Yokohama’s Nojima Koen Park

Foreign Footsteps in Yokohama 7 - Felice Beato

By Tomoko Kamishima    - 4 min read

Before Japan opened her doors to the rest of the world, the Kanazawa district in Yokohama commanded a stunning view of the water; this area was called Kanazawa Hakkei (literally “The 8 Wonderful Views in Kanazawa”). Italian-British photographer, Felice Beato took photos of this area 150 years ago.

Nojima Koen Park

Nojima is a small island just off the shore in the Kanazawa district. It used to be a place of scenic beauty with complicated inlets. From Kanazawa-hakkei Station on the Keikyu Line, you can enjoy a nice stroll to Nojima Island, enjoying the view of the bay and extended shore. Unfortunately, Nojima is now connected with Kanazawa by bridges, and it doesn’t seem like an island anymore.

Inside the park, there is a baseball field, barbecue area, a small shrine, an observatory tower, and the former summerhouse of Japan’s first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito.

Observatory Tower

The observatory on the hilltop of Nojima Island is 57 meters above sea level. There is nothing to obstruct your view. It’s just amazing! To the north you can see Yokohama’s Minato Mirai, to the east is Natsu-shima Island and Chiba prefecture, to the south is Yokosuka, and to the west is Kamakura. It’s totally tranquil and peaceful.

Summerhouse

This thatched-roof house (built in 1898) nestled into the northeast coast of Nojima Island faces Tokyo Bay. You can go inside the house for free. A busy Ito usually arrived at the house at night by ship. At that time, all the stone lanterns in the garden were lit up to greet him.

Felice Beato

Felice Beato was born in Venice, Italy in 1832. He was raised on the Mediterranean island of Corfu—a British protectorate at that time. He had three or more siblings. In 1843 the family moved to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. His sister married, James Robertson, who was a very active photographer there. This would later influence Beato’s own career as an innovative photographer. Early in 1857, Robertson, Beato and Beato’s brother Antonio went to the Middle East to shoot photographs of the area and its people. They worked energetically in Palestine, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Syria, and so on. The very best photos from this trip were published in both Constantinople and London. The Beato brothers learned much from Robertson during this project.

Beato’s Footsteps

Beginning in 1858, Beato started to move further and further east. He visited India, China, and Hong Kong, and then eventually arrived at Yokohama, Japan. It was in 1863, the time Japan had just opened her doors to the rest of the world. In those days, the Japanese government had set up a settlement for foreigners who were strictly restricted to stay inside its boundaries. But Beato’s curiosity and ambition couldn’t be silenced. Beato found ways to leave the settlement in liaison with his friend Charles Wirgman (a British newspaper reporter and illustrator).

Beato’s photographing in Japan

Beato and Wirgman succeeded in traveling to many off-limit places in Japan, basically because they accompanied foreign diplomats who had special travel privileges. In 1863 Beato traveled with Aimé Humbert (Chief Ambassador of the Swiss Republic) and took many pictures of the final days of Edo (today’s Tokyo). In 1864 Beato and Wirgman were sent to cover the Shimonoseki War (a battle between feudal Japanese Daimyo against the Allied Forces of Britain, France, Holland, and America).

In 1868 Beato published a photograph collection of Japan. It included wonderful sights and spots that even foreign travelers were permitted to visit. He attached useful comments to the photos, and the book became a bestseller in the 1870’s among foreigners in Japan. Beato placed two pictures of Nojima Island in this photo book. He said: “Kanazawa district is the best place to spend time on holidays or to have a picnic. It takes about 2 hours by horseback. Wonderful views of Kanazawa consist of rolling hills and a few nice islands in the bay.” He included Nojima in his collection of photos.

Today’s Kanazawa is quite different from the one Beato once enjoyed. It is developed and has become an ordinary residential area. But we can still recognize the geographical features of what it used to be. How about taking a walk along the bay and comparing Beato’s photos with the view today?

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Tomoko Kamishima

Tomoko Kamishima @tomoko.kamishima

Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS:  An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here.  日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。

Original by Tomoko Kamishima

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JapanTravel Guest
JapanTravel Guest 4 years ago
I live in Kanazawa Bunko, Yokohama, and work in Oppama, Yokosuka, so see many of these places as I walk to work, every day, through the Nojima/Hiragata Bay area. But your photos are excellent and I learned lots of things from your article that I didn't know, especially about Felice Beato. Thanks!
Tomoko Kamishima Author 7 years ago
Thank you, Kyle! I'll write more articles using photos showing old Japan in the near future.
JapanTravel Guest
JapanTravel Guest 7 years ago
I love historical photos like the ones here that Beato took (#7, 8 & 11 in the carousel). I'd be interested to see more of them...