The achievements of Japanese colonisation in Sakhalin

Karafuto Shashin-cho

[A Photographic Album of South Sakhalin]

Publication: Karafuto-cho [Sakhalin Public Office], Tokyo [but Karafuto Toyohara?], Showa 11 [ie. 1936].

, Karafuto Shashin-cho

Great visual record of South Sakhalin in the 1920s-30s: wide-ranging, artistic – and scarce. A beautifully fresh example.

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Our Notes & References

More than 200 photographs to show many encouraging aspects of the Japanese colonisation of Sakhalin, and some native inhabitants: a beautiful, fresh example of this rare photographic book, kept in the original publisher’s binding with the fragile dust-jacket intact. Worldcat locates only three other copies in libraries (University of Hawaii at Manoa, National Diet Library, Tokyo and Waseda University Library) and we could not trace examples at auction.

Colonisation of Sakhalin (“Kita-Ezo”, meaning “Northern Hokkaido”) goes back to the late 17th century when Japanese fishermen began to settle on the island for seasonal work. During the next centuries, the ownership of Sakhalin was contested by Russia and Japan, unless in 1875, following the Treaty of St Petersburg, Russia received the entire island in exchange for ceding to Japan the Kuril Islands north of Iturup. After the victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Japan took the southern part of the island below 50°N., called Karafuto.

The Japanese shortly began developing a network of railways, highways and settlements in Karafuto, previously used by the Russians chiefly as a katorga, or a remote penal colony. (Chekhov, a doctor by profession, travelled to this penal colony in the late 19th century and worked there; he then published his most famous non-fiction work, ‘The Sakhalin Island’.) The Karafuto Prefecture was officially established in 1907 as an external territory of the Japanese Empire; it gained the status of an “inner land” only in 1943.

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Colonisation of Karafuto, the government organised the so-called Takushoku Expo (“Takushoku” meaning “development, industrialization” and also “colonisation”) presenting achievements in various branches of industry, agriculture, science and culture in August 1936. The Karafuto public office published the present album most likely for this very exhibition. The government additionally published another work titled “30th Anniversary of Karafuto Reclamation” the same year, more common and often mistaken with our publication.

The only text being the list of plates, the work focuses on the visual impact of photography, some pictures being artistically taken, with innovative angles and great effects. They show flourishing, newly built cities with their dynamic industries and architectural sights — most of which are long gone — and a few representations of the Uilta (Orok) indigenous people, classified as “Karafuto natives” during the Japanese rule on the island — as of the 2010 census, there are no more than a few hundred of them left on the island.

We can also see the newly constructed Shinto Shrine near the capital of Toyohara (now Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) followed by views of government buildings, streets with city life scenes, and various landmarks, including the Central Meteorological Station, Toyohara Geomagnetic Observatory and even “Takushoku School’s Experimental Farm”. A significant part of the book shows numerous industries, such as farming, coal mining (with factories pictured from different experimental perspectives), wood processing, silk production, clam digging, ice fishing, with the images of fishermen -and ‘fisherwomen’- standing among piles of herring and processing their catch.

The last part documents natural scenery in different seasons and parts of the region, local animals (such as a vast group of seals resting on a shore) and past-times, like skiing, dog and deer sledging and hiking.

Possibly published in Toyohara (as the entry of the Tokyo National Diet Library suggests), the work doesn’t credit any author nor photographer; yet some of them were very likely taken by the Japanese photographer Chu Hanzawa (1883-1942), who ran a photo studio in Karafuto during his stay on the island in 1925-41 and whose works on the local nature and indigenous people were reproduced as prints and postcards all across Japan (Uni).

A photographic album showing some similar views had already been published in 1925, in landscape format and with only about half the quantity of photographs. A reprint of our work was published in 2015.


From the estate of Geoffrey Elliott (1939-2021), banker of Russian descent, author of books on 20th-c. history. Acquired from Maggs Bros., London. Geoffrey and his wife Fay were noted collectors, especially of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and other literary figures. Russia was also an important theme: Geoffrey’s grandparents were interned in a Siberian tsarist prison camp before the October Revolution, and he focused most of his published works on the Cold War.

The Elliotts donated a significant part of their collection to the library of Leeds University in 2002, but kept the Russia-related items, which we consequently acquired.

Item number



Physical Description

Folio. Title, 4 pp. table of contents, 198 pp. with 202 photographic reproductions with captions in Japanese, the vast majority being one per page, [1] p. colophon.


Publisher’s printed dust-jacket over publisher’s cream cloth lettered in gilt.


In excellent condition.

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