Sorrow and Loneliness in Suma

Utamakura are “pillow-words” that have, through centuries of literary convention, come to convey a whole slew of imagery and emotion in a concise package. They often also coincide with meisho—famous places that have come to be associated with certain imagery and themes. And, as far as utamakura and meisho go, Suma is a big one…Continue reading

The Exile of Yukihira at Suma (Kitagawa Utamaro)

Black Saké Rice Wine

The weather and quality of nature of the Hakoné region are perfect for the production of saké. Similar to beer, saké is a type of brewed alcoholic drink (from rice grain), which depending on the steps taken in its fermenting process, can be manipulated to create a wide range of saké types…Continue reading


The Lake of Omi Province

The Lake of Ōmi (now called Lake Biwa, or 琵琶湖) is situated in what used to be Ōmi province, now known to us as Shiga (滋賀) prefecture. It is the largest lake in Japan, and takes up a large amount of the prefecture. It is mentioned numerous times in the Manyoshu, an anthology of poems compiled sometime after 759 AD…Continue reading


Gokaikō Yokohama no zenzu


Gokaiko_Yokohama_no_zenzu-18591Gokaikō Yokohama no zenzu 

“Gokaikō Yokohama no zenzu” (Panoramic view of the open port of Yokohama) is a map of the Yokohama port created by the artist, Utagawa Sadahide, in 1859. The artist uses the woodblock painting technique to print ink and color on paper. The painting depicts steamships from Japan, the Netherlands, United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia in the harbor shortly after its opening to foreign trade and is viewed “from Kayasu village” or Kanagawa across from the port.


Utagawa Sadahide

Utagawa Sadahide also known as Hashimoto or Go’untei Sadahide (1807- 1878), was one the most famous painters of the woodblock printing (ukiyo-e prints) of his time. He studied under Kunisada I and was especially known for his Yokohama landscape prints and portraits. During his career he produced over eighty-five Yokohama prints, of which twenty-nine were created in 1861, and forty-three in 1862[1]. Some of his works were displayed at the Paris World Fair in 1867[2]. In addition to his woodblock prints, Sadahide also published Yokohama travel guides. His guides were illustrated and targeted to a mass market. His first guide, “A Yokohama Souvenir”, was published in 1860. Then in 1862 he published, “Things seen and heard at the open port of Yokohama” which depicted the Western’s style of dress, appearance, and way of life[3].

 Opening of Yokohama

Sadahide’s map of the Yokohama harbor in 1859, depicts the port shortly after its opening to the West. This was a pivotal time in Japanese history that resulted in great political, economic, and cultural change. In 1853 Commodore Perry, on behalf of the United States, arrived in Edo Bay demanding that Japan conduct trade. Perry’s fleet, which consisted on 9 ships, showed they were prepared to use force if Japan refused to negotiate an agreement[4].

When Commodore Perry  returned to Japan again in 1854, the Japanese opened up the treaty negotiations conference in Yokohama. Eventually after many objections, the two countries reached an agreement.


Treaty of Kanagawa 

The Treaty of Peace and Amity, also known as the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed in 1854, was the first treaty agreement between Japan and the United States. By its terms the Japanese were required to extend kindness and assistance to any Americans shipwrecked along the coast, as well as supply provisions to any American ships in need[5]. Additionally in accordance with the agreement, the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate were to be opened up to American ships for trade[6].

After the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed, Admiral Sterling, on behalf of Great Britain demanded a similar treaty with Japan a few months later[7]. These preliminary treaties were followed by the Ansei Treaties, which expanded Japanese trade relations to include the Netherlands, France, and Russia, in addition to the United States and Great Britain.


Treaty Negotiations 

The Tokugawa bakufu’s understanding of what happened to China after they attempted to oppose Great Britain demands in the 1830’s compared to the Kingdom of Siam’s “more equitable relations” influenced Japan’s decision to cooperate with the Western powers’ demands. They decided to use the tactic negotiation to defend themselves against the foreigners’ encroachment[8].

