The decision to play Townsend Harris, the first American diplomat to Japan, had something to do with John Wayne’s hunger for locations. Twentieth Century Fox “played on one of my weak points – I would have a chance to go to Japan, a place I had never seen." 

The Barbarian and the Geisha was in production in Japan from December 1957 to February 1958. Kyoto had been the capital city of Japan for a thousand years. Its Buddhist and Shinto shrines provided the colorful background backdrop, situated at Lake Biwa

Some exteriors were filmed at the Temple of Flowers and the Nijojo Castle, one of several Historic Monuments designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

When they shot the scenes of the burning Shimoda in the fishing village of Kawana on the Izu Peninsula, they had a crisis on their hands. The special effects men set fire to a barge and launched it from a beach near the village of Ito. An inshore wind caught the flaming barge and drove it toward Japanese fishing boats. 

Interiors were shot at the Eiga Studios in Kyoto. While filming on the Japanese stages, Wayne’s weight made the floors creak, making the recording of sound difficult. A second floor had to be constructed for support. The studio’s movie village called the Toei Kyoto Studio Park at Ukyo Ward is open to the public.