Old photo of Ujina Port shows military character of Hiroshima in 1902

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

A panoramic photo of Ujina Port (now Hiroshima Port) taken in 1902 has recently been found. Ujina Port was Japan’s main port for dispatching troops during the period of Japan’s modernization. The photo was presented to the Meiji Emperor in 1903, one year before the start of the Russo-Japanese War. It is a key historical document that shows the side of Hiroshima as it developed into a “military city.” A photo of this kind has yet to be included in any historical records compiled by Hiroshima Prefecture. The image, which has been held at the Imperial Household Library, was recently found and obtained by a team of researchers from the city of Hiroshima who are putting together a book that chronicles the 70-year history since the atomic bombing.

The photo, composed of five views to make up the panoramic image, measures 20.8 centimeters by 136.1 centimeters. It had been stored in a tube that was labeled with the description “Photo of Ujina military land modified in 1902.” On the back of the photo is this caption: “November 1903, Dedicated by Baron Gentaro Kodama, vice chief of the Department of the General Staff.”

Pictured in the center of the photo is a military pier. It also shows the Taiwanese army supply depot, as this supply division was transferred to Ujina in 1902 from Taiwan, which was controlled by Japan at the time (the Taiwanese army supply depot was demolished in 1904 and replaced by the Transportation Department of the Army); the Ujina branch of the Army Provisions Depot; and warehouses and packing workshops. A commercial pier and a harbor police office can be seen at the far left of the photo. The building that served as the harbor police office was built in 1909 and survived the atomic bombing. After the war, it was used as the Hiroshima Prefectural Port Office.

Comparing this image with photos of troops being dispatched from Ujina Port during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, which are also kept at the Imperial Household Library, it is apparent that the military pier and various other facilities were upgraded and expanded. The photos for this panoramic image were taken by Seizo Katayama, who owned a photo studio in Nakajima Honmachi (now part of the Peace Memorial Park).

Ujina Port was constructed in 1889 and became a transportation hub during the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, from which many soldiers were dispatched to the front lines. In addition, the Fifth Division, whose command center was located on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle, played a leading role in the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing, China. A total of 669,050 yen was allocated from the Boxer Rebellion secondary reserve fund for the purpose of modifying the land and buildings belonging to the Ujina Army (according to the Kobun Ruiju’s May 6, 1901 edition stored in the National Archives of Japan). In those days, the City of Hiroshima’s general account budget for one year was approximately 250,000 yen.

The photo and the Cabinet-related archives clearly indicate that the Japanese government spent a great sum of money to reconstruct Ujina Port and was bent on modernizing the country so it would be prepared for conflicts with the Russia of that time over its interests in China and the Korean Peninsula.

Fukuhei Ando, the former vice director of the Hiroshima Prefectural Archives, came across the photo. He said, “From the photo, it can be assumed that after the Sino-Japanese War, Ujina Port became the supply base to support its rule of Taiwan. We plan to do more research into related historical documents in order to further investigate Hiroshima’s historical position and the roles the city played before the atomic bombing.”

Groundbreaking historical document

Hiroshi Nunokawa, a professor at Hiroshima University and an expert on modern Japanese history, commented: “This photo, which shows the commanding appearance of Ujina Port at the time, can be called a groundbreaking record in reviewing the history of Hiroshima. Gentaro Kodama, then the interior minister (a native of present-day Shunan City), boldly took up the post of vice chief of the General Staff Department in October 1903 and subsequently engaged himself in the planning of the Russo-Japanese War. The submission of the photo to the Meiji Emperor for his inspection was considered to be an attempt to obtain the emperor’s approval to implement the plan drafted by Mr. Kodama.”

(Originally published on January 30, 2016)