Foreigners in Nineteenth Century Treaty Port Japan

The opening of Treaty Ports in Japan, in particular the Treaty Port of Yokohama in 1858, brought with it an abundance of opportunity for foreign visitors and Japanese natives alike. One such opportunity, was for the local Japanese population to gain their “first impressions” of western foreigners arriving within the Treaty Port.[1] Many Japanese artists capitalised upon this opportunity within the form of Yokohama-e, a form of woodblock print associated with representations of visual depictions of the Treaty Port and primarily western foreigners who occupied a very small portion of the population residing within the port. John Downer’s essay “Yokohama Boomtown; Foreigners in Treaty Port Japan,” makes clear reference to one primary source which prompts wider questions into representations of foreigners of the five Treaty Port nations in Yokohama.


Utagawa Yoshitora’s, “Eight Views of Yokohama: Sails Returning to the Landing Pier,” 1861, depicts a typical woodblock scene of foreigners participating in leisure within the Treaty Port. Whilst the image, produced by local Yokohama woodblock artist Yoshitora, depicts the meeting of a couple, it is evident how such “first impressions” of foreigners catered more to the imagination then reality. As Dower has explored such images were produced with degree off caution on behalf of the Japanese artists, as for example as “foreign women [were viewed] as conspicuous as their merchant husbands.”[2]


This caution towards foreigners is also represented through artists idealised perception of foreigners. As Dower highlights further “the departure from strict reality” in which woodblock prints representing foreigners in Treaty Port Yokohama depict perhaps a more fanciful ideal reality to that of what was witnessed within Yokohama at the time. This is evident within Yoshitora’s treatment of foreign dress, as the foreign woman’s pineapple headdress which was employed to symbolise “a fashion statement that apparently was inspired by a profile on a U.S coin”, opposed to an actual worn garment. [3]


Whilst it was unlikely that the artist was in fact reproducing an image from a first-hand account, as Dower has argued many local artists took inspiration from the chronicle Illustrated London News, from which they gained inspiration as to the treatment of such European subjects. Further due to the proliferation of these images as well as the range and treatment of subjects in woodblock prints of Yokohama, there was a disproportionate amount of representations of foreigners as opposed to the modestly numbered foreign community living within the Treaty Port.


Nevertheless, the image represents how within local art and custom Japanese natives first interpreted and proliferated early impressions the people of the five treaty port nations, even if such were done with a slight air of caution.


Dower, John, “Yokohama Boomtown, Foreign community in Treaty Port Japan 1859-1872”, MIT Visualising Cultures, 2008,<> [10 October 2019].

Utagawa Yoshitora’s “Eight Views of Yokohama: Sails Returning to the Landing Pier,” Woodblock Print, 1861, Yokohama, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

[1] John Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown, Foreign community in Treaty Port Japan 1859-1872”, MIT Visualising Cultures, 2008,<> [10 October 2019].

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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