Club History

A History of
Yokohama Country
& Athletic Club

By Mike Galbraith © August 2011

‘Life in Yokohama in the early days was singularly pleasant. Every type of sport was readily accessible.’

The sports club known today as the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC) played a major role in the creation of the idyllic sporting environment fondly remembered in these words describing Yokohama life in the 1890’s. The words could equally apply to today and to almost all of the time during the last 150 years of the YC&AC’s existence.

Almost every western sport seen in Japan today was first introduced to Japan by the non-Japanese in Yokohama and the YC&AC and the other sporting clubs that it later absorbed were the driving force in their early development in the country.


The history of the YC&AC has always been recognized as starting one day in 1868 in the dining room of the Yokohama home of 23-year-old Scotsman JP (James Pender) Mollison, who was mad about cricket and who had only recently become a local resident. On that day, he and his cricketing friend Ernest Price and a few others founded the Yokohama Cricket Club (YCC) with Mollison as the president and Price as secretary.



1868 was the year that the Meiji Restoration took place and the Meiji period started (Mollison watched the Emperor’s procession from Kyoto to Edo [Tokyo] as he passed through Hodogaya!) Non-Japanese had only been residing and doing business in Yokohama since July 1 1859 and numbered only a few hundred. In 1868 Yokohama was seen as place with great potential because it was the gateway for doing business in Japan- a huge new market. However, it was no sporting paradise and life there was fraught with danger.

Japan was to experience many uprisings in the next few years and the once popular movement to drive the non-Japanese out of Japan still had support. Japan had been closed off from the world by the Tokugawa Shugunate (except for limited contacts and trade through the Dutch in Dejima in the Nagasaki area of Kyushu) for over 200 years. The transition of power from the Shogunate to the Emperor Meiji that Mollison and Price experienced was turbulent and for much of the late 1860s and 1870s there were uprisings.

The threats from these political troubles were not the only dangers faced by the early non-Japanese residents in Yokohama. There were a lot of killer deseases, especially smallpox and cholera. And then there were the fires …

Mollison first came to Yokohama in January 1867 after traveling from Shanghai on the P&O steamer Aden from Shanghai. He visited to make arrangements for his permanent move to Yokohama. ‘… the small Settlement was still a scene of devastation. Practically the whole place was destroyed, including shops of every kind, and most of the residents lost everything except what they stood in,’ Mollison noted. He was arriving less than two months after the Great Fire of Yokohama which occurred in November 1866.


The YCC that Mollison founded in 1868 was not the first sports club established in Yokohama. Already there were several including the Rifle Club, the Racquets Club, the Racing Club and the Foot Ball Club which played what is now called rugby (football) and which, with documentary evidence of its establishment on January 26 1866, is the first rugby club to be established in Asia and one of the first outside of the UK! In fact, Mollison stated that all kinds of sport were- ‘like the proverbial bayleaf’ — being played on every available piece of land where there was enough space for them to flourish. Among those sports was cricket, and there are many newspaper reports of cricket matches being played before Mollison ever set foot in Japan!

The catalyst for the rapid development of these sports in the small Settlement, especially those team sports like cricket and football that required a lot of players on the field of play, was the presence of a military garrison of around 1,500 (mainly British) troops on the Bluff above the Settlement from 1864 until the mid-1870’s. There were also many English warships in the harbor. The English army contingent focused on the XXth regiment which was replaced by the Xth regiment before Mollison arrived. The officers and men of the battalions of these two regiments sent to Yokohama included a number of very keen and talented sportsmen.

The arrival of the British military which caused this surge in sporting activity in Yokohama was the result of the Namamugi incident of 1862 in which an English merchant visiting from Shanghai, Charles Lennox Richardson, was slashed to death by samurai on the Tokaido road while riding with friends from Yokohama to visit the big shrine in Kawasaki. Such was the panic among the non-Japanese in Yokohama that even nearly one year later there were still emergency plans in place for evacuation of the entire community onto ships in the harbor. More importantly they put considerable pressure on the government in London to send warships and troops to protect them. As a result it is clear that there is a direct connection between the surge in quality and amount of sporting activity in Yokohama in this 10-year period, especially in team sports, and the Namamugi incident.


