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For most of history, Yokohama was an unnoticed fishing village near a rest stop called Kanagawa on the Tōkaidō. Its fate changed abruptly in 1853–54, when the American fleet under Commodore Matthew Perry arrived off the coast to persuade Japan to open to foreign trade; in 1858 this little village was designated an international port.

Westerners were first relegated to an area within a moat in a district called Kannai (‘inside the barrier’) but later began to own property up the mountainside (Yamate). A Chinese community burgeoned as well, and the city expanded on reclaimed land, eventually encompassing the original Kanagawa rest stop.

Although Yokohama is unquestionably Japanese, foreign influence is in its blood. Among Yokohama’s firsts-in-Japan: daily newspaper, gaslamps and train terminus (connected to Shimbashi, in Tokyo).

The Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 destroyed much of the city, with the rubble used to reclaim more land, including Yamashita Kōen. The city was devastated yet again in WWII air raids; occupation forces were initially based here but later moved down the coast to Yokosuka. The late 20th century saw redevelopment of the harbour area, including some fancy skyscrapers, and in 2002 Yokohama hosted the finals of the FIFA World Cup.