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Modern Japan began with the 19th century. The first half of the 19th century was the economical decline of the traditional leading class, the bushi (=samurai). And it was the time when Japanese medicine took over western standards, from modern anatomy to vaccination. In 1848 the daimyō (=samurai aristocrat) Shimazu Nariakira bought the first daguerreotype camera ever imported to Japan. In 1857 his photographer Ichiki Shirō shot the earliest photograph made by a Japanese that survived, a portrait of the daimyō.

In 1853 and 1854 a small American fleet under Commodore Perry arrived in Japan, the second time enforcing the shogun (=highest samurai aristocrat, governor of Japan) to sign a treaty with the United States of America, the Convention of Kanagawa. This opening of the country's harbours forced by a foreign military unit caused fears of the samurai to become the next colony of the West. Fast modernization was the answer of the Japanese people, and within 15 years the shogunate (long-running military feudal government of the samurai) became obsolete. Modernization was so fast that the first big photo-optical company of Japan (Konica) emerged at the same time when the first big German concurrents arose. First the products of the West served as a model for Japanese cameras. Sometimes the cameras were nearly one-to-one copies of Western products. The first Japanese camera for the international market of 1903 (Cherry) was such a copy. In the 1930s the Japanese camera makers began to develop own camera designs like the Minolta Vest. Since the 1960s the Japanese makers challenged the world market with many camera developments that were better or cheaper than European and American equivalents. After the cheap, sturdy and easy-to-use American cassette film camera types went out of fashion the Japanese camera makers dominated the world market by the sheer quality and leading technology of their half-automatic and fully automatic cameras for 35mm film and their leading role in the development of the digital cameras.

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