Nellie’s dates: 2-7 January 1890
My dates: 19-24 September 2014
Nellie simply adored Japan. “If I loved and married, I would say to my mate: ‘Come I know where Eden is,’” she wrote, “and … desert the land of my birth for Japan.” She called it ‘the land of love-beauty-poetry-cleanliness.’
She idolized the people there too heaping praise upon them — ‘charming, sweet, happy, cheerful, delightful, graceful, pretty, artistic, obliging and progressive.’
“In short I found nothing but what delighted the finer senses while in Japan,” gushed a usually rather snide Nellie Bly.
Her port, Yokohama, 20 miles outside Tokyo, had a ‘cleaned up Sunday appearance.’ That was in 1890. By 1923, almost everything had vanished – swallowed by the Great Kantō earthquake that claimed the lives of 30,771 and injured 47,908.
An ornate iron water tap, one that lined the streets every 300 yards when the city’s waterworks were installed, was among the scant physical evidence of Nellie’s time. It was in the garden of the Yokohama Archives of History – the former British Consulate built after the earthquake.
The Grand Hotel described by Nellie as good ‘barring an enormous and monotonous collection of rats’ was long gone. The city’s celebrated Doll Museum has taken its place.
A new Grand Hotel built in 1927 still stands in Colonial splendour at the port. The concierge there took time to explore the area’s history with me.
So did Yuki Saito at the Museum of Cultural History. She combed her collection for books, photographs and vintage postcards to bring Nellie’s time in Yokohama to life for me.
Nellie landed at the Port of Yokohama, now the 31st largest in the world, at Osanbashi Pier. The port’s oldest pier, today Osanbashi is the site of an ultra-modern wave-shaped international passenger terminal, one of Yokohama’s premier landmarks.
In 1890, the port hosted the American sloop USS Omaha where a luncheon was held in Nellie’s honour – “one of the pleasant events of my stay,” she wrote. Several days later, when Nellie set sail from Yokohama to San Francisco, the band on the Omaha played ‘Home Sweet Home’, ‘Hail Columbia,’ and ‘The Girl I Left Behind.’