The reason that JP Mollison and his YCC came to dominate the sporting world in Yokohama would appear to be due to the fact that Mollison and Price were very keen to play cricket on the best possible surface. While nearly all the other sportsmen were content simply to play their sport, Mollison dreamed of creating a proper cricket ground. He noted that the parade ground, where cricket had been played ‘with enthusiasm” before his arrival, ‘was destitute of a blade of grass.’

Even before he and Price founded the YCC, they had negotiated with the local authorities to clear what became the Swamp Ground. There seem to be at least two possible locations of the Swamp Ground. Mollison mentions it was ‘near 265 Banchi’ which is the current location of Minato Middle School playground but maps suggest there was some kind of field not used for housing or business purposes a little further away in a nearby block beside the entrance to China Town. That area is now the site of a large apartment complex. The YCC had no clubhouse but just enough space for a pitch and outfield which was 60 yards square. The players carried their kit to the ground from the ‘Settlement’ where they lived and then after the end of play went back to the ‘Bar’ in the Settlement where they drank copious amounts of cold claret and water, the favorite drink of the day.

The YCC’s most serious early games were against the Redcoats as Mollison often called them. ‘We had some good cricket up to 1870-1871, chiefly against the officers of the Tenth Regiment who were a keen ‘cricketing lot,’ he wrote. The 10th regiment of Foot had only arrived in Yokohama in April 1868 and the officers of the 1st Battalion of the 10th had a longstanding cricket team. Despite being apparently at least partially turfed, the wicket doesn’t seem to have been a great one for batsmen. It certainly was nowhere nearly as good as the Hong Kong Cricket Club wicket where the home team batted for one a half days scoring 450 runs against the Shanghai Club in the first Interport between those teams in 1866. Price’s brother played in that match but Mollison ‘to my great disappointment’ didn’t. (He did play for Shanghai in the following year when they got their revenge.)

The games were two innings affairs lasting two or more days. People working hard every weekday today may be surprised to learn that these were played on weekdays. ‘To begin with, we had no telegrams to worry us and only two mails a month,’ Mollison wrote around 40 years later. Yep! They worked hard and even late at night to meet the deadline for the mail boats, and then most could relax and enjoy life and sports until the next mail arrived. Detailed match reports and score cards survive relating to two games played between the YCC and the 9th in 1871. Scoring runs does not seem to have been easy and bowlers bowled a lot of wides. After 13 overs of the first innings of the first game, the YCC had managed to score only sixteen runs and of those 10 were from wides and at least one a leg bye! Mollison appears to have been a good opening bowler taking many wickets. However, he did bowl rather a lot of wides although not as many as some of the 9th’s bowlers. Batting number four or five, he doesn’t seem to have been a big-hitter like his friend Fraser, but he was clearly difficult to get out. When the Swamp Ground was not being using for cricket, the YCC was happy to let other sports clubs, especially the popular Foot Ball Club, use the ground and there are many reports of football matches played on the swamp ground.


In the early 1870s the authorities decided to sell the Swamp Ground for development and this caused a problem for the YCC and its cricket team. Luckily, Mollison was able to acquire the rights to a bigger piece of land – 120 yards square – on the reclaimed swamp land at the center of what is now known as Yokohama Koen which is also famous as the site of the notorious Gangiro brothel operated by the Shogunate until it was burnt down in 1866! Meanwhile, the original Swamp Ground was put up for sale with other lots and was acquired by Mollison himself. He built a tea-firing facility on it. Mollison’s business interests were not limited to tea. He was already a leading figure in the community and president of the Chamber of Commerce. He even later became the Japanese agent for Alfred Nobel and the first importer of dynamite.

This time round the ground was nicely turfed and fenced in and a single story Clubhouse was later (in 1875) erected for the use of YCC members. A local Japanese, Mr. C. Yoshiwara, was hired as the groundsman and manager. Yoshiwara-san was to work for the club for 40 years. During this period the Interport cricket matches with the Kobe Cricket Club (later merged into the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club [KRAC]) started and Yoshiwara-san even accompanied the Yokohama team when they went to play in Kobe.


