Thursday, June 5, 2008

What is "Yokohama Shashin"?

Cloth store, Kozaburo Tamamura, c.1885

The origins of "Yokohama Shasin" and the tradition of hand-colouring
Japan ended its 250-year isolation in 1858 when commercial treaties with the U.S. and other countries were concluded. Westerners were then allowed to reside in treaty ports such as Yokohama, Kobe, and Hakodate. Western photographers were among those who subsequently came to Japan and set up businesses in these cities. From the 1860s, Western and Japanese photographers started establishing portrait studios and catered to mostly foreigners.Tourists came in droves to see exotic Japan. Photographs and picture postcards became popular souvenirs. Local photographers obliged the demand by selling prints of Mount "Fujiyama," "geisha" girls, rickshaws, cherry blossoms, and other stereotypical images.These early photos of Japan usually had English titles inserted within the image. Although the photos were obviously for tourists, they nevertheless revealed the dress, look, manners, and scenery of the day. Tourist photographs were sold mainly as photo albums (containing around 50 photos) for export by overseas visitors. Tourists were eager to tell friends back home about their exotic Far East travels and pictures were perfect for show-and-tell time.

Nagasaki and Yokohama were the cradles of early Japanese photography as both port cities were major tourist gateways to Japan. The tourist market gave rise to "Yokohama Shashin" or Yokohama-style photography. This genre refers to photographs produced by Yokohama's foreign and Japanese photographers from the 1860s to the 1880s before its spread to other parts of Japan.

The practice of coloring black-and-white photographs and glass slides by hand became widespread in Yokohama as colour photography was not yet invented. Hand-colored images became the hallmark of Yokohama Shashin.

Japanese pigments were especially well suited for hand coloring photographs and it became a fine art and large photo studios in Yokohama employed many Japanese "photo painters". Yokohama's hand-colored photographs soon became a major tourist export item on par with pottery and lacquerware.

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