Photo Exhibition: Edo/Tokyo – Seen Through Its Edifices

10 Historical Photographs from the Album:
“Assorted Japanese Sightseeing Spots” Collected by Italian Envoy, Count Barbolani, 1877–1881

Location: Chicago Cultural Center


10 historical photographic exhibits present a lost Edo transforming into the new capital of Tokyo, providing a dramatic contrast of a wistful nostalgic longing for the old ways of the “Samurai Society” with an exuberant anticipating mood towards the advent of the newly reborn Imperial Japan.


After the Meiji Restoration (of sovereign power to the institution of the tenno [“emperor”]) in 1868, the hastily formed Meiji government had no facilities of its own. So many of the daimyo (feudal lord’s) residences were turned into governmental buildings of diverse ministries, adminis-trative bureaus, police or military garrisons, etc.

The City Edo/Tokyo itself became an experimental crossroads of “East meeting West” in archi-tecture.

What makes this album particularly interesting is how it shows the unique architectural transfor-mation from the Samurais’ Edo to the new imperial capital of Tokyo through both through modi-fication of existing Edo edifices and new construction of Western-style buildings.

In 1872, large parts of the Ginza area, the heart of Edo/Tokyo including the Marunouchi, Ginza and Tsukiji areas were completely devastated by a huge fire.

As at this time, many things Western were being openly welcomed, this resulted in extensive tracts of historical structures being replaced by European style fire-resistant red brick architec-ture which concurrently became a representative symbol of the Meiji “Bunmei Kaika (cultural rebirth)”.

From an architectural point of view, an outwardly diverse blend of Gothic, Victorian, Coloni-al/Indian-Saracen, Beaux-Arts architecture styles with Japanese traditional elements and craftsmanship, resulted in a uniquely Japanese style of “faux-occidentale” architecture.

Since Edo/Tokyo suffered extensive destruction twice —during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the U.S. fire bombing of the city in 1945— very few of these “East Meets West” archi-tectural jewels survive today.

The amazing photo album that contains these invaluable images was brought back to Italy after Count Barbolani’s mission to Japan and it was only recently discovered and acquired by the Japan Camera Industry Institute (JCII).


Presented by
Japan Camera Industry Institute and Media Art League

Hosted by
the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago

English Editing by
Andreas Boettcher

Photo Captions:

First National Bank and Kaiun Bridge, Designed by Kisuke Shimizu II. Photographed: 1878-1880

Middle Left:

Tokyo Chindai Garrison, Photographed: 1871-1880

Middle Right:

Ministry of Justice (Former Residence of Honda Family/Okazaki Domain). Photographed: 1877-1880


Ministry of Home Affairs. Photographed:1874-1880, Designed by:Tadayoshi Hayashi


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