Eliza Scidmore Photographed Everyday Life in Japan Over 100 Years Ago

all photos by Eliza Scidmore courtesy National Geographic

Eliza Scidmore was a force to be reckoned with. In the late 1800s to early 1900s she traveled extensively across Asia, writing, photographing and publishing several books. She was one of the only women photographers employed by National Geographic and would later become the first woman board member of the magazine. Japan was of particular interest to Scidmore, who visited numerous times and captured everyday life in Japan over 100 years ago. Some things have changed, but some things really haven’t.

A woman plays and sings passionately on her shamisen. Sometimes you just have to rock out.

Although Scidmore passed away in Switzerland in 1928 where she had moved in her later days, as a sign of respect for her affection toward Japan she was buried in Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery. Her legacy lives on through her photographs but also through Washington DC’s annual Sakura Matsuri, which exists only because of Scidmore’s efforts to plant Japan’s cherry blossom trees, which she had grown to love so much, along the Potomac River.

You can see more of her photographs at National Geographic.

Schoolchildren perform morning calisthenics in their schoolyard.
a man and a woman greeting each other
having woken from a nap, a child emerges from a mosquito net
children scribbling on a shoji screen (a later photograph reveals the screen being demolished so we can assume the children were given permission)
a small child cries out in surprise at the cold water
manually irrigating the rice fields
flowers make every girl happy 🙂
picking tea leaves in Kyoto
building a snowman

1 Comment

  1. Gregory Friedman

    February 10, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Amazing pictures! Does anyone know what those wild costumes are? Looks like kids wearing them.

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