Monday, May 21, 2007

Niigata City's Grand Opening

In 1854, the administration of the Tokugawa Shogunate, or Bakufu, signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with the United States, thereby ending 250 years of national isolation. Hakodate, on the northern island of Hokkaido, and the town of Shimoda, on the Izu peninsula, south of Tokyo, were opened to American vessels and consular establishments. In 1859, England, France, Holland, Russia, and the U.S. negotiated a commercial treaty with the Bakufu, one provision of which was the opening of the City of Niigata to trade with these countries. Niigata was selected because it was (and is) the largest port city on the country's Sea of Japan coast. According to the terms of the treaty, Niigata's "Grand Opening" was to be New year's Day, 1860. To prepare for this historic event, Niigata conducted surveys of the mouth of the Shinano River and of its roadstead to assess the readiness and suitability of Niigata as a port for large foreign vessels. In April of 1859, the Russian "Jigitt" and the Dutch "Bahli" anchored off Niigata to assist in the port's inspection. Later that year, in October, two English ships arrived as well. The delta formed by Japan's longest waterway, the Shinano River, as it entered the Sea of Japan at Niigata was clogged with silt and other debris, and the depth at the mouth was no greater than seven feet. This meant that foreign vessels were forced to anchor offshore and to rely on scows and other small vessels to transport their freight to the mainland. The result of the inspection that year was that considerable improvements would have to be completed before Niigata could hope to attract significant foreign trade. Recognizing this, the Tokugawa Shogunate designated the deep water port Ebisu, in Ryotsu on Sado Island, as a temporary treaty port. This was hardly convenient, however, as Sado is nearly 70 km. from the mainland.

The Emperor Was Here

n 1878 the Meiji Emperor toured his northern dominions, passing through Niigata and stopping for rest and repast at the residence pictured at right, as recorded by the monument below. Descendants of the Meiji occupants still inhabit the old family estate. The structure, impressive despite its dilapidation, is the only testament of the family's former glory.