Notes on the Geography of Japan: Return to Yokohama
It's a fine day in early March, 2011, and we've taken the train down here to look at the Bluff, the old residential quarter assigned to foreigners in the old days.
Ah, history! We've been bundled off the Negishi line at Sakuragi-Cho Station. Remember that name, because we'll need it in a couple of hours at the foreigners' cemetery. Now somewhere around here there's supposed to be a guy renting bicycles. He's supposed to be near the city's tallest building, the Landmark Tower, there on the right.
Trust me, we found him and have headed east. And here it is, my forgotten favorite, that narrow-fronted brick wedding hall called the Casa D'Angela. It's new and provides Lover's Leaps at heights to suit each and every nuptial tragedy.
And here's another friend from years past, the Fuji Bank of 1929 but now the Graduate School of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
Just to the south there's the old Yokohama Specie Bank of 1904, its dome destroyed in the great earthquake of 1923 and restored more than 40 years later, in 1967. Now the building houses the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History. Behind it is the old Kawasaki Bank of 1922, puffed up in 1989.
Amazing! A bank building that's still a bank, in this case the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.
The city's first icon, the Port Opening Memorial Hall, from 1917.
Speaking of stuffy, here's the old British Consulate, from 1931 and now part of the prefecture archives.
This, reputedly, is the only merchant-trader house that survived both the quake and the war. It's from 1922--and yes, that's our fine steed.
An old photo at the entrance shows that the building ("English House No. 7, from 1922) was originally considerably deeper.
The New Grand Hotel, 1927. MacArthur is said to have set out here on that day in 1945 when--no tie, open collar--he met the Japanese on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Yes, before the earthquake there was a just-plain Grand Hotel, but it was wiped out. Back then, the just-plain Grand published an English-language guidebook to Yokohama. It shows the hotel as a three-story brick-and-mansard affair. The New Grand later added the high-rise extension at the back here.
One end of the lobby.
The main staircase remains grand enough for special occasions.
We've made it over to the edge of the flats, marked by the Nakamura River. The highway engineers have taken care to make sure we don't get any ideas about streamside promenades.
The shopping street parallel to the river but on its east side is narrow and very upscale. It's called Motomachi. The shops are a mix of Japanese and international.
And here, just to the east, is the Bluff, so-called and rightly so. You're underwhelmed? It gets better.
Far and away the most historical spot in the neighborhood in the Foreigner's Cemetery, still in business and by now with more than 4,000 graves, though many had to be relocated after the 1923 earthquake. For 130 years, until the 1980s, the cemetery was closed to the public. We've entered here at the bottom end and will work up the rough terraces to the bluff top.
See what I mean about rough?
The view from the top. In the distance, the Landmark Tower lives up to its name.
Japan may never have been part of the British Empire, but you might be fooled into thinking otherwise. Here's a stone that reads "Sacred to the Memory of Lachlan Fletcher, H[er] B[rittanic] M[ajesty's] Consul at Yokohama. Died July 7, 1868, aged 36 years."
Here's a doctor deputed by Queen Victoria to serve the Japanese government. Under only his initials, T.A.P., Purcell also wrote Our Neighborhood, or Sketches in the Suburbs of Yedo, published in 1874. The work had previously been serialized in the Japan Weekly Times.
This tombstone is shaped like a railway ticket for the very good reason that Morel was the engineer in charge of building Japan's first railway, from Shimbashi Station, Tokyo, to Sakuragi-cho Station, where we started an hour or two back. On his recommendation, the government in 1870 created a department of public works. Morel died of TB before the pioneering line opened.
"Here Lies Henry Edwin Smith, Commander of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's Steamship Malacca, who died at Yokohoma at the 18th of December, 1879, age 47."
Remembering the "officers and men who went down with S.S. Oneida when that vessel was struck while homeward bound by the steamship Bombay...." This was a notorious incident in 1870. The Bombay, a P&O liner, struck the American Corvette nine miles off the coast of Yokohama yet continued on its way into port, leaving 120 men to die (56 survived). The British ship offered no help, and the captain, upon landing in Yokohama, reported nothing. His license was suspended for six months.
A happier ending: the tombstone of Jan Elberse, a Boeing 747 captain who, before retiring, flew for JAL. Could be, of course, that he's just in a holding pattern.
In the 1860s, foreigners were often at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's what happened to J.J. Henri Camus, a 21-year-old French lieutenant murdered in 1863. The Japanese attempted to pay his family compensation. Yes, the Landmark Tower is still trying to catch your eye.
"Here Rests Wessel de Voss, murdered during the evening of 26 February, 1860, at the age of 42 years."
