It’s easy to fall for stereotypes when you’re thinking about Imperial Japan, especially when the Internet offers plenty of dreamy, romanticized, hand colored photos of geishas, samurais, craftsmen, and peasants, all wearing traditional clothes and posing in medieval scenes. This set of color postcards, all issued in the first decades of the 20th century, show a different pre-war Japan.

The signs of technological progress are everywhere: overhead power, telegraph or telephone lines, utility poles with multiple arms, trolley cars, steam boats, huge cranes, steel bridges, factories, and modern office buildings are all part of Japan’s cityscapes. And the visual effect of these colored postcards make me feel like I might understand where the best Japanese anime movies have their roots. See for yourself if you can imagine any famous Miyazaki characters in the postcards below.

Near Nagasaki station

Source: New York Public Library

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A view of Minamitenma-cho (Great Tokyo)

Source: New York Public Library


Nippon Bank at Tokyo

Source: New York Public Library

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Shijo Bridge, Kyoto

Source: New York Public Library


Sakaemachi-dori at Nagaya [i.e., Nagoya]

Source: New York Public Library


Yokohama Station

Source: New York Public Library


The No. 3, Mitsubishi dock-yard, Nagasaki

Source: New York Public Library


Nagasaki Harbour

Source: New York Public Library


Big crane of Mitsubishi dockyard, Nagasaki

Source: New York Public Library


Commercial street in Nagasaki

Source: New York Public Library


Motomachi-dori Itchome, Kobe

Source: New York Public Library


America Hatoba (pier) Kobe

Source: New York Public Library


Nihonbashi dori Tokyo

Source: New York Public Library


Temma Bridge, Osaka

Source: New York Public Library


Birds ege [i.e., bird’s eye] view of Kobe

Source: New York Public Library


Motomachi-dori Itchome, Kobe

Source: New York Public Library


Gantry crane at Nagasaki dockyard

Source: New York Public Library


Lantern makers, Japan

Source: New York Public Library


Ujigawa (River) Osaka

Source: New York Public Library


Do you like the top image featuring Chihiro Ogino? Here are two more scenes that came to my mind: