Yokohama Station was a terminal station on Japan’s very first railroad, opened on June 12, 1872 (Meiji 5). Initially, the line took passengers and freight to Shinagawa. In October it was extended to Shinbashi, connecting the port city to the very center of Tokyo.
The new railroad reduced traveling time between the cities significantly. On foot it took between 10 and 12 hours. Even at the trot, a horse took 4 hours. The train took only 53 minutes. It greatly contributed to the prosperity of Yokohama, especially that of nearby Noge.
Yokohama station was designed by American architect Richard P. Bridgens (ブリジェンス) who in 1864 (Genji 1) had come to Japan from San Francisco. Active as an architect in Yokohama and Tokyo, Bridgens’ influence on western architecture in the two cities cannot be overstated. Besides Yokohama Station and its twin, Shinbashi Station, he designed many other buildings that played important roles during the Meiji Period.
Especially eye-catching was undoubtedly the Tsukiji Hoterukan (築地ホテル館, Tokyo, 1868-1872), a building with a unique mix of Western and Japanese architecture. Other well-known Bridgens designs are the Yokohama Customs House (横浜税関, 1873-1910?), an attractive three-storied brick building near the harbor, and the Yokohama Town Meeting Hall (横浜町会所, 1874-1906). He is also believed to have built the original Yokohama Grand Hotel.
Bridgens died in 1891 (Meiji 24). His grave can still be found at the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery (横浜外国人墓地).
The opening of the new railroad attracted international attention. The New York Times even reported on the event twice, once shortly after the opening of June, and once again after the official opening on October 14 1872 (Meiji 5) when Emperor Meiji made a round-trip between Shimbashi and Yokohama stations2:
The article is remarkable in that it carefully recreates the opening event, but also for its optimism and hope for the future.
Notable is that the correspondent still uses Yeddo (Edo) to describe Tokyo, a word that had been out of use in Japan since 1868 (Meiji 1) when the city was renamed to Tokyo (literally “Eastern Capital”). It was stubbornly used by foreign publications well into the 20th century.
There is one more thing that attracts attention. His description of the train as “the first steam locomotive that ever drew a train in Japan.” This must have been born either out of sheer excitement, or have been journalistic license. At the time of the official opening, trains had been running on the track for over four months.
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