24. Historical Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
On 5th. July, 1882, Able Seaman Arthur John Patchwork of Her
Majesty's Ship, Reliance, sailed into Yokohama Port. From
the port deck he scanned the shantie-like buildings of the
"Ach, me lad. There's the King, the Queen and the Jack."
Arthur spun around to face the old mate, Bill Tattler. The
older man had more or less adopted him in the seven months
since he joined the ship.
"The King, the Queen and the Jack?" Arthur repeated dully.
"Yes, see that building o'er there. It's called the Kencho,
sorta like the shire offices, if you know what I mean. Now,
that's the King. An' o'er there, that brick building wi' the
tower, that's Taykarn. That's the Queen, orright."
"And where's the Jack?"
"See the building o'er there with the square hat, the
match-kusho or the town hall. That's the Jack."
"I think I like the Jack best of all," young Arthur
"Well, they say that some famous writer was born right there
on that spot, a bloke called Tenshin, who wrote about tea."
"I know it doesn't sound like much, but they love their tea
here. It was a silk merchant's house when I first saw it,
but that was some twenty years ago now."
On 12th. September, 1923, another sailor, Second Lieutenant
John Francis Patchwork of the United States Navy steamed
into Yokohama Port, aboard the U.S.S. Liberty. It had been
diverted from a Pacific training mission to aid the Japanese
following the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake. He scanned
the surrounding land and found the town before him all but
On the landscape, he spotted a single building that
dominated the coastline. Its squarish tower seemed somehow
solid and dependable amid the fractured municipality around
it. The following day, he was drawn to it physically and was
able to see that the squarish top actually contained a clock
and that the floors of the building had fallen through even
if the outer structure had remained sound.
Later on the ship, he had mentioned to his captain that he
had found it quite an impressive structure.
"Oh, the old town hall," the captain smiled. "It looks a
little stern with its horns, don't you think. They used to
hang banners from them to welcome large ocean liners. It was
burnt down about twenty years ago, but they rebuilt it."
On 4th. July, 1992, Vince Patchwork, who was no sailor and
certainly never one of any military rank, visited Kaiko
Kinnenkan with his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Matsumoto. He was
neither related to nor had he heard of either of these two
earlier Patchworks. Nor did he realise that he was the first
Patchwork to actually set foot inside the building.
There seemed to be a rather loud and spirited political
meeting going on at the time on the bottom floor. From out
of nowhere, a man appeared and introduced himself to the
Matsumotos as Mr. Akiyama, the official in charge of the
building. He was a short, squat man as bald as the dome of
Saint Peter's. Vince who was thinning more than a little
himself, recognised immediately that what Mr. Akiyama lacked
in hair, he made up for in energy and enthusiasm for his
He took them past a series of stained glass windows,
explaining each one in detail. One depicted Commodore
Perry's ships and Mr. Akiyama assured them all that during
the American occupation after World War 2, the Americans
themselves had been very impressed with the flag in the
leadlighting. Vince, too, was impressed with the flag, but
not for reasons of patriotism. He wondered how they had been
able to cut such tiny flecks of glass and fit them into the
entire composition. Vince was well aware that stained glass
was not a common craft in Japan and yet here, the
workmanship was exquisite.
Another pair of stained glass doors showed alternatively
transportation by land and by water. Mr. Akiyama bubbled
over with enthusiasm as he explained:
"And this is the polesman, the captain of the river boat.
And next to him, sitting down, is a teacher, a haiku
teacher. And you can just see a sumo wrestler, notice how
the boat tilts to one side. And that's a restaurant owner. A
travelling performer with a monkey. A priest. And this is a
mysterious character, a shady piece of work."
Vince leaned forward to further gauge the mysterious
character's level of shadiness. But Mr. Akiyama was already
on the other side of the landing in front of a painting of
the war ship, Kanrin Maru. It was a very Turneresque canvas.
"The captain of this ship was the samurai, Tekaishu. He was
a very brave soldier and he took this ship to the United
States after the Meiji Restoration. But as brave a soldier
as he was, he wasn't a particularly good sailor. He was very
sea sick for the entire voyage."
Mr. Akiyama pealed with laughter and the rest of the company
joined him, apart from Vince who was neither a brave soldier
or a good sailor. Mr. Akiyama moved onto the next painting.
"This is Yokohama 140 years ago. It was called the Sukan
Peninsula then. And the Kaiko Kinnenkan would have been
right here in the middle where that tree is. You can see how
this gully splits the countryside into two parts. The north
side was the Japanese side and the people who lived there
served the foreign community. On the south side, the foreign
settlement was built. Look, there's Yamate-cho, and that's
the French Hill."
Mr. Akiyama then bustled down the corridor to the VIP room
and invited them to sit down. The room was built in an
octagonal shapes and lined with blue velvet drapes with gold
braids on each side of the windows. The ceiling was a full
twenty foot high. As Mr. Akiyama later explained, it had
once been very ornate, but after it had been destroyed by
the Great Kanto Earthquake, it had proved too costly to
"Now, there's a story! Kaiko Kinnenkan was destroyed by fire
in 1906. So a competition of sorts was held for the design
of a new building. It was rebuilt between 1913 and 1917,
before being partially destroyed again by the earthquake in
1923. This time, nobody had the original plans from which to
make the repairs, so they rebuilt it as closely as they
could. But you'll never guess what happened."
If anybody could guess, they weren't telling.
"The grandson of Mr. Yamada, the original architect, found
the plans and returned them to the city in the 1980's. Mr.
Yamada had simply taken them home. Reconstruction of the
building began in 1988."
Vince looked around the room and asked, "Why is this called
the VIP room?"
Mr. Akiyama pealed with laughter again, "If the Emperor
comes, not that he ever has, this would be his room. And he
would have sat in that chair."
Mr. Akiyama pointed to the armchair that Connie was
There was only one thing left to do and that was to climb
the clock tower. Vince noted that Mr. Akiyama farewelled
them at the bottom of the spiral staircase. The stair
spiralled around three and a half times and then to climb
higher, you had to ascend a further 60 or so steps that went
up in irregular patterns. The roof of Kaiko Kinnenkan was
green and it was hard to see Tokyo Bay from it now. There
was a building going up next door and Vince could see its
view being blocked out completely on all sides. The Kaiko
Kinnenkan was dwarfed by far more modern structures, but
Vince wondered if, with the Japanese tendency to scrap and
rebuild architecture, whether any of these new giants would
be around in a hundred years time.