THIS IS A description of two pleasurehouses to be found in Yokohama during the second half of the nineteenth century. In this study we have to be aware that we are dealing with one era in history, 1859-1903, three generations ago, when beliefs and attitudes, mores and morals, in both Western and Japanese societies were different from those of the present. Therefore we have to beware of making present-day comparisons and drawing conclusions.
In historical perspective, we see Commodore Perry and his famous Black Ships of the US Navy in 1853 forcing in the wedge to open Japan after 220 years of isolation. Then the arrival of the first American consul, Townsend Harris, at Shimoda in 1856 and his subsequent journey to Edo (Tokyo) where, according to the appropriately titled book by Pat Barr, The Coming of the Barbarians, the Shogun stated to Harris: ‘Intercourse shall be continued forever!’
At this time Yokohama was a small fishing village of just 101 families living on the sandy shoreline in wood and reed huts next to a river with the sea in front of them and a swamp behind. But two years later great developments had taken place. Large warehouses had been hastily erected for the Western businessmen, and accommodation built for them and other foreigners who were arriving under the terms of the unequal treaties. A small pier extended out into the sea and a customs house constructed next to it. Part of the swamp had been drained and infilled and the Gankiro built at the end of a long raised path that ran inland from the seafront. Cherry blossom trees were planted around it and a well-tended garden of 205 tsubo with stone paths appeared.
The building itself was 806 tsubo and was opened in grand style in 1859 with the whole foreign community present, except the missionaries and the priests. Small presents of a fan and piece of porcelain were given to all present, and a huge painted banner draped from the building proclaimed: ‘This place is for the amusement of foreigners’. By 1862 there were 15 such pleasure houses in the area known as Miyozaki, which later became Yokohama Park and where the Whales baseball stadium now stands, but the Gankiro was still the most impressive.