Over 16,000 newly discovered photos show the beauty and hardships of old Japan. 

These days, pretty much everyone has a smartphone with a camera in their pocket, making it easier than ever to capture random moments of everyday life for future generations to marvel at.

It wasn’t always this way, though — cameras were once bulky and expensive items that not everyone could afford, especially in post-war Japan, which makes photos from this time period all the more special.

While most of these photos of old Japan can only be accessed through public archives, one Japanese photographer found he didn’t have to go anywhere to view precious scenes from history. He recently found an SD card at home that had been given to him after his uncle passed away, and after slotting it into his computer, he ended up opening a portal to the past, because the card contained over 16,000 images taken by his grandfather back in the ’30s to ’60s.

▼ Some of the 16,084 old photos, painstakingly scanned by the grandfather’s son.

Shuhei Miyazawa, who received the SD card, is a photographer himself, which made the find even more precious. He decided to share his discovery with people on Twitter, and it didn’t take long for it to spark up a lot of interest, with his first tweet receiving over 90,000 likes online.

“I was astonished to find another SD card entrusted to me by my uncle who passed away a few years ago! It contains over 10,000 photos taken by my grandfather during and after the war! Why didn’t I realise until now!”

This wasn’t the first SD card Miyazawa received after his uncle’s passing, but it’s the first to contain a treasure trove of photos chronicling life in post-war Japan. So let’s take a closer look at some of the precious photos Miyazawa discovered, starting with a photo of the man who took these images — Miyazawa’s grandfather, Takashi Miyazawa.

“My grandfather, who studied lens engineering and astronomy. It’s thanks to my grandfather that I’m able to know about computers and own cameras. [Miyazawa is a web designer as well as a photographer, and he attributes these talents to his grandfather]. He died when I was 5 years old, but I wish I could’ve heard more about all his stories.”

Miyazawa’s grandfather would’ve been able to tell some amazing stories, judging by all the photos he took. Many of them date from the ’40s, during the period before and after the Second World War, which ended in August 1945. A lot of the images were taken in and around Kyoto, as the older Miyazawa worked at Kyoto University’s Kyotodaigaku Kasan Observatory until 1945.

Takashi Miyazawa at work.

Some of the photos show famous sites in Kyoto, like the Kamo River

▼ …and Sanjo Bridge, which crosses over the Kamo River.

▼ The bridge still looks remarkably similar, but no cows near Sanjo Bridge today.

Other photos in Kyoto show scenes of everyday life, like this old car with old Kyoto number plates.

The bright lights of Shijo-Omiya also make an appearance in this photo collection, showing us the predecessors of today’s giant LED screens.

These photos appear to date from the late ’50s, as this cinema was showing the 1957 Italian movie Le Notti Bianche (known as White Nights in the U.S.).

Overseas films weren’t the only type of popular entertainment on offer — kabuki performances were also being held at Kyoto’s Minami-za, in the same building that exists today, which was built in 1929.

Cinemas and playhouses were popular forms of escapism for residents, who had endured devastating air raids during the war.

After asking his relatives for more information about this particular series of photos, Miyazawa found they were taken on 14 or 15 March 1945, immediately after the bombing of Tokyo. These images were taken from the roof of the Osaka City Electricity Science Museum, at the request of a newspaper company.

Other reminders of the war include these two photos taken at the site of the statue of Takayama Hikokuro, a Japanese samurai and historian who lived from 1747 to 1793. The brass statue, which shows Takayama bowing towards Kyoto Imperial Palace, was originally erected in 1924, but it was removed in 1945 and melted down to boost metal supplies during the war.

▼ These photos appear to be images of the site before and after the statue’s removal.

▼ The statue was replaced in 1961, and can still be seen today.

Miyazawa’s grandfather was adept at recording big historic moments, but he had an eye for capturing finer details too, like the transition between old and new on the streets and railroads.

In the 1950s, the electrification of railway lines began, and in 1954 the government decided to end the use of steam trains.

▼ Following the war, fuels like gasoline were in short supply, so buses ran on wood gas generators.

▼ Miyazawa’s grandfather travelled extensively, capturing images of countryside life…

▼ …festivals…

▼ …amusement parks…

▼ …and other fun days out like this one, which Miyazawa believes to be Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.

Miyazawa’s eye for detail, as shown here on the streets of Osaka, helped him to capture memorable images with timeless appeal.

The family connection to these images gives them a more intimate feel as there’s no company or organisation behind them — they’re being shared by family members with an interest in photography and Japanese history that stretches down through the generations.

▼ And it’s all thanks to Takashi Miyazawa, who knew how to operate a camera so well he could even capture photos of lightning strikes in sharp focus.

The younger Miyazawa is now posting even more images online for all to see, gradually uploading them with the hashtag #宮澤堂昭和写真集 (“Miyazawa Showa Photo Album”).

“I will post again, using the hashtag #宮澤堂昭和写真集 from now on. I will post at a very slow pace, so please be patient. This is probably my grandmother and father photographed on Sanjo-dori in Yamashina in 1945.”

From historic scenes to intimate family moments, there’s a lot to see in this newly discovered photo collection. If you’d like to see more of the series as it comes to light, be sure to check out Miyazawa’s Twitter account for more updates.

Source: Twitter/@Room_909 via Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Twitter/@Room_909
Insert images: Twitter/@Room_909 
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!