The Firsts in Japan from Yokohama, Part I

by Luke (Schneider) Oyama ’54
[Luke takes us through the history of Yokohama in this six part article – enjoy!]

-Part I- Yokohama-Sakuragi-cho and Honcho-dori

Yokohama Station to Sakuragicho Area

20070124_ph01GAS STATION

The first gas station in Japan was built and operated by Yokohama Beiyu Co., Ltd. in mid 1920’s at the location where now stands Yokohama Plaza Hotel close to Yokohama train station.

There is a monument indicating the birthplace of this first gas station in Japan erected by said company in 1974.



In 1875 Kousuke Mochimaru imported machinery from America and built a plant in Hiranuma. This was earlier than the match company in Tokyo which claimed that it was the first in Japan. It was in the same year that the American, T.L. Brower started his Japan Safety Match Company in Tobe area with a “train” label and there is every possibility that this plant was the one which Mochimaru had built but it cannot be authenticated. Rinzo Kikubayashi who sold the matches made by Brower, later built a match plant at Miyoshicho which he claimed was the first in Japan for matches fully made by the Japanese. It is said he employed 300 inmates of Tobe Prison in about 1874/5, and it is

interesting to note that convicts were allowed to handle poisonous and dangerous chemicals required in the manufacture of matches.



In 1872, the first gas plant was built by Kaemon Takashima under the supervision of the Frenchman, Henri A.Pelegrin in Hanasakicho at the current location of Honcho Grammar School for fueling street side gas lamps. Its production capacity was 80,000 cu. ft. per day with an 8 furnace gas generator and 3,000 cu. ft. storage tank.

A monument stands at the entrance of the school.

20070124_ph02Takashima competed with the Germans to obtain government approval for the rights to constructgas lamps alongside streets and with the aid of foreign residents of Yokohama won the majority
Operations were taken over by Yokohama (Municipal) Gas Works in1892 which continued until 1944 when it was transferred to the present Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.





20070124_ph03Under supervision of Lt. Col. Henry Spencer Palmer of the British Engineering Corp., a water duct over 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Doshikawa (Tsukui Town) to Nogeyama water reservoir was completed in 1887. He was involved in planning waterworks elsewhere in Japan as well as harbor construction of Yokohama and the designing of Yokohama Dockyard.

In commemoration of the centennial of the water duct, his bust and a memorial for the “Birthplace of Waterworks” with a plate tracing his achievements were erected at the former Nogeyama Water Reservoir site.

0peration of the waterworks by the prefectural government was transferred to Yokohama City in 1889.



The first railways of Japan were laid between Yokohama and Tokyo (Shinagawa) in 1872 under the supervision of the British engineer, Edmund Morel and business started temporarily (two roundtrips a day) in May of that year. With the completion of the tracks to Shinbashi for a total mileage of 28 kilometers (17.5 miles) operations were officially begun in September with nine roundtrips per day requiring 53 minutes each way. The crew were all British.

Train fares were then 1.25 yen for first class, 0.75 yen for second class and 0.375 yen for third class. A bowl of soba (buckwheat) noodles in those days cost 0.005 yen and so it calculates that the train fare was equivalent to 75 bowls. It is also noted that 10 kilograms (22 lbs.) of rice could be bought for 0.357 yen.

Yokohama station was located a little south towards the direction of Bashamichi from the present day Sakuragicho station and a monument made from material of the then used rails was erected by Yokohama Tourist Association in 1967.

20070124_ph04The original Yokohama Station was moved away in 1928 to Takashimacho where it is now, and the old station was named Sakuragicho. The newly named Sakuragicho station was rebuilt a little to the north of the former site in 1927 and it is Sakuragicho Station of today after several renovations.

20070124_ph05On the left pillar of the entrance of an underpass crossing in front of the birthplace monument of railways is an inscription designating the ‘Site of Yokohama Station Master’s Office. It is so small and so moderately inscribed that it is easily overlooked.

Instead of going around the bay called Sodegaura which used to be from Nogeyama to Daimachi-no-oka (current Kanagawa), railroad tracks were laid on the causeway of the dyke constructed for the purpose, and cut through direct across the sea from Sakuragicho.

Morel died of exhaustion and tuberculosis and could
not see the completion of the railroad in Japan. He lies buried at the Foreign Cemetery on the Bluff. Behind his grave is stone plate erected in 1962 with words to his honor.

On the wall of Sakuragicho Station at the bottom of the stairs from the platform before exiting is an engraving showing his bust donated in 1958 by Yokohama Rail Fan Club.

