This essay discusses photographs produced during Japan's little-known colonial expedition to the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands in 1875–76. Investigating the photography of Ogasawara, which pictured the cosmopolitan native population, the Japanese colonial presence, and the natural landscape of the islands, exposes the processes that have configured modern ‘Japaneseness’. Matsuzaki Shinji's images circulated in both government and commercial realms. With these diverse routes came multiple meanings that attached to the evolving place the islands occupied within the national consciousness. The islands could ostensibly be shown to have historical roots in the Japanese past, despite being populated by undeniably foreign inhabitants. Matsuzaki's photographs read as an attempt to display the ‘natural’ landscapes as remote and untouched, whilst simultaneously trying to prove a historical and legitimate Japanese connection. This reveals the contradictory Japanese view of the native population as ‘Western’ but ‘primitive’. The tension between Japan as inferior in its power relationship to the West, yet superior in its ability to rule over the mostly Western subjects of Ogasawara, permeates the construction of the islanders as Japanese internal ‘others’.