In the ongoing (endless?!) attemp to identify the Japanese “picture postcards” 絵葉書 in my collection, I’ve decided to publish my working notes on identifying Japanese postcard publishers. Using Urakawa Kazuya’s 浦川和也 four-period chronology as a foundation, I’ve tried to catalog variant designs printed on the reverse (atena-men 宛名面, “address side”) by each publisher as well as some different letterpress captioning styles on the obverse (tsūshin-men 通信面, “communication side”)[1]. The information below is taken from Japanese sources, mostly print resources, but some online materials as well.

Please contact me if you can provide any other information or resources about these publishers: pmr01[at]ucsb[dot]edu.

Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社

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Ueda Yoshizō

Born in Tokyo, Ueda Yoshizō 上田義三 (1865-?) found employment after college in the oldest German private trading company in the capital, Aherns & Co. (Ārensu shōkai アーレンス商会), founded by Heinrich Aherns in 1869. In the mid-1890’s, Ueda toured Europe and America and then returned to Japan to open his first business venture in 1897 (Meiji 30), the Yokohama Photographic Printing Co. 横浜写真版印刷所 first located on Yatozaka Slope 谷戶坂. In 1905 (Meiji 38) the business moved to Okina-chō 3-chōme (No. 131) 翁町3丁目(131番) and around 1913 (Taishō 2) the business was renamed Ueda Photographic Prints Corp. 上田写真版合資会社 (the name “Uyeda” can be found printed on some postcards). Ueda was highyl successful in selling photographs and producing government-issued postcards on his own collotype printing equipment. Importantly, Ueda’s success in printing early landscape and figural picture postcards presaged the Japanese postcard boom after the Russo-Japanese War, thus he became recognized as the “Japanese Pioneer of Picture Postcard Manufacturing” 日本元祖絵葉書製造元. Īkura Tōmei 飯倉東明 (1884-?) worked as Udea’s director of photography in the first decade of the twentieth century. My analysis of Ueda postcards can be found here.


Hakaki sign

Tonboya’s signboard on Isezaki-chō

Around 1905 (Meiji 38), Yoshimura Kiyoshi 吉村清, the proprietor of the well-known Tokyo-based publisher Kamigataya 上方屋 (in Ginza), started a new venture in Yokohama, called Tonboya トンボヤ, or “Dragonfly Studio.” [2] Along with Ueda, Tonboya was the most prolific hand-painted postcard publisher in Japan, also opening offices in Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokosuka. The original shop was located on Isezaki-chō 2-chōme (No. 16) 伊勢佐木町2丁目(16番), a famous area known among foreigners as Theatre Street (see blog post frontispiece). The storefront can easily be located in period photographs due to its distinctive Japanese-style red cylindrical postal box (yūbin posuto 郵便ポスト) sign painted with ehakaki エハカキ [sic], or “Picture Postcards.”

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Tonboya’s signboard in Motomachi

There appears to have been a second office in Motomachi which also appears in period photographs. In the early Showa Period after the Great Kantō earthquake, the business moved to Izezaki-chō 1-chōme (No. 36) 1丁目(36番). Cards were initially hand-colored, but Tonboya used a multicolored collotype process starting in the early Taisho.




Tonboya Reverse Designs and Obverse Captions

Period I (October 1900-March 1907) – Undivided Back

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The characteristic dragonfly (tonbo) seal is placed in the stamp box.

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The dragonfly seal is placed in the upper left-hand corner.

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Even without the dragonfly seal, the characteristic serif font in dark/black ink can help identify the publisher. The same serif font, however, was also used by Kamigataya which is easily identified by the Japanese postal box trademark in the stamp box. With no identifying emblem in the stamp box it would be difficult to fully determine if the card was published by Tonboya or Kamigataya, yet Tonboya seemed to have used black ink on the reverse while Kamkigataya seemed to have preferred dark green.

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The obverse captioning is typically in capital letters and finished with a period. Some include a stock number in parentheses. It should be noted that Kamigataya also used capital letters in this period.

Period II (March 1907-March 1918)

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The obverse captions for the above designs often incorporate a dragonfly facing downwards and to the left. A stock number in parentheses with a letter code indicating the location of the image is also sometimes included. Note, however, this system is not universal, these designs can have the older captioning system of capital letters.

