Kanagawa Prefecture: A Diverse Mix of Urban and Traditional Japan

A Brief Background on Kanagawa, Japan’s Map and Geography

Kanagawa Prefecture is one of the oldest prefectures in Japan, with traces of human life and archaeological sites going back to the Jomon period. Aside from that, it was also recorded in history that Kanagawa’s Mount Hakone had a massive eruption around three thousand years ago, which lead to the formation of Lake Ashi which lies on the western border of the prefecture. During Japan’s feudal times, there were several warrior clans who ruled the area. The most prominent clan who ruled Kanagawa was the Yamato dynasty, whom most historians believe ruled the area for centuries.

Prior to its current geographical map, the original Kanagawa prefecture lied within two provinces: Sagami and Musashi. At one point in Japanese history, the emperor was located in Kanagawa; this was during the Kamakura Period between the 12th to 13th century. As the name of the period implies, the central throne of the Japanese empire was located then at Kamakura in Kanagawa, Japan.

Upon the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, a daimyo or a general was assigned to lead the province of Sagami, which is in the western part of Kanagawa. The daimyo was seated on the Odawara castle, meanwhile, the eastern part was directly controlled by the Shogun himself since it is in close proximity to Edo - now modern day Tokyo.

After the end of the Edo Period, Japan started making diplomatic ties with other powerful nations. The first treaty signed by modern day Japan happened with the United States, under the terms provided by Commodore Matthew Perry. This treaty later on paved way for Yokohama, which was the biggest port in Tokyo Bay to allow foreign traders by 1859.

On the other hand, Yokosuka, which was located on another side of Tokyo Bay, was developed as a naval port, which also serves as the headquarters for both American and Japanese fleet. Under a joint forces agreement, the Japanese Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force was created to combine military efforts by the Japanese and the Americans.

The high presence of Americans in Yokohama are perhaps on the reasons why plenty of foreigners started relocating to the area. By the end of the 19th century, the population of foreigners in Yokohama has already grown to a significant extent. With the high presence of foreigners, the government faced the need for a modern mass transportation system in Japan. This paved the way for the development of the first ever railway line in Japan, which had a route from Shimbashi to Yokohama by the 1870’s.

During the 20th century, two major tragedies struck the area of Kanagawa. The first one was the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 which caused intensive damage to Yokohama Port as well as other parts of Kanagawa. This is also caused the collapse of major structures in the historical Odawara castle.

Sagami Bay, being near the epicenter of the earthquake caused a massive tsunami that partnered with the earthquake, further inflicting damage to structures in the area, as well as increasing the death toll further. To make things worse, the tsunami and earthquake drove a massive fire that damaged the already broken down infrastructure further.

Another tragic moment during the century was the bombing inflicted by the U.S. towards Japan in 1945. While the major atomic bombs that left severe damage were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, major cities in Kanagawa were still intensively damaged by smaller scale bombings. Similar to the Great Kanto Earthquake, this left areas of Kanagawa damaged once again and the death toll at more than thousands.

After the war, Kanagawa went on to become one of Japan’s most populated prefectures. In fact, Yokohama City was deemed to be the second most populated city in all of Japan. As time passed, Kanagawa experienced the same level of modernization as Tokyo. In fact, Kanagawa is considered to be a part of the Greater Tokyo Area, along with Tokyo’s other wards and districts.

In modern pop culture, Kanagawa is often used as a backdrop setting for different stories. In particular, Yokohama City is a popular setting for many anime and manga stories. For example, one of the installments of the world famous Gundam series was set in Yokohama and Yokosuka. It is also used in reference as the hometown of many major anime and manga characters.

Kanagawa Treaty: A Historical Moment for Japan

It is common knowledge that Japan spent centuries in isolation; developing their cultural, artistic, economic and political ideologies without any foreign influence. It was only in the late 1800’s, on the rise the Meiji Restoration, when Japan started opening its walls to other nations. During this time, Japan started building diplomatic ties with other nations. As mentioned in the earlier part of the article, the first even treaty signed by Japan happened to take place in none other than Kanagawa Prefecture.

The treaty aptly called as the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed on the 31st of March, in the year 1854. As mentioned earlier, it was a historic time for Japan as it was the first treaty that Japan has signed with a Western nation, this greatly signified that Japan’s two hundred year period of seclusion is truly over.

The signing of the treaty took place at a part of Kanagawa, which is now called Yokohama City, and was attended by representatives from the United States and Japan. The main representative of the United States was U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry that is also the reason why the treaty is sometimes referred to as the Perry Convention. It was through his effort when he first came to Japan in July 1853 with a fleet of warships, that the treaty was first proposed.

But what is the treaty about? It was an arrangement between the United States and Japan, for the latter to open their ports to U.S. army ships and supplies. Perry’s first arrival in 1853 left Japan with pretty much no other choice but to sign the treaty. Realistically, they were aware that U.S.’ massive warships were far more superior - something that Japan’s line of defense could not match should they decide to declare war. Having a peaceful partnership was a far safer decision for Japan, even if they are in they are on the lower end of the bargaining agreement.

