Yokohama: Multiculturalism

Photo Credit: Sorene, Paul.  The Barbarians Arrive: Japanese Depiction of Westerners (1860s). FlashBak, October 10th, 2015. This picture shows a meal with Japanese and American people eating together.

The Yokohama of Verne’s imagination is a vibrant multicultural hub with numerous foreign peoples and influences. For instance, Verne populates his Yokohama with European consuls and a vibrant European quarter. Signs in Yokohama read in English and a steam-ship system connects Yokohama to the Americas, Europe, and the Asian mainland.  Most significantly, the carnival troop that Passepartout joins is of American origin, and their audience is a blend of foreign and Japanese audience members. Although Verne’s interpretations of other ports have been skewed, his version of Yokohama is largely accurate (Verne).

Photo Credits:  Spoon, knife, and fork. Ichikawa Gakuzan, from Ransetsu benwaku, vol. 1, 1799. Image taken from the National Diet Library website: © [The National Diet Library, Japan]. Reproduced by permission of The National Diet Library, Japan. This picture is proof that the Japanese began to embrace some of the Western culture.

Yokohama’s multiculturalism is a result of its status a treaty port. As a treaty port, Yokohama was the bridge between Japan and the larger world. This cultural exchange was largely facilitated via trade. Droves of European and American traders and businessmen migrated to the city in order to bargain with Japanese merchants, who traded silk, tea, and lacquer for various exotic western goods (Partner, xix).  To accomplish this trade, Japanese merchants learned English (Hall, 45). Foreigners established numerous restaurants and hotels to entertain both Japanese and European traders alike. These establishments became hotbeds for cultural exchange. For example, it was within these luxury eaters and lounges that the Japanese began to experiment with European customs such as with the use of the forks and knives (Redfern). In addition to these eating habits, the Japanese men began to style their hair in western styles and they adopted western umbrellas and watches. Along with their male counterparts, women’s fashion changed to accommodate trends such as having un-blackened teeth and red eyebrows (Barr, 461). Moreover, as trade flourished in Yokohama, foreign governments established consuls in the city and various missionary groups flooded the streets eager to convert the Japanese (Kitson, 286). For the Japanese in the hinterland, Yokohama represented “the entire international community (Partner, 219).”