Tuesday, August 3, 2010

City of Yeddo, 1860: “I cannot give you any idea of it, it is so unique, so unlike anything except itself..."

An article published by Samuel C. Damon in the July 1860 describes the Japanese city of Yeddo. Today that city is known as Japan’s capital city, Tokyo. The name change occurred in 1868.

The following is the published text describing the city. The author is not mentioned by name except as ‘Japan Correspondence of the Boston Traveler.’

“What shall I say of this great and most singular of cities? A volume is needed to describe it, without attempting to give its history. I have read of old Ninevah and Babylon below the ground, and have seen and handled the works of art which have been disinterred and created so much admiration on both sides of the Atlantic; but one living Yeddo, above the ground, is worth a hundred old fogy cities below it. I cannot give you any idea of it, it is so unique, so unlike anything except itself, and so impossible, as you will think. I have seen several places of interest, and maintained a cool head, but I was bewildered and confounded when I saw this.

“It is situated on the western shore of this charming gulf, twenty miles wide by twenty-four miles long. It stretches for twenty miles and more along a beach of semicircular form, with its horns turned outwards, and along which a street extends, crowded with blocks of stores and houses, and teeming with moving crowds, while shop-keepers, artisans, women and children, seem equally numerous within doors and at the doors. Indeed, a dozen or fifteen miles might be added to the length of the city in this direction, since there is nothing but an unbroken succession of towns and villages for this distance, which is as populous and well-built as the city itself.

“In crossing the city from the western shore to the outskirts, I have walked two miles and a half, and then proceeded on horseback for ten miles more, making twelve and a half in the whole, while in other places it may be wider still. According to the lowest estimate, the city covers an area equal to seven of the New England farming towns, which were usually six miles square. And all is traversed by streets, usually wide, well-constructed, perfectly neat, and crossing each other at right angles –streets lined with houses and stores as compactly as they can be built, and crowded with moving and stationary masses as our Washington street, or New York Broadway, at least for considerable distances.

“The population is estimated generally at three millions, which Mr. Harris, our Minister, thinks is no exaggeration. For my part, judging from what I have seen when I have gone into the heart of the city, and crossed the city from side to side, I should be willing to add as many millions more; for the living, moving masses, seen from sunrise to sunset, and everywhere the same, fairly seemed beyond computation. One city as large as seven fine towns in Berkshire county, and containing a population three times as large as that of the whole State of Massachusetts! That is enough to think of for a moment.”

–Japan Correspondence of the Boston Traveler.

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