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This reverse design was printed for the 1909 fiftieth anniversary jubilee for the opening of Yokohama port. The symbol in the stamp box is the emblem of Yokohama.

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Same design as above with English name and street address. The design also incorporates “MADE IN JAPAN” in the dividing line, suggesting this card was printed with US customes laws in mind.

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Obverse captions for the anniversary jubilee designs have a dragonfly facing upwards to the left. Sometimes a stock number in parentheses is incorporated.

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Around September 1909, “UNION POSTALE UNIVERSELLE” is removed and a new bilingual header is introduced.

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The reverse design is printed in blue, umber, or black.

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The obverse captions for the above designs most typically have a dragonfly facing upwards with a stock number and letter identification in parentehses. There are, however, exceptions. The letterpress is commonly in italic print, but not always. At some point, the letter identification is printed in lower case. Confusingly, the Sakaeya 栄屋商店 lion is sometimes incorporated (the reverse design bears the dragonfly as the ki キ).

Period III (March 1918-February 1933)

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Hoshinoya 星野屋

Yoshioka Chōjirō

Yoshioka Chōjirō

Yoshioka Chōjirō 吉岡長次郎 arrived in Yokohama in 1904 (Meiji 37) with postcards purchased in Tokyo, hoping to turn a profit by reselling them to foreigners. After receiving numerous orders and making several trips back to Tokyo to restock, Yoshioka opened a shop in Yokohama at Onoe-chō 4-chōme, No. 61 尾上町4丁目(61番). By the end of the Russo-Japanese War in the fall of 1905, he had collected many collotype plates of native landscapes and was very successful marketing to both foreigners and Japanese. Hoshinoya emerged as one of the most well-known postcard shops in the port of Yokohama.


Hoshinoya Reverse Designs and Obverse Captions

Period II (March 1907-March 1918)


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The Art Nouveau style “Carte Postale” is an easily identifying characteristic of Hoshinoya cards.


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Screen Shot 2018-12-19 at 14.05.05.png A variant style for “Carte Postale” can also be found.


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Period III (March 1918-February 1933)

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Sakaeya 栄屋

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Sakaeye storefront in Motomachi, Kobe

A Kobe based company with a shop in Motomachi, Kobe. A majority of this publisher’s cards are of Kobe and it environs, but it also had other images it its portfolio. I have seen Sakaeya’s lion insignia in the caption of images that were printed on cards bearing both Ueda’s and Tonboya’s seals on the reverse. I’d speculate that Sakaeya purchased Ueda and Tonboya cards and resold them in Kobe with its lion insignia imprinted on the front.




Sakaeya Reverse Designs and Obverse Captions

Period II (March 1907-March 1918)

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Ueda publisher back with Sakeya insignia in obverse caption.

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Tonboya publisher back with Sakeya insignia in obverse caption.

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Sakaeya captions typically use stock numbers with letter identification (most are K for Kobe), sometimes inside parentheses. The letterpress is sometimes italicized. While the lion insignia is printed in the bottom right corner, sometimes the Sakeya name is also included by the stock identification number. It is uncommon for landscape postcards to have the Sakaeya name or insignia printed on the reverse.


Period III (March 1918-February 1933)


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Sakaeya continued to use Udea cards stock for their postcards into Period III

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Eventually Sakaeya incorporated thie lion insignia into the stamp box.

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Later period captions sometimes still incorporate the Sakaeya lion insignia, but it get removed when the name and insignia are incorporated on the reverse. Sakaeya also started to use two lines of letterpress.




[1] The nomenclature for the sides of the postcard derived from their original design where one side was reserved solely for the address, while the other was reserved for the written message, and eventually, a printed image. These are also known as the reverse (rimen 裏面) and obverse (hyōmen 表面).

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Kamkgataya storefront displaying postcards for sale.

[2] Some sources name the propriter as Maeda Tokutarō 前田徳太郎, but I have not seen this name in printed Japanese sources. Kamigataya 上方屋 also had a storefront in the Motomachi district of Yokohama.










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