Japan As They Saw It

Arriving at Yokohama

In 1862

    The scene which met us on landing, and through which we walked to Mr. Brower’s house, was no less novel than busy. At the head of the quay we passed a long low building with black walls and paper windows. This was the custom-house, and a large number of men bearing two swords, and shuffling in sandals in and out at the doors, were the officials of this service. The broad streets, leading through the foreign quarter, were crowded with Japanese porters, bearing merchandise to and from the quay, each pair with their burden between them on a pole, and marking time independently of the others, with a loud monotonous cry—whang hai! whang hai!
    We immediately reported ourselves by letters to the Governor of Kanagawa, and receiving an answer from that officer that he would communicate with the Government at Yeddo, we settled down to await further orders.

Raphael Pumpelly, Across America and Asia, 1870

In 1869

    When our steamer dropped anchor in the harbor of Yokohama, we were immediately surrounded by these sampans. From the deck we saw the small, frail vessels and the almost naked boatmen, with their skin bronzed by constant exposure to the sun and wind. The first view of the Japanese is not prepossessing, nor are the tones of their voices, when first heard, agreeable to the ear. But we could not dwell upon these early impressions, as we were anxious to reach the city of Yokohama, that lay just a mile from us. So bidding adieu to the officers of the Great Republic and to our fellow-passengers, whose destination was still farther on to China, the Flowery Kingdom—we descended the ladder by the side of the steamer, stepped cautiously into a sampan, and with our baggage were soon landed on the shore.

Julia D. Carrothers, The Sunrise Kingdom, or Life and Scenes in Japan, and Woman’s Work for Woman There, 1879

In 1875

    On coming on deck early on the morning of November 1st, I found the Japanese land before us. The outline of mountains rising to considerable heights, and sinking with wooded sides into the water, with countless white sails of junks in the foreground, constituted a lovely scene, which a month at sea fitted us to enjoy. The sail up the arm of the sea, in which Yokohama is situated, and which extends to Yeddo, is very fine, reminding me of the entrance to Plymouth Sound.
    At twelve o’clock, after a passage of thirty days, six hours, twenty-eight minutes, we anchored opposite the beautiful town of Yokohama, in a harbour filled with men-of-war and ships of various nations, when I took leave of Captain Howard and the “Alaska,”
        “Though lost to sight, to memory dear,”
as the baron said of her, and once more set foot on terra firma.
    I established myself at the Grand Hotel—a very comfortable house—managed by a company, of which Mr. Smith, a gentleman whose public spirit has done much for Yokohama, and to whose courtesy and knowledge of Japan travellers who consult him are much indebted, is a leading director. There are several other hotels in the town. The first thing which strikes one on landing is the jinrikisha, the conveyance of the country, which is a seat placed on wheels, and drawn by one or, for longer distances, two men, who run along, sometimes going as much as seven miles an hour. It is comfortable, though for my part I do not like turning men into cattle. In the afternoon I paid a visit to Yeddo, returning to Yokohama to dinner. The distance of nearly twenty miles is accomplished by a railway, recently constructed, which runs at a little distance from the shores of the gulf, through fields of rice, passing several villages. The snowy mass of Fusiama, the great volcano of Japan, rising to the height of nearly 13,000 feet, looks very striking from the line.

