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  Yokoyama Matsusaburo, Photographer

Yokoyama Matsusaburo was born on October 10, 1838 in Iturup (Etorofu Island) Japan. At a young age, his family moved to Hakodate, a port city on Japan’s Hokkaido island. By age 15, he was a kimono apprentice who wanted to study painting. While Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s ships were docked in Hakodate, Mr. Matsusaburo became acquainted with the daguerreotypes of American photographer Eliphalet Brown, Jr. A passing interest turned into a full-blown passion when he saw the daguerreotypes of Hakodate made by Russian photographer Aleksandr Mozhaiskii.

Hoping to further develop his artistic expertise, Mr. Matsusaburo studied painting and Western techniques. He believed mastering the new medium of photography would heighten his precision as a landscape painter. He moved to Yokohama, where he secured employment as the assistant and student of prominent photographer Shimooka Renjo. Upon his return to Hakodate, he further honed those skills under the tutelage of Russian consul (and accomplished amateur photographer) Iosif Goshkevich.

By 1868, Mr. Matsusaburo’s advanced proficiency allowed him to open a studio in downtown Tokyo; a gallery in the Tokyo suburb of Ikenohata quickly followed. At the time, his Ikenohata studio was regarded as “the most modern and well-equipped studio in Japan.” Soon, his professional reputation was only surpassed by that of Shimooka Renjo, with whom he collaborated on several stereoviews that were jointly presented to the Tokugawa ruling family. One of Mr. Matsusaburo’s most famous stereo images from this series is the albumen print titled “Kago Bearers Taking a Rest at a Station” (c. 1870). He also photographed the Edo Castle restoration in 1871, and worked closely with renowned painter Takahashi Yuichi. These wet collodion plates, several of which were shown at the Vienna Exposition (1873), represent what are believed to be the first examples of documentary photography in Japan. Like his mentor Shimooka, Mr. Matsusaburo expanded his studio to include an art/photography school, with a roster that included future photographers Nakajima Matsuchi and Azukizawa Ryoichi. By 1876, Mr. Matsusaburo turned over most of the daily studio operations to his assistant, Oda Nobumasa. While teaching photography and lithography at the Japan Military Academy, Mr. Matsusaburo experimented with various printing processes and developed a photographic oil painting (shashin abura-e) method.

Sadly, in 1882, Mr. Matsusaburo contracted tuberculosis, and his final two years were devoted to photo-lithography and improving the still-rudimentary shashin abura-e technique. Forty-six-year-old Yokoyama Matsusaburo died from tuberculosis in Tokyo on October 15, 1884. Several of his works are housed in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. In early 2011, the Museum hosted a memorial exhibition that emphasized not only Mr. Matsusaburo’s contributions to photography, but also the many sociocultural changes his works collectively reflect.

2020 Art Deco Palaces and Ruined Castles: The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum by Alan Gleason (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1520.

2018 Gathering for Tea in Modern Japan by Taka Oshikiri (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic), p. 26.

2011 Matsusaburo Yokoyama Exhibition: Edo-Tokyo Museum (URL:

2020 Photograph Album of the former Edo Castle (URL:®ion=&era=&cptype=&owner=&pos=1&num=4&mode=simple¢ury=).

2006 Photography in Japan 1853-1912 by Terry Bennett (North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing), pp. 82, 320.

2012 Rethinking Japanese Modernism edited by Roy Starrs (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV), p. 69.

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2020-05-17 10:21:01

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