When Japan opened up to America and Europe after the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, Yokohama became a gateway for the introduction of new technologies and Western culture. Items such as ice cream, games such as tennis, and expertise in areas such photography all made their first appearance in Yokohama. These ‘firsts’ are celebrated with a mixture of monuments, statues and plaques that dot the city and even during a short visit to Yokohama you will probably come across several of them.
To one side of Sakuragicho station is a monument made partly from iron rails and set on a plinth in the shape of a locomotive wheel. It commemorates the site of the Japan’s first railway, which opened in May 1872 between Yokohama station and Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Later the same year the line was extended to Shimbashi. In 1928 Yokohama station was relocated and Sakuragicho station was opened.
The strange stone tablet with a pattern that looks like radio waves on Nihon Odori Avenue, outside the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office is a monument to the Site of Japan’s first telegraph. In 1870, telegraph lines were completed between Yokohama and Tokyo and people and businesses were able to send telegrams. Apparently in the early days the lines were often cut or destroyed since the system was thought to involve magic.
A small statue of an elegantly dressed Western woman carrying a parasol close to an entrance to Motomachi Chukagai station on Honcho-dori Avenue is Mrs. Pearson. She opened a dress making shop here in the Western Settlement in 1863. Her shop was beginning of western-style dressmaking in Japan.
There are a number of historical monuments on Bashamichi Street. These include the statue of “Mother and Child in the Sun” which marks the location of Japan’s first ice cream shop, and silver replica of a camera which is where Japan’s first photographer’s studio, run by Renjo Shimo-oka was set up. Also on Bashimichi is a stone pillar signifying the first street to be tree-lined. In 1867 the shopkeepers planted willows and pines and it remains a tree-lined street today. The first gas lamps in Yokohama were also installed on Bashimichi and in front of the Kannai Hall is a copper plaque, flanked by two gas lamps commemorating this.
Yokohama Park has played an important role in the history of Yokohama. It was the first park in Japan, opened in 1876 and was designed by R. H. Brunton. The park provided a refuge for many people after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, when fires destroyed much of the community. Until 1909 the park was home to a cricket pitch, but nowadays it houses the Yokohama baseball stadium. There is a monument to the Oldest Park in Japan and bust of Brunton near one of the entrances. Brunton was an engineer who originally arrived in Japan to build lighthouses, but also worked on surveying and mapping, launching gas lighting, creating the telegraph system and other engineering projects in Yokohama.
A large stone head known as Zangiri (cropped head) in Yamashita Park commemorates the opening of the first western-style barber’s shop in Yokohama in 1869. Until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the ending of samurai power, men’s hair had been worn in a queue.
Yokohama also boasts the first newspaper, iron bridge, telephone exchange, dental clinic, brewery, tennis courts and jazz in Japan. These achievements are marked by a number of statues, monuments and plaques. For more details see the informative maps published by the Yokohama Naka-ku ward office and keep your eyes open as you walk around the city.