For an insightful look at the opening of the port of Yokohama to foreign trade and the beginning of the city’s development you need to look no further than the Yokohama Archives of History. This museum and exhibition is housed in a new annex built in the grounds of the former British Consulate building (rebuilt in 1931 after the Great Kanto Earthquake) and for just 200 Yen entrance you can decide on a quick stroll round for an historical overview or linger for a detailed study of all the information boards.
Japan opened up to world trade after some two hundred years of isolation under the Tokugawa shogunate. The first room in the archives uses models, drawings, maps and reports to show how pressure mounted on Japan to accept foreign trade after China lost the opium wars. Illustrations of Perry’s black ships arriving in the bay mark the interest of local people in the event and the new possibilities and technologies they brought. There is a collection of drawings of Commodore Perry himself, all giving him a large nose and one caricaturing him as a demon. The exhibition room is laid out chronologically with information in both Japanese and English. It is well lit and easy to follow.
Front door of former British Consulate.
The second exhibition room concentrates on Yokohama’s early development and growth. The city began by exporting silk, and foreign troops were needed to keep the peace after several foreigners were killed. In this room the floor is printed with a map of Yokohama based on a survey produced by the Geographical Survey Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1881. Display cases hang from the ceiling over places on the map related to their contents. One case has a display of soap moulds and soaps that were manufactured, another has tiles and bricks made by the company of Alfred Gerard near Yamate. The display case over Chinatown shows photographs of daily life in the area and matchboxes with Chinese labels. At Osanbashi Pier the display shows foreign passports – the passports being needed to travel inland rather than overseas and at the Yokohama Customs house there is a model of a customs inspection in progress.
Side door of former Brisitsh Consulate.
Besides these two rooms with permanent exhibitions of Yokohama history there is special display room with a changing theme. Materials are taken from the Archives and borrowed from outside to create a themed exhibit.
In the courtyard of the Archives of History is a huge tabunoki tree. The US-Japan Treaty of Kanagawa (1854) was signed in a hall near to the tree. The original tree burned down in the fires that swept the city after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 but this tree has re-grown from the original roots.
A further room of the Archives is behind the tree in the building that was the former British Consulate. The old waiting room is called the Memorial Hall and features plaques with the names of those Consulate staff who died in the earthquake of 1923.
The Archives has a Reading Room with a large number of Japanese and English books and some open material such as newspapers that can be used if you are researching Yokohama history. The staff are friendly and helpful. The ticket office has a selection of postcards for sale, using old photographs of Yokohama’s buildings and street scenes from the late 1900’s into the 20th century.
Monument to Treaty of Amity.
In the grounds of the Archives is a small café, “Au Jardin De Perry” (8.00-17.00) with some outside seating if the weather is good, and next to it is the monument and square (Kaiko Hiroba) dedicated to the signing of the Japan-America Treaty of Amity, which led to the development of Yokohama.
Cafe Au Jardin De Perry.
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Address: 3 Nihon-odori, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken, 231-0021, Japan.
Operating Hours: 9:30 am-5:00 pm (admission until 4:30 pm); Closed on Mondays and year-end / New Year's holidays
Admission fees: ¥200 for adults, ¥100 for primary and junior high school students, ¥100 for Reading Room only