Baldwin was one of the victims of 1864's Kamakura Affair (or Incident), when two British officers visiting Kamakura were killed by two samurai later executed for the murders.
Mustn't forget the missionaries. Mary Eddy Kidder is remembered here as "the first unmarried lady missionary in Japan" and the founder of the Ferris Seminary in 1870. (The name Ferris recalls the father and son who headed the Dutch Reformed Church in America, which sent Kidder abroad at age 35. She had previously been a teacher. Later in life, she left the school to be an evangelist in Iwate Prefecture, on the north coast of Honshu. The school celebrated its 140th birthday in 2009.
There's a Jewish section, too; many of the stones with inscriptions at least partly in Hebrew.
Enough granite for today? Fine, we'll go hunt old houses on the Bluff. Trouble is--you did have your suspicions, didn't you?--the quake basically levelled almost everything. This replacement won't fool anyone.
The city has gone out of its way to remember the quake, in this case preserving the foundations of the McGowan House. You're at the front steps, or what's left of them.
Here's the one place that actually did survive, a 1-up, 1-down building from 1909. It's now the Yamate Museum.
Next door is Christ Church of the Bluff. It doesn't look very old. That's because the original church, of brick, was shaken to pieces. The church was rebuilt in stone in 1931 by J.H. Morgan, an American architect brought to Japan to design the massive Maranouchi office building in downtown Tokyo. That building was demolished in 1968. As for this church, it had one more incarnation.
The inscription tells the story.
A half-dozen buildings that were built after the quake survived the war and are still on their feet. One is the so-called British House of 1937, formerly the British Consul's home and most notable for its fortress walls.
Here, near Christ Church, is an apartment building from 1927.
Next door, a home (now a bakery and coffee shop) also from 1927.
Feel the grit in your teeth?
The Ehrismann (often labelled Ellisman) Residence, 1926.
Berrick Hall, built for an Englishmen who at the outbreak of the war took off for Canada. The house was used as a dormitory for St. Joseph College until 2000, when the city bought it and opened it as a museum. The architect was the same J.H. Morgan who designed Christ Church.
The so-called Diplomat's House, originally built in Tokyo but moved here.
A house next door at Bluff No. 18 is now a museum.
The interior isn't helped by the color scheme.
The most interesting item inside is a large map that shows the location of the house but even more dramatically the Bluff itself, overlooking the Nakamura River. The status of the Bluff as the residence of foreigners was abolished in 1899. Why part of the lowlands here are also designated for foreigners' residences is anybody's guess.
The east side of the Bluff is shown descending to valleys filled with rice paddies--and a shooting range.
Many of the houses on the Bluff now are unreservedly modern and could be in a hundred countries.
Some are adventurous--and apparently unconcerned about another 1923.
Others are less ostentatious yet still style-conscious.
Not a good place to land your balloon.
We're about to head back down. Here's the view looking west over the Ishakawa-cho Station on the JR Negishi Line. The track passes through a tunnel under the Bluff. The elevated Metropolitan Expressway, hurrying to the Bay Bridge, lies atop the Nakamura River like an incubus.
What's this? Strange foreign ways! Is it "house as facade" or "facade as house"?
There's a Chinatown here: here is its Choyo-Mon Gate and a handy garage.
Wow, it's the China Museum, with its pavilion hoisted up top.
Sunday afternoon down on the street.
Here's the waterfront of Yamashita Park, just north of Chinatown. In the background is the Ferris Wheel of Cosmo World Amusement Park.
Parked alongside the frontage is the retired Hikawa Maru. Its maiden voyage was from Kobe to Seattle in 1930, and it made over 250 Pacific crossings before it was retired in 1960. Along the way it was a hospital ship and the only Japanese liner to survive the war. Taken by the Americans, it was a freighter on the American east coast before returning to trans-Pacific service in 1954.
Pushing west we come to Queen's Square and the CosmoWorld Amusement Park. The designers of the towers write that "the massing of the three office buildings and hotel gently rise towards the sea, harmonizing the skyline...." Tell me another!
A ski jump for beginners. In the foreground is a fine truss from the American Bridge Company. The builder's plate reads 1907. Narrow-gauge tracks cross it, but the load now is entirely pedestrian, not counting the occasional bicycle.
Here, just before we hand back that bicycle, is the Nippon Maru. Like the Hikawa Maru, this ship too was built in 1930, but in this case as a training ship for Japanese merchant-marine cadets. It was retired in 1984 and sits here as part of the city's maritime museum.
Dwarfing the ship, the Landmark Tower was among the last projects of Hugh Stubbins, Jr., a Harvard professor better known back home for Manhattan's sliced-off Citicorp Center. What's that down at the base? Looks like teeth. You can't trust these buildings, especially at night.
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