War poet Rupert Brooke wrote,
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
It’s doubtful that Brooke had Japan in mind when he penned The Soldier in 1914, but it was this poem that sprang to mind on a visit to Yokohama Foreign National Cemetery (YFGC) 横浜外国人墓地 (gaikokujin bochi) on a sunny spring morning a couple of weeks ago.
I had walked past the cemetery many times and was aware of the story of Charles Richardson, a British merchant interred there, who was killed by the Satsuma daimyo‘s bodyguards on the Tokaido Road in 1862 for showing insufficient respect to the feudal lord (the Namamugi Incident provided the pretext to the Anglo-Satsuma War).
However, it was only upon entering the cemetery that I came across a substantial memorial to Allied casualties of the First World War. Through residence, birthplace or trade these men were connected with Japan yet fell on European battlefields and their names were ultimately remembered here. Among the dates and locations of the casualties, one that sprang out was Thiepval, July 1st 1916 – the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Having visited several historical battlefields in France and Belgium I have seen many of these memorials but in Japan, even in a foreigners’ cemetery, it seemed oddly out-of-place.
There are French, American, Canadian, Australian and British names on the memorial and this part of Yokohama, adjacent to the Harbour View Park between Motomachi 元町 and Shinyamashita 新山下, is one corner of a foreign field that is less ‘forever England’ and more ‘forever western’. Further down the road from the YFGC there were several reminders of Yokahama’s historical links with the foreign community dating back to Admiral Perry’s gunboat diplomacy during the early 1850s.
Christ Church Yokohama, around five minutes’ walk from the cemetery, would not look out of place in an English village (although the current building was designed by an American architect in 1931, the previous two having been destroyed by fire or earthquake) and either side of the church there are European style buildings serving as restaurants and coffee shops. One such establishment is the Enokitei Rose Garden, the rather grand ex-residence of an American businessman, where several walkers had stopped off for afternoon tea.
The western architecture combined with plenty of foreign families milling around and several Japanese daytrippers getting their fill of photographs meant that, if you didn’t already know, it was hard to tell who the tourists were.
Here are the pictures: