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The Imperial Household Agency is attempting to preserve visual proof of Japan’s modernization during the Meiji Era by making use of photo-digitalizing technology.

The agency plans to digitize some 30,000 old photos associated with Emperor Meiji, whose rein coincided with the country’s modernization from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

The shots were taken by the Emperor’s photographers, who accompanied him during his nationwide trips, according to the agency. The subject of the photos range from the Tomioka Silk Mill in Gunma Prefecture to areas around what is now JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo.

As part of efforts to catch up with the West, the Meiji government built the silk mill in 1872, the country’s first modern machine silk-reeling factory. Silk products from Tomioka were exported to Europe and boosted economic growth.

Meanwhile, an aerial photo of Shinbashi Station was taken by a photographer in a balloon, the agency said.

According to agency officials, many of the photos are more than 100 years old and their images are clearly starting to fade. That’s why the agency decided to preserve the photos by digitizing them, they said.

“Back in those days, there was no television. Those photos played a media role for the Emperor,” an agency official said.

So far, some 2,000 photos have been archived digitally, the officials said, adding that they are discussing the specifics of a photo database.

The agency is also considering opening the database on the Internet so the public can see what life was like during the Meiji Era, the officials said.

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