the late 1800s, right before the country’s rapid modernization. But Kimbei didn’t just photograph Japan, he also photographed the Japanese, so today we’re taking another trip back in time, but with a more personal touch, with dozens of photographs that show what daily life was like for the people of Japan generations ago.

Like the previous photos, these pictures and other of their like have been made available through the New York Public Libraries Digital Collections. While exact dates aren’t given, the images are estimated to have been captured between 1890 and 1910, meaning their subjects were the last living remnants of Japan’s feudal era, which had ended shortly before the shots were taken.

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Due to the state of photo processing at the time, some of the colorization is a little unnatural. For instance, contrary to what this pre-sumo bout picture may suggest, dyed blond hair wouldn’t come into fashion in Japan for nearly another century.

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However, in some cases the hues seem spot-on, like the enchanting pink of the cherry blossoms and vibrant red of fall maple leaves seen below.

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As all of these photographs predate television and the Internet, many of them show people engaged in traditional pastimes such as playing go…

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…doing ikebana flower arrangement…

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…and preparing and enjoying tea.

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Japanese music and theatre are also represented, in the form of shamisen musicians, a kabuki actor, and a dancer.

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But the citizens of turn-of-the-20th-century Japan couldn’t spend all their time engaging in elegant cultural endeavors. Just like people today, they had to earn a living, and with the country’s centuries of civil war finally at an end, commerce began to flourish, with fabric merchants…

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…sandal sellers…

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…produce markets…

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…and even liquor stores ready to provide shoppers with their wares.

▼ So much vintage sake…

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▼ Don’t worry, it’s the cabinets and curios that are for sale here, not the baby.

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Of course, many people still worked in agriculture, with the cultivation of rice and tea leaves a very hands-on job.

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▼ A group of women gathering shellfish in the shallows

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And this being long before Japan became crisscrossed with train lines and highways, there was plenty of work to be found in just getting things and people from Point A to Point B.

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▼ If we’re being honest, this looks like a really bad place to look for a fare.

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And just where was everyone headed? Aside from local events like festivals…

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some travelers were headed to the same places that draw visitors in Japan today, such as Tokyo’s Ikegami Temple…

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and the cave at the back of Kanagawa Prefecture’s Enoshima Island.

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Of course, some of Japan’s premiere attractions are so big you can appreciate them from far away, as appreciated by this boatman plying the waters with the country’s most famous mountain in the background.

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So the next time you post a picture online of a photo you took of Mt. Fuji, and some know-it-all whines about it being clichéd, just tell him you’re following in the footsteps of Kusakabe Kimbei.

Source: Japaaan
Feature image: The New York Public Library Digital Collections (edited by RocketNews24)
Top, insert images: The New York Public Library Digital Collections