For Yokohama, the year of 2009 was the 150th anniversary of opening her door to foreign countries. For its commemoration, Exhibit Y150 was held there. As you may know, Japan had closed the doors for more than 200 years in the name of seclusion.
Two exceptions were the Dutch and the Chinese (who were allowed to trade with Japanese only at a restricted place in Nagasaki).
In the beginning, Yokohama was a small “sleepy” fishing village with more or less 100 houses.
According to the Yokohama City Song written by Mori Ohgai or Rintaro, a famous Japanese novelist, for the 50th anniversary in 1909, Yokohama had had sparse rush-thatched huts with smoke coming out in the beginning though it became a large port city for foreign trade.
Now Yokohama is the 2nd largest city in Japan, next to Tokyo, with a population of more than 3.5 million. Yokohama has an exotic image due to the fact that a lot of foreign goods arrived first at Yokohama by ship then were moved on to Tokyo.
Thus, Yokohama was the trend leader. Tokyoites looked up Yokohama and people in Yokohama with admiring words like Hamajiru and Hamatora.
Historically, Yokohama went through two (2) disasters : first, the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 (Sept.1), and second, the Great Yokohama Air Raid in 1945 (May 29). However, Yokohama rose like a phoenix from the ashes each time.
On the other hand, Yokohama has had close connections with the United States since the beginning. Initially, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry on the “Black Ship” shipped into the Uraga Straight to ask the Tokugawa Shogunate to open Japan.
Eventually, Yokohama and other ports were open to the United States and four European countries through Five (5) Ansei Commercial Treaties. After World War II, the United States took the lead to occupy Japan and General Douglas MacArther landed at Atsugi Airport to soon move to Hotel New Grand in Yokohama for the command of the occupational operations as SCAP (= Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) or GHQ (which is better known to Japanese).
Since then, the center of Yokohama or Naka-Ku was occupied even though most of which had been burnt down by B29 carpet bombing.
Almost all of the main buildings that escaped the bombing were occupied by the United States Military Forces. Kanagawa prefecture with Yokohama included is second only to Okinawa in terms of the size of the U.S. military bases even now and some remaining occupied land was just recently returned to Yokohama.
One advantage is, however, that the American culture is close at hand.
Jazz and Yokohama go well together. Chigusa, a jazz spot in Noge, was patronized by a number of internationally big named jazz musicians such as Akiyoshi Toshiko, Watanabe Sadao, and Hino Terumasa In the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, the American soldiers brought the latest rock music to Yokohama and the local young people were deeply influenced. Thus, the legendary group, Golden Cups were born.
Because of its geographic location and importing functions, Yokohama had a lot of originals and “firsts”. For example, the first railroad was laid between Yokohama and Shimbashi in 1872 which was a symbolic step for industrial country.
The following are the things done for the first time in Yokohama as well: ice cream, beer, photo studio, newspaper, tennis, boxing, street gas lamps, roadside trees and many others. In addition, Hotel New Grand introduced very popular original dishes, spaghetti Napolitan and doria both of which are now available at most Western style restaurants all over Japan.
In early days, bread was first introduced by a French chef to a Japanese to be a patisserie later (that’s why Japanese call it “pan” = pain following the French word instead of bread) and potatoes were first planted in Hodogaya of Yokohama.
A lot of changes have occurred in Yokohama in the past decade or so.
The harbor view, particularly at night, is a selling point of Yokohama.
There, you can enjoy the 360 degree panoramic view for the new spots like Landmark Tower, Bay Bridge, and Ferris Wheel as well as the historical structures like Yokohama Memorial Hall (of opening the port) for Jack, Yokohama Customs House for Queen, Kanagawa Prefectural Office Building for King, Red Brick Warehouses and many others. All the structures are beautifully illuminated at night.
If you extend your walk a little further from the seaside, you can soon reach the largest China Town in the world.
Now you may satisfy your hunger with the delicious authentic Chinese food at a reasonably priced restaurant and reflect on the pleasant moment in this exotic city over a cup of Shokoshu.
● 古街道研究家 道の考古学者 歴史ルポライター
● 歴史古街道団長 歴史古道まちづくりプランナー 歴史計画コンサルタント
● １４講座レギュラー講師 日本フットパス協会理事 １９５９年東京出身