The YCC’s golden days started in the early 1880’s with British trading firms sending out numerous top class cricketers from London to work in Yokohama because of the club’s reputation. One company famous for this policy was the Mourilyan, Heimann & Co. tea firm which also had an office in Kobe and fed cricketing talent into the Kobe team thus raising the standard of Interport cricket. By now the YCC was not the only cricket team in the area and other teams also boasted good players such as McMillen who played for Mitsubishi, Layard who played for the British Embassy and Treverthick who played for Japan Railways Department. In the 1880’s too, the other sporting clubs in Yokohama like the rugby and athletics clubs began to be consolidated into the YCC. The Interport events with Kobe also started to become multi-sport events. In 1900 the Yokohama club was enlarged and a running track added. A two-story clubhouse built under the supervision of Mollison and a Mr. Duff. This soon burnt down but was rebuilt. Around the same time, the name of the club was changed to the Yokohama  Cricket and Athletic Club (YC&AC).


The Japanese people were very impressed by the enthusiasm, dedication and skills of the non-Japanese playing sport in Yokohama and elsewhere and were eager spectators at many events. Before long the Japanese government decreed, as part of its Westernization drive,that males should take up sports. Along with many of the other sports introduced in Yokohama including rowing, football, tennis, golf and athletics, cricket was taught and played by many leading high schools as part of the curriculum for much of the Meiji period (1868-1912). This policy was soon to pose a danger to the very existence of the club.

A balloon ride event in front of the YC&AC
pavilion at Yokohama Koen, 1905


As the club grew, nearly everyone assumed that it held the land in perpetuity. But sometime around 1910, the YC&AC received a big shock and faced its second major crisis for, in fact, according to the old lease, the Japanese authorities could terminate the lease simply by serving ‘due notice’ which they now did.


Sigmund S. Isaacs, who steered the Club’s move from

Yokohama Koen to its current location in Yaguchidai in 1912

They demanded that Japanese sportsmen should also be allowed access to the wonderful facility right in the center of town. The club fought to preserve its rights but in the end the club was obliged to handover all its facilities in a gesture of foreign goodwill. It was only the result of heroic efforts by a certain Mr. S. Isaacs that the club was able to acquire the land upon which it now stands in Yaguchidai.

At the same time in order to register the club as a legal entity under Japanese law, the old club was disbanded and a new club simultaneously established based on articles of association dated June 26 1912. After much deliberation and debate, the word ‘Cricket’ was changed to ‘Country’ in the name. The club was duly registered July 4 and 6 days later the land purchase was finalized. A lot of work was now undertaken to level the land and fence it, to prepare the tennis courts as they are today, and also to build a stable. These developments were reported in the annual general meeting for that year as was a long list of subscriptions not only from all over Japan but also from overseas. The exact number of members in 1912 is not known but it was around 291. The following year that rose to 320 but the First World War caused membership to fall to 199.

In those days members got to the club mainly by street car and in the summer could walk down the hill to bathe in the clean water of Mikado Bay which was then part of the ‘Mississippi Bay.’ Some views of Mississippi Bay were rated among the most beautiful in the world, but unfortunately in the 1960’s the authorities decided to reclaim a lot of land from the sea and build petrochemical complexes. So the beaches are long gone and instead of overlooking beautiful beaches, the club now sadly overlooks oil refineries.


The club was to suffer further serious crises such as the Great Earthquake in 1923 and World War Two. Mollison himself survived the earthquake but tragically lost one son and the son’s wife. The son who died was an excellent sportsman too and captain of rugby. Though he continued to work in Yokohama and the Mollison building survives to this day, Mollison and his wife were by then living in Kamakura where he continued to reside until his death in 1931.

After the end of World War Two YC&AC’s sport field was for a time turned into a cemetery and the club faced perhaps its biggest crisis of all. Serge Bielous was perhaps the most prominent figure in financing the revival of the club so that it could recover to its present state. With the price of land in Japan having soared soon after World War Two, it is virtually impossible for anyone to create in central Yokohama sports grounds and facilities that could come near to matching those of the YC&AC. Its grounds and facilities are still the envy of every other sports club in the country and many overseas too. But few of the cricketers and other sportsmen playing there today ever pause to reflect on the debt they owe to several key figures especially the vision, wisdom, pioneering spirit, and most of all to the passion for cricket of the extraordinary James Pender Mollison and his fellow cricketers, many of whom were also active in other sports clubs in Yokohama.


A cricket match on the Club’s grounds in 1915

The author acknowledges his debt to John Sugiyama whose article on the history of the YC&AC was the starting point in his research on the club and its members.