- Opening a Window to the West: The Foreign Concession at Kōbe, Japan, 1868–1899 by Peter Ennals
The foreign settlements or “concessions” established in the former treaty ports of Japan played an important role as receptacles for information and technology and stepping stones for Japan’s dramatic emergence as a world power in the Meiji period. To date, however, the story of the former foreign settlements has not received a commensurate level of attention from scholars, with Japanese historians often brushing it off as [End Page 510] a humiliating episode, and their foreign counterparts passing over it to look at more traditional aspects of the national history.
The present work is composed of eight chapters, beginning with a description of the historical background of Euro-Asian contact and the efforts of early visitors to pry open the doors of a reclusive island nation hesitating on the threshold of a new era of international contact. The author provides a detailed account of the events leading up to the opening of Kobe as a treaty port and the various processes involved in the development of a townscape suitable for Euro-American habitation and business activity. He points out that the opening of Kobe came almost a decade after the establishment of foreign settlements in Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Hakodate and therefore benefited from the early experiences there, particularly problems related to communication and multicultural coexistence.
Drawing from a number of primary sources including consular records and local English-language newspapers, the author goes to examine the dynamics of the foreign trade that unfolded in Kobe, showing that although business was dominated by foreigners in the early years, Japanese shipping companies quickly rose to the challenge and achieved prominence soon after the opening of the port. He provides a meticulous description of the business in silk and tea, the two staples of Japan’s export trade in the early years after the opening of the country’s doors.
Chapter six examines the evolution of shipping facilities, railways, and other infrastructure and mentions two Japanese entrepreneurs, identified as Godai and Okoboshi, who submitted plans for a pier that were later implemented by the local administration. However, the author does not provide full names, and he cites only an English-language source. “Godai” is, of course, Godai Tomoatsu, the esteemed Meiji industrialist and founder of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce. “Okoboshi,” meanwhile, is a mistaken reference to Godai’s collaborator Akaboshi Yanosuke. These omissions indicate one of the limitations of the present work, namely, a tendency to rely solely on English-language documents and to neglect Japanese sources.
The next chapter provides an analysis of the historical background and unique features of the hybrid architecture that appeared in Kobe and exerted an impact on subsequent building styles throughout the country, followed by a study of the social patterns of the foreign settlement, the role of the missionary community, and the categories of small businesses and organizations. The author ends with a discussion of Kobe’s particular function in the foreign settlement period and its place in the rapid expansion of the Osaka-Kobe economic node in twentieth-century Japan.
The present work makes an important contribution to scholarship in the field and provides a variety of starting points for further research. As Peter Ennals points out, the foreign settlements provided a foothold, [End Page 511] not only for foreign enterprise, but also for Japan’s stunning rise to global importance, and thus deserve recognition as a vital chapter in the narrative of modern history. His comment about the impact of western architecture can be extrapolated to the overall evolution of Japanese modernization: “The presence of the Concession, in which the foreigners immediately set about fashioning an orderly Western settlement, presented the Japanese with a living laboratory of Western urban structure and architectural design.”