Robert Nicholas Fowler, A Visit to Japan, China, and India, 1877

In 1876

    We were now steaming under the stars in the calm waters of Yedo Bay. Presently a floating light was rounded, and a few minutes later we dropped anchor in the harbour of Yokohama. Blue lights were burned, and a shot fired from the vessel was answered by another from the shore. The lights of the town, about a mile off, were here and there intersected by the dark masts and funnels of the vessels in port. The calm dark water reflected both the lights on shore and the less regular ships’ lights, and, stirred here and there by the measured dips of oars, cast a beautiful phosphorescence. With the subdued hum from the town mingled the tones of the various ships’ watch-bells, ringing clearly in harmony or succession.
    A number of small boats shortly appeared, making for the steamer; and soon we were boarded by the agent for the company, the usual array of hotel servants, etc., etc. I had the good fortune to be saluted by my friend Henderson, who, welcoming me to Japan, invited me to his house. Getting on board one of the Japanese boats, we were sculled ashore by two almost nude boatmen, landing at the English hatoba, or landing stage. Then, getting each into a jin-riki-sha, we were rapidly drawn by men with black hair and yellow skins through the streets of the settlement and up the avenues of the Bluff, to Mr Henderson’s residence, a bungalow surrounded by shrubbery. As we sat at supper, the cicada was singing vigorously, a mosquito frequently passed one’s ear with its thin hum, and black beetles were flying aimlessly about the room, continually knocking against the walls with a buzz of mortification, and then falling stunned on the floor.

William Gray Dixon, The Land of the Morning: An Account of Japan and Its People, Based on a Four Years’ Residence in That Country, Including Travels into the Remotest Parts of the Interior, 1882

In 1879

    Early on the morning of the 11th [of January] we went upon deck and saw the pleasant town of Yokohama, with its long line of European-looking buildings extending along the sea-front, and its charming residences high up on “The Bluff,” on our left. In the roadstead or harbour were ships of all nations, including British, American, and German men-of-war, with the flag of Japan floating proudly from many a war-vessel, one of which, the ironclad frigate Foo-so, I had myself had the privilege to design and have built for his majesty the emperor. After breakfast the steam-launches were again alongside, and several young officers whom we had known in England had come out in them to escort us to the port admiral’s landing-place, where we were most cordially received by their excellencies Admiral Kawamura and Mr. Enouyé Kawori, the ministers of marine and of public works respectively, both of whom we had had the pleasure of knowing in England. With them were Admiral Ito and several naval and civil officers, some of whom we already knew, and others whose acquaintance we then made for the first time, as we did also that of Captain Hawes, an English officer who had established and brought to a condition of great excellence a corps of Japanese marines whose disbandment subsequent events had brought about.

Edward J. Reed, Japan: Its History, Traditions, and Religions, with the Narrative of a Visit in 1879, 1880

In 1880

    We anchored in the bay of Yeddo, after a rough unpleasant passage in the American steamer ‘City of Tokio,’ from Hong Kong this morning. Bright cold air and bright blue sea, the passengers going about in sealskin jackets, and the American stewardess gorgeous in maroon satin and velvet. She has been reading the last new English novel in the ‘Social Hall’ on deck, but condescends sometimes to come downstairs and give me some soup. Japanese boats, propelled by funny little men with quaint paddles fixed in the bow of their craft, wriggle along in a surprising manner. We got into the Grand Hotel ‘house-boat,’ a sort of covered gondola, and passing under English and American and French gunboats and big steamers, come in to load with Japanese silk and tea, reached the Custom House, where polite little Japanese officials, in European costume, with much bowing and many apologies, examined our baggage, and looked unkindly at my Canton silk. However, the big British ‘Commissionaire’ from the hotel took the bundle under his arm and walked off with us, and the luggage followed in a cart drawn by human ponies, active, laughing little men. A Frenchman keeps this hotel; said to be ‘the best in the world,’ and showed us cheerful rooms looking out on the Bay, with large plate-glass windows and French furniture. Japanese housemaids, little men in black tights and straw sandals, their hair done up in door-knockers at the top of their head, bowed politely, skipped about, got all our luggage together, and instructed us in the art of ringing the electric bells, much in use in this ‘go-ahead’ land.

