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Notes on the Geography of Japan: Yokohama

Commodore Perry arrived in 1854, and Yokohama opened for business as a free port four years later. By 1890 the city had 122,000 people. Overwhelmingly, they were Japanese; in 1906, for example, the town had only 1,084 British and 486 American residents.  Still, they were the ones shaping Yokohama.  The street plan was (and in the old section still is) a tidy grid.  A gas-distribution system and a rail link to Tokyo were both opened in 1872.  Waterworks, fed by a 28-mile pipeline from Sugamigawa, were completed in 1887, several years before Tokyo had a comparable system. Streetcars appeared in 1905.  Murray's Hand-Book for Travellers in Japan declared at the time that Yokohama had "few sights properly so called," but that was only because it was a place instantly familiar to arriving foreigners. Despite heavy destruction in the 1923 earthquake and 1945 bombing, the core today is far richer than Tokyo in pre-war buildings. 

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The Port Opening Memorial Hall, locally "Jack's Tower," opened in 1917.

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Main entrance.  The interior, including a concert hall, was destroyed in 1923 but soon restored. After World War II, when more than 90,000 occupation troops resided in Yokohama, the hall was used as a movie theater.

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The architects were Yamada Shichiro and Sato Shiro, pupils of Tatsuno Kingo, who in turn had been a pupil of Josiah Conder, designer of Tokyo's long-gone Bricktown.

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An early image of the hall.

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Earlier still: designed by Yorinake Tsumake and opened in 1904, this was the head office of the pioneering Yokohama Specie Bank, which after World War II became the Bank of Tokyo, only to disappear in a merger with Mitsubishi.  Now the building is the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.  The dome was lost in the great earthquake but rebuilt in 1967, when the building became a museum. Otherwise, the building is original. Its sturdiness was appreciated early on. In A Historical Guide to Yokohama (2002) Burritt Sabin writes that when the great earthquake struck, "people fled to the fire-resistant structure.  Evacuees packed its underground floor.  Not all could squeeze in.  The 340 in the underground haven survived, but 140 charred bodies littered its entranceway."

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The Nihon Kasai Yokohama Building, formerly the Kawasaki Bank, from 1922. The architect was Yabe Matakichi, German trained and a student of Tsumaki. The highrise inflation dates from 1989.

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The former Fuji Bank (1929), now the Graduate School of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts.

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The former headquarters of NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha, or Japan Mail Steamship Company), now the NYK maritime museum.

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The Custom  House or Queen's Tower (1934, restored 2003).

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Shades of the Silk Road: in striving for the exotic, the Custom House architect wound up with a style more in keeping with overland than marine transport.

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The Kanagawa Prefectural Office (King's Tower), 1928.   Sabin writes that "its nine-story-tall tower, from which rises a sorin, a cylindrical column like that of a temple, lends the gravity due a prefectural government building.  It was a model for prefectural buildings elsewhere."

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Nearby: the new Casa D'Angela, a wedding chapel available for rent.

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