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Rare Color Photos Showcase Japan’s Last Samurai

Taken between 1862 and 1900, these images show a lost age before modernization.

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'A Group of Samurai', circa 1890. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Studio portrait titled ‘A Group of Samurai’, circa 1890. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 

Once elite warriors, the samurai of feudal Japan began to fade from the upper echelon of the military in the mid-1800s when the country’s armed forces began to modernize. Colorized photographs, a new technology at the time, give us a window into that period when the samurai were a dying breed of soldier.

This transition began when Emperor Meiji ordered sweeping changes across the country to transform Japan’s armed forces into a modernized, Western-style army. As the once-revered warriors fell from their ranks and were no longer able to don a sword in public, they were forced to find power in other influential positions like business or government jobs.

Take a look at these rare photos, taken between 1862 and 1900, that capture the twilight years of Japan’s samurai. The images were captured in black and white, then hand-painted with colors by artists.

Two Japanese archers take aim at a target, circa 1897. (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Two Japanese archers take aim at a target, circa 1897. (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
A staged version of the Japanese ritual suicide known as Seppuku or Hara-Kiri, circa 1885. (Sean Sexton/Getty Images)
A staged version of the Japanese ritual suicide known as Seppuku or Hara-Kiri, circa 1885. (Sean Sexton/Getty Images)
Portrait of a group of Samurai and Japanese officers looking at a map. (Alinari Archives/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Portrait of a group of samurai and Japanese officers looking at a map. (Alinari Archives/Corbis via Getty Images)
Japanese Samurai Color photos
(l) “Samurai waking style”, circa 1890.; (r) Samurai in traditional dress characterized by a wide bamboo hat. (Library of Congress/Getty Images)
Japanese Samurai Color photos
(l) Portrait of Japanese samurai, circa 1877; (r) Samurai or retainer kneeling before government official or daimyo, circa 1877 (Library of Congress)
Japanese Samurai Color photos
(l) Samurai in armor from Labor and Porcelain in Japan, by the United States Consul-General, Yokohama circa 1882; (r) Hand-colored albumen photograph of samurai, circa 1880. (Getty Images)
Japanese Samurai Color photos
(l)Hand-Color photograph of a Japanese samurai warrior by Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz circa 1881; (r) Samurai warrior, half-length studio portrait, facing front, wearing armor and holding a sword, circa 1877. (Getty Images/Library of Congress)

RealClearLife Staff