F. D. Bridges, Journal of a Lady’s Travels Round the World, 1883

In 1887

    On the next morning, May 15th, I awoke at about half-past four o’clock. Looking out of my port window, I saw that the sun was shining brightly and that two fishing junks were passing us, outward bound. It did not take me long to dress and hurry on deck, where I found most of the passengers already assembled. We were steaming up Yokohama Bay. On either side of us were the green shores of Japan, and Fujiama (i. e. the peerless mountain), snow-capped and in majestic beauty, was plainly seen, although about seventy miles distant. The blue water, the glorious sky, the pretty gardens, the brilliant verdure, the odd-looking bungalows, the queerly-built craft in the shape of junks and sampans, with their swarthy, sinewy, half-naked crews—all combined to make a scene that I shall never forget. All seemed so new, so strange, so beautiful, that in my enthusiasm I felt it would have been worth making the journey of some eight thousand miles, if only for the sake of experiencing the delights of that joyous entry into Japan.
    It was about eight o’clock in the morning when we dropped anchor before Yokohama, and a little while later the crowd of sampans that we had seen coming out to meet us drew up along side of the San Pablo. Boatmen and runners were soon jostling each other in the effort to be first on the companion ladder that led to the steerage, for their business lay chiefly in that quarter. In the meanwhile, small steam launches had arrived; one to carry away the mails, another in the service of the steamer company, and still another from the Grand Hotel. We embarked on this, gladly giving up the chance of another breakfast on the San Pablo for the sake of once more enjoying a meal on land. In less than ten minutes from that time I stepped ashore at the English hatoba (landing place), paid my respects to the polite custom-house officers, jumped into a jin-ricsha (the one-man phaeton which is the principal vehicle in this country), and was hurried along the Bund to the Grand Hotel.

Simon Adler Stern, Jottings of Travel in China and Japan, 1888

In 1887

    The long, lonely passage from San Francisco to Japan, where for nearly three weeks there is neither island, rock, ship, or sail within the range of vision, prepares one to expect strange sights and scenes when land appears again; nor is he disappointed. To one who makes here his first acquaintance with life in the Orient, the scene as we enter the harbor of Yokohama is a novel one. Scores of small craft shoot out from shore and gather about the steamer as we drop anchor, or scurry in her wake if the anchor is not yet lowered. The boatmen scull their crafts each with a single oar, and crowd and scramble for places near the ship, clamoring and screaming at each other like very demons, and yet without the least hostile intent or demonstration; and making fast with hook or rope, climb the side of the vessel like nimble-footed monkeys, ready to serve, for a moderate compensation, any one who desires to reach the shore with the least delay. In soliciting passengers, however, there is none of the clamor or ado so freely indulged among themselves in gathering about the ship. They proffer their services and await results, and if unsuccessful show no ill-humor or chagrin. Some public servants we wot of in America might well take lessons in good manners of the Japanese.

James Henry Chapin, From Japan to Granada, 1889

In 1891

    The 23rd [of September] was a dull rainy day, but we anchored in Yokohama harbour by 7 a.m., and from that moment the fun began. Dozens of “sampans” (canoes) surrounded the Empress, full of the quaintest Japanese, who crowded to the ship’s side and climbed up the rope-ladder, eager to help in the unloading. Some were extremely lightly clothed, and others wore long dressing-gowns of Liberty blue cotton, but all looked in the best of tempers, and it was quite difficult to withdraw our heads from the port-holes in order to attend to the rescue of our baggage from the hold. This proved to be a serious task, but at last it was safely accomplished, and, by the kindness of Mr. Walters, of Yokohama, we went ashore in the consul’s boat. It was not unlike a gondola in shape, and the sailors at either end pulled a clumsy oar and gently crooned to themselves meanwhile. We landed a few minutes after 9 a.m., and found ourselves at once in the hands of the neatest set of little Japanese custom-house officers. We had nothing contraband in our boxes; so after a rapid examination they were passed without any difficulty, except indeed, one tiny pot of “pomade divine,” sealed with red wax, which, until explanations were given, was evidently considered to contain dynamite at the very least. It was a thrilling moment—that landing in Japan—in spite of all the outside details of luggage, etc., that usually interfere with thrilling moments in long journeys, and we all felt it to be so.

Mary Bickersteth, Japan As We Saw It, 1893

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