The Firsts in Japan from Yokohama, Part IV

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

– Part IV – Yatobashi-Yamashitabashi/Motomachi

Yatobashi/Yamashita-bashi Area


At around the bottom of the slope of Yatozaka, the Dutchman , Ludwicus Stornebrink founded an ice making plant in 1879 and named the company after him Records reveal that he applied to the Kanagawa government for permission to drain in river water from Horikawa in October, 1884. He installed water ducts from the river bank and using methyl as the freezing medium produced 3 tons of ice per day. It was later when ammonium replaced methyl. Towards the early 1900’s the company was bought out by Teikoku Ice Co., Ltd. which had its headquarters in Tokyo.



With the on-streaming trend of Westernization in Japan, Torakichi Ogura with just one razor in hand frequented the foreign ships that harbored in Yokohama and acquired the skill of haircutting by cropping the heads of the sailors. In 1869 he opened the first barber shop in Japan at a Chinese man’s house in the Foreign Settlement which is said to have been located around the area of Tung Fat Restaurant in the heart of China town. A monument stands in Yamashita Park.



20070626_ph01The American missionary, Dr. James Curtis Hepburn who was also an oculist and surgeon came to Japan in 1859 and dwelled in Yamashitacho. He spent 7even years in compiling the first Japanese-English Dictionary which was published in 1857 and it contained over 20,000 vocabularies. It was printed in Shanghai and sold for $12.00.

The Roman characters that he used for expressing the Japanese phonetics are known as Hepburnian system or “Hebon style” and is the official romaji used in Japan for passports and other documents.

In 1949, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of his arrival in Japan, a monument to his honor was set up at the present location of Yokohama National Government Building.



20070626_ph02From the days of opening the country, there were laundry shops but western style laundry shops were first started in 1859 by Tadashichi Aokiya at 1-chome Honcho to be followed by Zenbei Watanabe, Shosuke Kojima and Kinjiro Wakisawa in Motomachi for undertaking the requirements at the Foreign Settlement and hotels.

There is a monument to honor the contributions made by the Frenchman, Dombar who gave technical supervision to these early laundrymen at the foot of Yatozaka.



Isoemon Tsutumi who came from Isogo village learned the fundamentals of soap making from the French chemist/engineer, Leon Boelle and invested his entire fortune to this project and after repeated trials finally succeeded in production in 1873. It seems that Boelle intentionally did not give him the most important technical informationuntil the very last. It is claimed that soap was manufactured in Osaka and Nagasaki 1~2 years earlier but there are no authentication to the claims. His plant was in the vicinity of Urafunecho not anything near Yatobashi or Motomachi.



See Sports in Part VI

Motomachi Area

Residents on the peninsular were ordered to move out when the government decided on the construction at the place of the opening of the country in 1860 and they chose the area at the foot of the hills of Yamate. No sooner than later the canal Horikawa was dug which separated Motomachi from Kannai which was the area for the opening of Japan to foreign countries. They were thus isolated and forced to live in the narrow strip along the canal at the Yamate foothills loising their livelihood of farming and fishing. However with the meager support from the government they acquired new techniques of living and served the needs of the foreigners living on the bluff and started business such as bakery, dressmakers, chinaware shops, furniture makers, and others. They continued such businesses even after the abolition of the Foreign Settlement.


20070626_ph03Responding to the needs of the Foreign Settlement, the Frenchman, Alfred Girard started a plant for baking of tiles and bricks at the location where the current Motomachi Pool is. The oldest tile excavated has the production date inscribed as “1873, 2522”, the 2522 meaning the year of the Japanese emperorship. There is a plate explaining the Girard tiles in front of the pool entrance. On the roof of the pool office itself are tiles with dates inscribed 1878,1885 and 1887. He later machinerized his plant with steam engines but the tiles and bricks did not suit Japanese tastes plus he lost out in price competition against those handmade product of the Japanese craftsmen.

20070626_ph04The plant was very large and covered 2.76 acres (11,200m2 or 3,370 tsubo). There is a plate for the “Birthplace of Western Tiles in Japan” in the present Motomachi Park. Girard also was in the business of supplying water to ships and water from numerous fountains in the area were popular and is said to have lasted as good drinking water even after the ong trip to India. His reservoir discovered in 1988 is now preserved as a pocket park between the pool and the shopping center.




20070626_ph07The Tokugawa government decided to enter negotiations on the Treaty of Amity and Friendship with the American delegation led by Cmdr. Matthew Calbraith Perry but it took a long time to select the site of the meeting. Then it was suddenly resolved that the location would be at Komagata Bay of Yokohama Village (current Kaikoh Hiroba) and building of the trade negotiations site became an immediate requirement. In order to meet the deadline, the construction majistrate used tents for roofs and outer walls and in order to make its appearance look better, decided to on the use of western style paint for which the Japanese were completely inexperienced in use.

Tatsugoro Machida, a lacquer ware craftsman from Edo was ordered for this undertaking but even after repeatedtrials he was unsuccessful. The government finally requested supply of oil and paint from the American vessel and with the supervision of the American workers completed the building. This was the first painting ever done in Japan. A monument for the “Birthplace ofJapanese Paint” was erected in the lot before the Motomachi Pool.



20070626_ph08Just outside the children’s playground in the lot before the Motomachi Pool is a monument designating the site of Taisho Motion Picture Studios. This company was established in 1920 by Ryozo Asano, son of the tycoon Soichiro Asno who founded Asano Cement Co., Ltd. During the worldwide depression years only 10 films were produced and the company dispersed after 3 years and Shochiku Film took over. Among the screenwriters was Junichiro Tanizaki, and had among the directors, Thomas Kurihara who was trained in Hollywood and Tomu Uchida.



In 1862, Nobunari Amenomori , upon request from foreign residents first opened a tea parlor at 101 Sengenyama of Motomachi. It is recorded that Cmdr. Stepan Osipovich Makarov of the Russian Fleet had visited this parlor.

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