Just seven months after Perry’s first arrival, both parties signed the treaty. This meant that two of Kanagawa ports, Shimoda and Hakodate, is officially open for military use of the United States. With the presence of the U.S. army in Kanagawa, an American consul was stationed to oversee the partnership between the two nations. To this day, U.S. army is still present in the area, with Camp Zuma located in Zama and Sagamihara, both cities under Kanagawa.

Educational System in Kanagawa: Kanagawa University and Kanagawa Institute of Technology

With its extremely urbanized setting, it comes to no surprise that a lot of prestigious Japanese schools are situated in Kanagawa. Local and foreign students may be interested in enrolling at one of Kanagawa’s colleges. This article will mention two of the most popular colleges in Kanagawa: Kanagawa University and Kanagawa Institute of Technology.

Kanagawa University was originally established in the 1920’s as a university dedicated to the working youth. They offered night classes so that students who had to earn and make a living by day had the opportunity to pursue their studies in the evening. Originally, the university focused on Commerce and Engineering disciplines. However, as the demand for other disciplines rose, the university expanded to form faculties to cater to a more diverse range of undergraduate and graduate studies.

At present, the university has undergraduate faculties of Law, Economics, Foreign Languages, Human Sciences, and Engineering. However, as they opened an extension in the Shonan Hiratsuka Campus, they also opened faculties for Business Administration and Sciences. These are also the same faculties offered for graduate studies, with the exception for Human Sciences which has no graduate study counterpart, and the addition of School of Law aside from the Graduate School of Law.

Of course, since Japan is known for its world class technology, it comes to no surprise that there are plenty of technological institutes within Japan. In Kanagawa, there is Kanagawa Institute of Technology. Looking at its current structure, it is very sleek, modern, and filled with state of the art equipment. Since the university focuses on technology, the undergraduate and graduate fields they offer are only limited to disciplines related to those: Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Applied Chemistry, Clinical Engineering, Vehicle System Engineering, and Robotics Engineering. Aside from those, they also offer degrees in Computer Science, Information Technology, Nursing and Biological Sciences.

Travel to Kanagawa from Tokyo

An advantage that Kanagawa has geographically is that it is very close to Tokyo. This means that plenty of professionals who work from Tokyo can easily commute back and forth from Kanagawa. There are various railway lines operating within Kanagawa. Since it is adjacent to main Tokyo, plenty of Kanagawa railway network is intertwined with that of Tokyo.

Shin-Yokohama and Odawara stations in Kanagawa, on the Tokaido Shinkansen line provide an easy access to railway services that lead to Tokyo, and even other major cities such as Nagoya and Osaka. There are plenty of subways, railway, and monorail providers present in Yokohama to cater to the populous city.

Tourists are also privileged enough to transfer to and from Tokyo. The volume of tourists coming from Tokyo, going to Hakone and Kamakura is quite high. Hakone’s natural geo parks and scenic views, and Kamakura’s old world charm are popular tourist itineraries - either to observe the view of Lake Ashi or to go to museums or shrines in Kamakura. Luckily, it is quite easy for tourists to Google how to go from one place to another.

Under the Wave Off Kanagawa: One of Japan’s Most Popular Art

Kanagawa Prefecture happens to be part of perhaps the most iconic art in Japan: Under the Wave Off Kanagawa. Alternatively, this piece of art is also referenced to as “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”. It is created by woodblock artist, Hokusai, sometime in 1830’s. The exact year of creation, unfortunately, could not be identified. This woodblock print did not only serve as Hokusai’s greatest accomplishment, but it is also one of Japan’s most well-loved art print.

The technique used for the print is called “woodblock printing”, which in essence is similar to the Western style of woodblock printing. The primary difference between the eastern and the western techniques is the type of inks used. In Japan, artists use water-based inks—as opposed to western woodcut, which often uses oil-based inks. By using the Japanese inks, the prints are given more depth with the varying range of vibrancy, dimension, and transparency.

The print itself is part of a thirty-six print series done by Hokusai was titled “Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji”. It is an incredible collection inspired by thirty-six different perspectives. The artist created the prints of Mt. Fuji depicting not just how they would be seen from each angle, but each painting had its own story to tell. It was an interesting collection, and the most famous among the set happened to be one that featured Kanagawa Prefecture.

The most popular print from the series, The Great Wave off Kanagawa features three boats that are being attacked by large sea waves. In its backdrop, Mount Fuji can be seen clearly - this is a given fact, considering it is part of the Mt. Fuji print collection. Other art aficionados claim that the waves seen in the print depict a tsunami, however, far more people see the waves as simply part of a large ocean.

The underlying meaning behind the print itself is a source of discussion for many art historians. The waves have been interpreted as violent, and the edges are described to be “claw-like” while attacking the boats. A popular view of The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is that it represents the turbulent times that Hokusai has experienced, which is quite a lot as his life was filled with tragedy. Nevertheless, the print remained to be an iconic art piece in Japan, and since then have been reprinted in various paraphernalia.