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Yokohama History, Japan

Yokohama: From Tiny Fishing Village to International Port City

What is now the renowned port city of Yokohama Japan was once a tiny fishing village with no contact with the outside world. It was only when it was opened as a port that it reached international city status, but that was in the late 1800s. Before that time, according to historical documents, Yokohama was ruled by the family of Yoshibumi Taira until the sixteenth century. Afterwards feudal rule set in. Yokohama, though then an important castle town, was still cordoned off from cultural and trade exchange with foreign influences following a national policy of isolation.

The curtain of isolation is lifted

The year 1854 changed all that. A peace and amity treat had been signed between the United States and Japan. Three years later a new treaty one of amity and commerce was signed by representatives of the U.S. Japan, Russia, Holland, France and Great Britain. Japan was opening up to the world and Yokohama was to be the port city to be opened in 1859. All these were under the acceptance of the ruling Shogunate. Naturally, the area needed the establishment of foreigner and native living zones.

With the municipal government set up in 1889, population increased and the modern city devoted to trade started opening itself to the world. Foreign products came rushing into the ports of a once isolated Yokohama: silk and wool. Therefore, structures to widen the silk trade were put up. With business booming, electricity was not long in coming--1890 marked the shine of the first light in Yokohama powered by the Yokohama Public Electric Co. A hospital was built a year later, then a gas and a newspaper publishing firm. Yokohama's essential base was formed.

Municipal expansion sets in

The expansion of the municipal government began in 1901, continued the year after and started again in 1927. The ward system came into being in the same year and divided Yokohama into 5 wards. More expansions followed expanding the municipal government's control and maintenance of the whole of Yokohama: in 1936,1939, 1969, 1985 until Yokohama reached a total of 18 wards.

Development surge halted by the war

Since Yokohama began devoting itself as a commercial port and trading city, industrialization sped up developments and investments but these were to be halted by the American bombing in 1945 during the Second World War. Continuous bombings and aerial raids claimed nearly 15000 of Yokohama’s inhabitants. Some 80000 houses were toppled down. Almost half the city was burned to cinders.

The port city returns

Yokohama's reconstruction after the Second World War was slow. Instead of being revived as the magnificent port city that it was, Yokohama after Japan's defeat in 1945 was overrun and taken over by Allied troops.  It was this commandeering of the city that delayed Yokohama's recovery as ninety percent of the port's facilities were used not by the native Japanese, but by foreign elements. Nevertheless, in 1951 Japan rose back: just as a treaty was signed opening the city to the world, another treaty was signed opening the city again. An independence treaty shifted the control of Yokohama from the national government to municipal hands. A year later, the Osanbashi Pier was returned to the Japanese people.

From then on Yokohama had claimed its status as international port city, one of Japan's key ports to the world.

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