The Grand Hotel in Yokohama

August 17 2013

“One afternoon I was sitting in the lounge of the Grand Hotel. This was before the earthquake and they had leather arm-chairs there. From the windows you had a spacious view of the harbour with its crowded traffic. There were great liners on their way to Vancouver and San Francisco or to Europe by way of Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Singapore; there were tramps of all nations, battered and sea-worn, junks with their high sterns and great coloured sails, and innumerable sampans. It was a busy, exhilarating scene, and yet, I know not why, restful to the spirit. Here was romance and it seemed that you had but to stretch out your hand to touch it.”

W Somerset Maugham, A Friend in Need, story in collection called Cosmopolitans, 1936.

___ Grand Hotel history, postcards, guide books. Including a photo of the ruin in 1923. Shows a complete guide circa 1920 to the hotel, Yokohama and Tokyo, 18 pp (site says 12), with a photo of the Lounge in which Maugham sat.

More at Old Photos of Japan and at Postcards of Japan.

Yokohama grew from almost nothing after the opening of Japan to foreign trade in 1853. The free port opened on June 2 1859 and became Japan’s new main port of entry.

1861, first English-language newspaper in Japan, the Japan Herald, published in Yokohama.

James Clavell’s Gai-Jin (1993), part of his Asian Saga, is set in Yokohama in 1862.

1865, first ice cream and beer in Japan made in Yokohama.

The Shogunate was abolished, and imperial rule restored in Tokyo, in 1868.

1870, first daily newspaper in Japan, the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun.

Foreigners occupied a district called Kannai (関内, inside the barrier), which was surrounded by a moat, and were protected by their extraterritorial status within and outside it.

1872, first gas-powered street lamps in Japan.

1872, first railway in Japan, connecting the foreign enclave to Shinagawa and Shinbashi in Tokyo.

Jules Verne wrote about Yokohama, which he had never visited, in Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

The Grand Hotel opened on August 16 1873 and was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1 1923. Its position in the country was equivalent to that of the Taj in Bombay.

Chinese immigrants built a Chinatown.

1887, first power plant in Yokohama, built by a British merchant, Samuel Cocking. It became the basis for the Yokohama Cooperative Electric Light Company.

The city was incorporated on April 1 1889.

Kipling visited Japan in 1889 and 1892. See Hugh Cortazzi and George Webb, editors, Kipling’s Japan, Collected Writings, The Athlone Press, 1988.

“Letter” to the Pioneer in Allahabad in April or May 1889:

“The Grand is the Semi or Cottage Grand really, but you had better go there unless a friend tells you of a better. […] They are too fine and large [pretentious] at the Grand, and they don’t always live up to their grandeur; unlimited electric bells, but no one in particular to answer ’em; printed [not written] menu, but the first comers eat all the nice things, and so forth. None the less there are points about the Grand not to be despised. It is modelled on the American fashion, and is but an open door through which you may catch the first gust from the Pacific slope. Officially, there are twice as many English as Americans in the port. Actually, you hear no languages but French, German, or American in the street.”

Footnote: “At this time the Grand, at the west end of the Bund, was the principal hotel of Yokohama. According to an advertisement in the Handbook for Travellers (Chamberlain & Mason, 1894) it had ‘upwards of 100 apartments, and [is] surrounded by fine Verandahs over 200 feet long, making an extensive promenade, [and it] affords its occupants a magnificent view of the Harbour and a cool and pleasant residence, even in the hottest days of the sultry season’. It also had ‘fine Tennis Lawns and Walks’, and its own steam launch.” (My square brackets in the Letter extract, editors’ here.)

Next Letter:

“If you wander about the corridors of the Grand Hotel, you stop to play with Spanish Generals, all gold lace and spurs, or are captured by touts for curio-shops. It is not a nice experience to find a sahib in a Panama hat handing you the card of his firm for all the world like a Delhi silk-merchant. You are inclined to pity that man, until he sits down, gives you a cigar, and tells you all about his diseases, his past career in California, where he was always making money and always losing it, and his hopes for the future, in a language that he profoundly believes to be English. You see then that you are entering upon a new world. Talk to every one you meet, if they show the least disposition to talk to you, and you will gather, as I have done, a host of stories that will be of use to you hereafter. Unfortunately, they are not all fit for publication.”

That was more or less Maugham’s method in the “East” for gathering material for stories. Perhaps Conrad’s too.

Extraterritoriality was abolished in Japan for non-diplomatic personnel in 1899. Foreign residents were given more freedom of movement.

Jack London, Martin Eden (1908):

“Next his mind leaped to the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, where too, from the sidewalk, he had seen grand ladies. Then the city and the harbor of Yokohama, in a thousand pictures, began flashing before his eyes.”

The earthquake of September 1 1923 destroyed the whole city. The Koreans were accused of having used black magic to cause it. Martial law was in place until November 19. Rubble was used to reclaim land for Yamashita Park on the waterfront, which opened in 1930.

The Hotel New Grand was opened on a nearby site in 1927. The site of the old hotel is now occupied by the Yokohama Doll Museum.

Yokohama was destroyed again by over thirty US air raids during the Second World War, starting with the Doolittle Raid in 1942. Seven or eight thousand were killed in the morning of May 29 1945 in the Great Yokohama Air Raid, when B-29s reduced 42% of the city, or what remained of it, to rubble in one hour.

The New Grand Hotel survived. Douglas MacArthur stayed there on his first night in Japan during the Occupation. It became his headquarters. New Grand website.

During the Korean War, the US Navy used Yokohama as a transshipment base. After the Occupation, most US naval activity moved from Yokohama to an American base in the nearby Yokosuka, which still exists.

Yokohama is the vivid setting for Mishima’s unpleasant but brilliant The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1963 in Japanese, translation by John Nathan 1965). The New Grand Hotel is mentioned in it.

“Fusako glanced toward the prow. The gangplank had been raised; the last link between ship and shore was broken. The Rakuyo’s green-and-cream-colored side looked like the blade of a colossal ax fallen out of the heavens to cleave the shore asunder.”


C 1912, Grand Hotel (New Wing) viewed from the Bund side

Circa 1912, Grand Hotel (New Wing) viewed from the Bund side, photograph by Adolfo Farsari

Grand Hotel map, c 1898

Part of map from an 1898 The Grand Hotel, Limited, Guide Book for Yokohama and Immediate Vicinity

The full map is at Note the cricket ground, not something we associate with Japan. Foreign lots are pink, Japanese lots yellow, Japanese government lots green. The Grand Hotel is on lot 20 and adjacent. I presume that the whole area with the hotel and cricket ground is Kannai.

It was lithographed by The Box of Curios printing office in Yokohama, which also printed the 1920 guide book. The Box of Curios was an English-language magazine. Rakuten Kitazawa, the father of modern manga, worked on it in the second half of the 1890s.

Nagasaki and Yokohama (last post).

2 Responses to “The Grand Hotel in Yokohama”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The Japanese title of Mishima’s novel is 午後の曳航, Gogo no eiko, literally The Afternoon Towing.

    The sea is offended by the domestic life and attitudes of a sailor turned landlubber. Some boys side with the sea. But it’s a realistic, not allegorical, novel.

    Henze made it into an opera, Das verratene Meer, or The Ocean Betrayed, not that it had a performance in English or in the English-speaking world in this form. Hans-Ulrich Treichel, librettist, Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 1990. Were they thinking of the title of Auden’s 1950 lectures, The Enchafèd Flood, taken from Othello?

    He revised and extended it as Gogo no eiko, with the libretto translated into Japanese, Salzburg Festival, 2006.

  2. […] The Grand Hotel in Yokohama. […]

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