Japan’s main concern with treaty negotiations was maintaining boundaries since it was a crucial part of the Tokugawa bankfu’s distinct diplomatic culture. Boundaries had been at the core of the bankfu’s ideology since their rise to power two and a half centuries prior to arrival of the United States Navy[9]. Their diplomatic relations and polices centered around three interlinking boundaries: ideological, intellectual, and physical. Ideological, the innermost of the boundaries, served to protect the shogun’s authority. The intellectual, then, was to cut off foreign knowledge that could lead to new ideas on government. Lastly the physical boundary, which was the outermost, separated Japan from any contact with foreigners with only a few controlled relationships as exceptions[10].

One of the most prominent figures in the internal Japanese debate over treaty agreements was maritime defense official, Iwase Tadanari. He was one of the first appointed to study at the new Institute for Western Studies and was an advocate for opening up Japan to freer trade[11]. His main argument for expanding trade was that it was a way for the Tokugawa bakufu to regain control over diplomatic issues that Japan had lost after Commodore Perry’s arrival. Even though Japan had no choice but to open up trade to the West, Iwase argued that if the bakufu could regain their control over diplomatic relations, that in turn it would increase their domestic authority[12].

It was Iwase who suggested that Japan choose Yokohama as a treaty port to open up foreign trade. He proposed that Japan should concede to the Westerns’ demands, but construct a new boundary that contained the foreigners to Yokohama. At the time Yokohama was only a small fishing village that was across the bay from the post station of Kanagawa. Yokohama was appealing to the bakufu because of its location: it was close to Edo, but not too close.The foreigners living there were at least a full day ride away from the Edo, but it was also close enough to the capital that the bakufu could quickly resolve any problems that arose. This ensured that the shogun would maintain control over both foreign and domestic trade in addition to preventing any major daimyo or Osaka merchants from profiting from foreign trade[13].

Ansei Treaties 

The treaties, which were signed in the fifth year of the Ansei Era, were given the official name of the Ansei Treaties. However, many later generations in Japan began to refer to them as the “unequal treaties”. They were similar to other pacts that Western imperial powers had signed in Asia, particularly in the case of China and England, in regard that the treaties denied the Japanese the right to set their own tariffs, gave the Western nations the most favored nation status, and contained provisions for Western exterritoriality[14].

The treaty exposed many of the weakness of Japan and its leadership under the Tokugawa shogunate. Violence against the foreigners in treaty ports, such as Yokohama, forced the bakufu to make concession after concession to the westerns which in turn portrayed them as weak to the Japanese leading to their growing unpopularity. Seriously weakened by domestic and foreign issues, the bakufu was unable to make the necessary reforms needed to modernize [15].

Ten years after the treaties were signed the Tokugawa shogunate fell and the Meiji government took its place, having gained a lot of support with its anti- foreign rhetoric. It was under the Meiji leadership that Japan became a modern nation state and joined the West as an imperial power by the end of the 19th century.



  1. William Steele, Alternative Narratives in Modern Japanese History (New York, NY:Routledge, 2003), 21.
  2. Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, “Tokugawa-jidai” in Japan Encyclopedia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 265.
  3. Steele, Alternative Narratives in Modern Japanese History, 24.
  4. John R. Black, Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo (New York: Baker, Pratt, 1883),  1.
  5. Black, Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo, 15.
  6. Michael R. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009),  1.
  7. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 36-37.
  8. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 37.
  9. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 201.
  10. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 201.
  11. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 37.
  12. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 37.
  13. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 38.
  14. Auslin, Negotiating with Imperialism, 1.
  15. David Flath, The Japanese Economy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005),  3.



Auslin, Michael R.. Negotiating with Imperialism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univserity Press, 2009.

Black, John R.. Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo. New York: Baker, Pratt, 1883.

Flath, David. The Japanese Economy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric.”Tokugawa-jidai” in Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Steele, William. Alternative Narratives in Modern Japanese History. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.