20070124_ph07As a means to economically climax the inauguration of the railway, Suguru Oe, then Governor of Kanagawa ordered every household to set up the Rising Sun flag and lanterns on their doors as he had been informed it was economical and effective in developing the atmosphere of festivity and that it was customary in foreign countries in those years. This ignited the central government to enact a law in 1873 to adorn every household door with national flags on statutory holidays but was abolished with the termination of World War II.

Honcho-Dori (Sakuragicho to Yatobashi)


Introduction of rubber stamps using the inkpad was revolutionary in the stamp making business. The first rubber stamp in Japan was made by a printer by the name of Sessai Fujimoto at his shop near Benten-bashi close to Sakuragicho. His relative and photographer, Senri Suzuki traveled to Shanghai at around 1887 and he was amazed
and attracted to the rubber stamps being used there. Suzuki spent an enormous amount of money (50 yen, ca. \4 million current value) to acquire the art and upon his return, persuaded his relative, the printer, to start the rubber stamp business.



20070124_ph08Though it is claimed that Zozen Sakuma first experimented on telegraphing in 1849, and a monument to that effect as the birthplace of telegraphs exists in Matsushiro, Nagano Prefecture, it is considered that the experiment conducted under the supervision of the English engineer, George Gilbert in Yokohama with equipment imported from France was the first to succeed. This experiment in 1869 was telegraphing for a distance of 2,200 ft. (670M) between the present Kanagawa District Court to the vicinity of the current Yokohama Coast Guard Headquarters. In the following year (1870), lines were completed between telegraphic offices in Yokohama and Tokyo Maritime Transportation Office in Akashicho, 82 miles, 32kilometers) and the official handling of telegrams started.

Those were the days when it was that that telegraphs were Western black magic and lines were often cut or poles felled. There were also those who sincerely believed that it was a means of cargo transportation and things were hung onto the lines.

At the entrance of Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office building at the Nihon-odori crossing is a memorial monument denoting “The Founding site of Telegraphic Operations”. This monument was set up by Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Public Corporation in1963. Its counterpart monument has also been set up in Tokyo.



International postal services started in 1875, the year after Yokohama Post Office (current Yokohama Minato Post Office, a.k.a. Yokohama Port Post Office located diagonally across from Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office) was constructed. Until then, U.S., British, and French consulates had their own postal agencies within their premises and undertook postal affairs to their respective countries using their own revenue stamps but because the services were not intended for the Japanese to use, no international mail were delivered to them.

20070124_ph09The Government, in 1873, dispatched Samuel M. Bryan, one of its foreigner employees to the United States for negotiating The Postal Convention which was ratified in 1874 and, followed by Japan’s admission to the Universal Postal Union, postal agencies in the consulates were discontinued. Bryan also concluded a contract with Pacific Mail Steamship Company, to carry foreign mail and full fledged international operations were begun in 1875. He was appointed the first Postmaster General of Japan.

In commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of Commencement of the
International Postal Services, a post box with the inscription “Letters Connect the World”, was set up at the entrance of Yokohama Minato Post Office. In 1975, on the outside wall of this office, a metal plate with the reading “Office of Foreign Postal Services Inauguration” was installed.



Telephone services, then known as Telephone Exchange Services between Yokohama and Tokyo began in 1890. There were 155 in Tokyo and 42 subscribers in Yokohama at the start and one public phone in Yokohama. There were four male telephone switchboard operators in the beginning but by 1897 they were all replaced by women.







At the Osanbashi crossing of Honcho-dori across the street in front of Hotel Continental Yokohama is a monument which implies the beginning of telephone operations as well as a wall art to this effect. Diagonally across Honcho-dori, the hotel is the exit of Nihon-Odori subway station of Minato-Mirai Line where now is situated the Museum of Yokohama Urban History. On the wall of this building is a plate showing that it was the location of the former Yokohama Trunk Line Telephone Office.


(see CATHOLICS in Part V)


20070124_ph13The British housewife, R.C. Pearson first opened her dress making shop in 1863 and a monument to indicate its location was constructed at the entrance of Hotel Sun Port on Honcho-dori in 1995. Elizabeth Brown, wife of the American missionary, Nathan Brown (cf. BAPTISTS in Part V) who came to Japan in 1859 taught Tatsugoro Sawano, a tabi (two split Japanese footwear) maker the art of dress making and he became the first tailor in Japan. He is said to have tailored suits for Prince Higashi Fushimi as well as dresses for Duchess Inoue.

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