In 1848, Ueno Shunnojo-Tsunetari (a Japanese trader based in Nagasaki) imported Japan’s first daguerreotype camera from Holland. The following year, the camera was obtained by Shimazu Nariakira, a Japanese feudal lord (daimyo) who ruled the Satsuma Domain from 1851 until his demise in 1958. Shimazu was renowned as an intelligent and wise lord, and noted for his great interest in all forms of Western technology.
Having obtained the camera, the daimyo ordered his retainers to study it and produce working photographs. One of these retainers was Ichiki Shirō (市来 四郎). Ichiki had previously excelled in the study of gunpowder production, which involved an understanding of chemistry. Due to this background, Shimazu believed Ichiki’s background would suit him for the challenge of mastering the creation of daguerreotypes – which entailed use of chemical treatments to develop the final image.
Due to his complete lack of formal training in photography and in how to use the camera, it was many years before Ichiki produced a quality photograph. To the daimyo’s delight, on September 17, 1857, Ichiki succeeded in creating a portrait of Shimazu dressed in formal attire. Ichiki recorded his struggles, and eventual triumph in mastering the camera, in his memoirs which he compiled in 1884.
After Shimazu’s death in 1958, the Terukuni Shrine (also referred to as Shōkoku Shrine) was built in Kagoshima as a memorial to the late daimyo. He was enshrined there in 1863, and the photograph was placed there as an object of worship. However, it later went missing in the 1800s.
After being lost for a century, the daguerreotype was discovered in 1975 a warehouse. Recognized as the oldest daguerreotype in existence that was created by a Japanese photographer, the photo was designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1999.