I mentioned it in Friday’s post, but in case you missed it, Shimoda is one of my favorite small towns in Japan. It has an adorable little canal area and a pretty decent selection of restaurants. But most importantly, it has an indelible connection to American history.
It’s one of Commodore Matthew Perry’s ships, the smoke-belching modes of transportation known to history as “black ships”. When Perry steamed his way into Japanese territory and “strongly encouraged” the shogunal government to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, it opened up the port of Shimoda to the world. Diplomat Townsend Harris set up the first US Consulate in Shimoda’s Gyokusen-ji (Gyokusen Temple) and worked tirelessly to promote America’s interests in the newly-accessible Far East.
When Yokohama Port was opened to trade in 1858, Shimoda declined in importance. The consulate closed and moved off to Tokyo and Shimoda went back to being a quiet backwater. But every May, the brass band from nearby Yokosuka Naval Base comes down to help the town celebrate and remember its important role in opening Japan to the world.