05 March 2015

Japan in Germany 13: Eine Fotoreise durch das alte Japan (1985)

Eine Fotoreise durch das alte Japan (A Photographic Journey through Old Japan) was published by Harenberg in 1985.  The author, Ludwig Hoerner (b. 1919), claims that the photographs were taken by an unknown European traveller to Japan in the late 19th century.  The 70 hand-tinted black and white photographs are from the author’s own collection and from the Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek (the public library of Lower Saxony), known today as the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek (GWLB) after the 17th century polymath and philosopher whose manuscripts and correspondence are held in their archive.  Ingrid Siegmund-Rux wrote an afterword to the book that provides readers with the historical context of the rapid modernisation of Japan during the Meiji Era.

Hoerner is an autodidactic researcher and author with a passion for 19th century photography: both the photographs themselves and the history of the photographic industry.  He has published a number of books on the subject, most notably Das photographische Gewerbe in Deutschland 1839–1914 (The Photographic Industry in Germany, 1839-1914, GFW-Verlag, 1989).  At the time of the book’s publication, Ingrid Siegmund-Rux appears to have been a librarian.  I have found little biographical information about her online apart from the minutes of the European Association of Sinological Librarians annual conference in 1986, which lists her as representing the Universitätsbibliothek und Technische Informationsbibliothek  Hannover (German National Library of Science and Technology / University Library Hannover).  

Most of the photographs in this collection were taken in and around Tokyo and Yokohama including tourist destinations for Tokyoites such as Mt. Fuji, Nikko and Hakone.  There are a few images from Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Lake Biwa), as well as images of Nagoya, Nagasaki, and Tomioka (a ghost town today as it is the epicentre of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster).  There are also a large number of posed photographs clearly designed to educate Europeans about the customs of Japan (tea ceremony, music and dance, ikebana, etc) and the occupations of people from all strata of Japanese society (silk traders, acrobats, a pipe-maker, sumo wrestlers, a shoemaker, a Buddhist priest, samurai, etc.).

Here are some of the highlights (clock on photos to view larger / as a slideshow):

Cover of one of Hoerner's photo albums

Yokohama/Mississippi Bay

Theatre in Yokohama



Tomioka, Fukushima

Girls having a party - the author is amused by the girl in the middle with the bowler hat

travelling gardeners

This book is out of print and can be ordered from second hand bookstores.

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes