Below is the “Goryokaku”, the five-sided castle of Hakodate at which the last drops of blood were shed in defence of over 250 years of Tokugawa rule. It’s a stunning design – based on European calculations of the fewest number of gun points needed for maximum visibility – and today is a tranquil park that belies its violent history. An observation tower, from where this picture was taken, now stands dominant over the site where Imperial power was finally consolidated.
Before that last chapter of what became known as the Boshin War, Hakodate had become the first Japanese port opened to foreign trade, a result of the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa extracted by Commodore Perry of the US Navy at the point of a gun. As one of Japan’s few windows on the world in the second half of the 19th century, there were several foreign consulates in Hakodate, including a British Consulate which operated at various sites until the 1930s. The final site has now been restored and opened as a museum, and nicely done it is too. The museum captures well the curiosity of the local population in these “long-nosed, round-eyed barbarians”, demonstrating something I have tried to show in my book: while the ruling class may have been hostile to Westerners, in large part because the latter represented a political threat to the former’s power, the ordinary people of Japan were mostly just fascinated by these strange outsiders.