"Yokohama does not improve on further acquaintance," wrote Isabella Bird in 1878. "It has a dead-alive look. . . . I long to get away into real Japan." She quickly left and went in search of authenticity, complete with its dangers and delights. Bird was a purist to the point of eccentricity, but most foreigners were content with the picture-postcard version. After all, daily life for early ex-patriates was difficult enough, with its severe climate, political tensions and food described as "fishy and vegetable abominations."

Such early impressions of Japan are captured in an interesting exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art. The exhibition covers a period of 40 years, from the opening of the port in 1859 until the concession ended in 1899. During this time, important new media arrived from abroad. Daguerreotypes, photography and printing methods such as lithography offered Japanese artists thrilling new realism, while oil painting suggested new textures, techniques and subjects for art.

"We wished to show the exchange between photography, paintings and prints, between East and West, and between the artists themselves," explained senior curator Kiyoko Sawatari. As a result, the exhibition ranges from souvenirs to fine art.