The Opening of Japan to Foreign Trade and Kitano-cho

The Sakoku (鎖国) was a policy enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate that isolated the whole of Japan from the outside world. During sakoku no Japanese could leave the country on penalty of death, and very few foreign nationals were permitted to enter and trade with Japan.

Commodore Matthew Perry

Sakoku literally meant “chained country.” Trading with Japan was basically between the Dutch and Chinese who fell under the jurisdiction of the Bafuku in Nagasaki, and the Kingdoms of Korea and Ryūkyū which dealt with the Shimazu and the Sō clan.

In 1853, the Perry Expedition forcibly opened Japan to Western trade. Matthew Calbraith Perry (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858), was a Commodore of the United States Navy. He commanded ships in several historical wars and played a leading role in opening Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa, “Japans and US Treaty of Peace and Amity”, or Kanagawa Treaty,  in 1854.

The fast growing commerce between the U.S. and China, the increase in monopolization of coaling stations by the French and the British in Asia as well as the presence of American whalers in offshore Japan led to Commodore Perry being assigned a mission.

Kanagawa Treaty

The mission was assigned by no less than the  American President Millard Fillmore, to pressure Japan to end its 220-year-old policy of national seclusion and opening its ports to American trade. The United States and Japan signed their first true commercial treaty in 1858, also referred to as the Harris Treaty. The European powers also followed suit soon after and drew up their own treaties for trade with Japan. Japan sent its 1st mission to the West in 1860, when Japanese delegates ventures into U.S. soil to exchange the ratified Harris Treaty.

With Japan opening its doors to Western trade, there were many foreign merchants and diplomats that settled in Japan’s ports. The Port of Kobe opened to foreign trade sometime in the second half of the 19th century.

Kitano-chō, Kobe | Shibuya 246

Kitano-cho (北野町, Kitanochō), is a district located at the foot of the Rokko mountain range where more than a dozen Ijinkan or former mansions still stand until today. The historical district of Kitano-chō in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture prides itself in maintaining the number of foreign residences dating back to the late Meiji and early Taishō eras. Some of the houses remain as residences but many are open to tourists. The area is open to the public. Visitors are given a glimpse of an important part of Japan’s history.