In 1854, America forced Japan to open up to American influence, missionaries and trade (with gunboat diplomacy). At the time Japan was still a feudal society run by a Shogun (Tokugawa).
It wasn't until 1860 that Japan sent diplomats to the United States for talks. In Japan's feudal society the natural choice for diplomatic work was the Samurai. A total of 70 Samurai packed their bags and headed for New York City. They were the first Japanese people to leave Japan for more than 200 years.
The first photograph taken in Japan was taken one year later in 1861. Within just a few years everyone was snapping photos — European diplomats, American missionaries and the Japanese themselves. Edo-era Japan was captured on film.
These are amongst the first photos of Samurai (1860s) taken within Japan itself.
These photos are a little later (1870s). By this time, changes were in place that would end the rule of the Samurai military class.