Hakodate guidebook offers glimpse into past

by Kenya Hayasegawa


As the city of Hakodate gears up for the launch of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line next March, a group of local history lovers has published a new guidebook on the region.

A year in the making, “In 150 Pictures — The International City of Hakodate in the Late Edo and Meiji Eras” aims to introduce visitors to the city’s past as well as its development into a major port town and exposure to Western influences.

Members of the Hakodate foreign settlement research group said they were also working on an English version of the 64-page guide for foreign visitors.

The guidebook, which was launched in March, provides a detailed explanation of the city’s development and history, including its international dealings during the last days of the Edo Period (1603-1868).

It also covers the arrival of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry, under whose pressure the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed, as well as Prussian and Chinese traders and other foreign visitors.

Hakodate, the gateway to Hokkaido, was opened to foreign trade under the 1854 Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity, or the Convention of Kanagawa, Japan’s first treaty with a Western nation and one that marked the end of its 200-year policy of seclusion.

The group members consider the new bullet train service, which will connect Hakodate with Aomori on the northern tip of Honshu via an undersea railway tunnel, as equivalent to a “second port opening” of the city.

Founded in June 2007, the group’s membership has grown to about 40 people, all history lovers from different walks of life, including proprietors and school teachers.

Kensaku Shimizu, a 68-year-old owner of a store that sells imported goods and one of the group’s founding members, recalled how it initially began with just a few people with little historical research experience.

“Even as we looked at buildings and ships on the old maps, we had no idea what they were,” Shimizu said, laughing.

But their tireless efforts in searching for relevant materials in libraries and other sources bore fruit, as reflected in the guidebook.

The guidebook is priced at ¥800, including tax.

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