The Vault

Gently Posed Photos of Everyday Life in Late-19th-Century Rural Japan

The J. Paul Getty Museum has digitized an album called Japanese Trades, which contains a set of these souvenir photos by Suzuki Shinichi, captioned in English by an unknown hand. The images date to between 1873 and 1883 and represent Japanese villagers going about their daily lives: selling rat poison, practicing archery, playing with their children, regarding the approach of a dentist with grim apprehension. 

Suzuki Shinichi, who was called “Suzuki Shinichi I” to distinguish him from the younger man who married his daughter and was apprenticed to the same master photographer, was born Takahashi Yujiro. At the age of 18, Suzuki lived through a tidal wave and lost all of his worldly goods. Two decades later, he was able to set up his own portrait studio in Yokohama, where he sold souvenir photographs to foreign visitors. There, he also invented a technique for printing photos on porcelain. 

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Among Western historians of photography, this group of images is known as the shajo series, named after the outdoor photo studio visible in the background of the improvised scenes. Historian Terry Bennett suggests that the images may have been commissioned by a Western editor in the early 1870s.

Altogether, the images number more than 250; the Getty has digitized 108. A few more can be seen in a set on Flickr, assembled by a user named Okinawa Soba. 

A Japanese Post-man, in the Country
“A Japanese Post-man, in the Country,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Selling "medicine" to kill rats
“Selling ‘medicine’ to kill rats,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

A Robber
“A Robber,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Children with fuel for sale
“Children with fuel for sale,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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A father playing with his child
“A father playing with his child,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Making Horse-shoes of Straw
“Making Horse-shoes of Straw,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

A Drinking Party
“A Drinking Party,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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Japanese Archers
“Japanese Archers,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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A Dentist
“A Dentist,” Shinichi Suzuki, about 1873-1883. 

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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