Skip to main content

Home > Chiyoda city Course > Edo Castle Photographed
--National Important Cultural Property "Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle"--

Recommendation course

Chiyoda city Course


Edo Castle Photographed --National Important Cultural Property "Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle"--

By Tokyo National Museum

Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle Tokyo National Museum


Edo Castle Honmaru Ruins
National Important Cultural Property "Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle"

"Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle", one of the collection for the Tokyo National Museum, is widely known as a collection of documentary photographs of the former Edo Castle in the early days of the Meiji period by promptly adopting a new visual source of modernization, photography, and was designated as National Important Cultural Property. These photographs were taken in March, Meiji 4 (1871). This album contains 64 photographs attached with two rough maps for both the inner and the outer citadels of Edo Castle, so viewers can easily find the location of each shooting point.

We cannot talk about this photo album without three persons. The first is NINAGAWA Noritane (1835-82) who initially planned to compile this shooting project. He was born to a family of workers for Toji Temple in Kyoto and had a keen interest in Japanese antique art from the early years of his life. After grown up, he was employed by the new Meiji government and became involved in founding today's Tokyo National Museum and also endeavored to promote the preservation of Japanese cultural properties. The second is YOKOYAMA Matsusaburo (1838-84), a photographer taking all the photos of this album. He grew up in Hakodate where the port was open to foreign ships for trade in the last years of the TOKUGAWA government. Living in Hakodate enabled him to be exposed to western painting and photography just brought in by diplomatic missions from overseas, and he was much impressed with the realistic depiction of subject matters in these western arts. Specifically, he wanted to study photography and traveled all the way to Shanghai at the end of the Edo period. After returning to Japan, he went to Yokohama to pursue further study of photography under SHIMOOKA Renjo. And the third whom we must not forget is TAKAHASHI Yuichi (1828-94). TAKAHASHI was born to a samurai family in Sano Domain of Shimotsuke Province. He was much interested in drawing pictures from childhood and entered the TOKUGAWA government's research institute for western painting. He pursued the Western skill of painting. The realism in oil paintings brought from the West fascinated him.

"Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle" was compiled with 64 photographs taken by a Matsusaburo and thin coloring applied to all photographs by TAKAHASHI under NINAGAWA's direction. TAKAHASHI pursued the realism with water colors in this photo album. This album could not be compiled without anyone of them, NINAGAWA, YOKOYAMA, or TAKAHASHI.

Why did NINAGAWA document the photographs of Edo Castle in 1871? He wrote down his prospectus in the photo album as follows; "Now that Japan was unified by the new Meiji government after the Boshin War, the role of Edo Castle as a military center was over, and the maintenance, and repair for the castle will need not any more. Then, given the fact that these buildings are destined to be torn down, we record the state of Edo Castle by photography before being ruined." He continued further, "Although its military functions have been lost, this documentation would be useful for the future generations to review the Meiji period in Japanese history." He considered the castle as a missing relic due to civilization and enlightenment, and he regret them all very much. Therefore, he kept on being particular about it as possible exactly.

This photo album was compiled for viewers to understand the whole structure of the castle, even under the restriction of 64 pieces of photography. It begins with the site of Honmaru, and proceeds to inner complexes, the sites of Tenshu (donjon), Ninomaru, San-nomaru, Nishinomaru, Momijiyama, and many gates (Mitsuke) of both the inner and the outer citadels of Edo Castle. Among them, the photos taking Honmaru site outnumbered those of others, totaling 30 pieces of photos including the site of Tenshu. Also, these were taken by the devised method of shooting. Their camera was fixed on the Honmaru Daidokoro Sanju-yagura and the 360 degree circle view from Honmaru site were taken by changing angle.

But the state of Edo Castle at the time was devastated, only Nishinomaru (the site of the current Imperial Palace) remained at the inner side of the castle, as Honmaru and Ninomaru which were burned down in 1863 and 1867, besides Tenshu (donjon) which was lost by the Great Fire of Meireki, were never reconstructed.

Then, why did NINAGAWA record these sites without any buildings so obstinately? In this regard, there are various interpretations: "Honmaru site, though burned down, had been the hub of the TOKUGAWA administration which governed Japan over 260 years." Or "it was necessary to specify the end of the TOKUGAWA administration as this project was under the permission of the new Meiji government replacing the TOKUGAWA government," and so on. Any of these may not be far off the point, but when considering the former Edo Castle in Meiji 4 (1871), we should not forget that the castle was already the residence for the Meiji Emperor and that it was called Kokyo (Kojo at the time).

As the title for this photo album is "Photograph Album of the Former Edo Castle" we might regard it as a record of the castle for TOKUGAWA shoguns, but considering that the Meiji Emperor was a new owner of the castle instead of TOKUGAWA shoguns at the time, another interpretation could be added to this photo album.