Japan Society of Fairfield County
Lecture on 77 Samurai Delegation

Saturday, June 12, 2010, Westport Public Library
     JSFC president Harry Sakamaki has been studying the early diplomatic history of Japan and the United States and presented a lecture on his research at the Westport Library. One hundred fifty years ago, Japan’s first diplomatic visit to the United States occurred. In 1860, Japan was represented by seventy seven samurai and some observers. This occurred prior to the Civil War when James Buchanan was president and Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Commodore Perry had opened Japan in 1854 and the Kanagawa Treaty was signed. Townsend Harris was sent to Shimoda, Japan as America’s first diplomat, and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce was drawn up. Japan wanted the treaty approved with some changes in the terms and therefore sent its embassy to the United States.
     Just prior to this time, Japan was essentially closed to the west. A 2.4 acre island, Dejima, near Nagasaki, was a closed Dutch settlement that serviced a few Dutch ships per year. More trade occurred with China, often coming up through Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. Japan was aware that China was being carved up by the west. Britain sent gunboats up the Yangtze to protect its drug pushers in the Opium War of 1840. There was considerable dissension within Japan as to how to deal with the west.
     Masayoshi Hotta, an adviser to Tokugawa Shogun, was assigned to work with Harris on a treaty. Although initially opposed to opening, Hotta was convinced that opening was in Japan’s interest. A draft of a treaty was developed and Hotta insisted that it receive Imperial endorsement. The Emperor faced an “anti-alien sect” in the imperial court, refused to endorse the draft, and expelled Hotta from his post. The new Chief of Staff of Tokugawa Shogunate, Naosuke Ii, signed the treaty without the Emperor’s approval. The Treaty was signed on the deck of U.S.N. Powhatan anchored in Kanagawa on July 29, 1858 (two and a half years after Harris’ arrival) It was an unequal treaty but not as severe as treaties China was forced to sign. Extraterritoriality was claimed in 5 opened cities, (Hakodate, Niigata, Kanagawa (Edo), Hyogo(Kobe), and Nagasaki) and the city of Shimoda was to be returned to closed status. Conventional tariffs were imposed but Japan was obliged to accept an unfair gold-silver coin exchange rate. Townsend Harris persuaded Masayoshi Hotta to accept these terms by pointing out the military threat posed by Spain, Portugal, Britain, and France. The U.S. had no interest in military adventures overseas and was the only friendly and benevolent Western power. It would protect Japan from Britain selling opium to Japan. Japan could also benefit from tariffs it collected and would gain access to western technology, especially steam engines and telegraphy.
     Townsend Harris was in his fifties and wished to be a politician. He obtained a copy of the British Siam Commerce treaty and studied its terms. He learned Japanese and also spoke the principle European languages and was a good debater. Later he went on to found the City College of New York.
     The Japanese Embassy delegation of 77 samurai wanted to get the treaty approved and anticipated a lucrative trade between the US and Japan. They also wanted to correct the unfair gold-silver exchange rate. The idea of a delegation was originally brought up by Tadanari Iwase, the chief negotiator with Harris, under Masayoshi Hotta. Such a trip would allow Japan to show its flag for the first time. Japanese observers accompanying the embassy would have an opportunity to see America first hand and verify reports of its prosperity and strength.
     Two ships sailed to America. The US ship was the USN Powhatan, which was a side paddlewheel frigate, powered by a 1500 hp steam engine capable of cruising at 11 knots. She was the flagship of Commodore Mathew Perry’s fleet and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed on her deck. She displaced 3,765 tons, and was 254 feet long with a 45 foot beam. The Japanese ship was the Kanrinmaru, which was built in Kinder-Dyke, Holland. This ship has survived and is in operating condition. She was the first coal-fired screw driven steam corvette in Japan, powered by a 100 hp steam engine and capable of 6 knots. Her displacement was 300 tons, and she was 164 feet long, with a 23 foot beam.
     The ships left Yokohama on February 13, 1860 and encountered a severe storm en route. The Powhatan detoured to Sandwich Island (Hawaii) for refueling while the Kanrinmaru continued to San Francisco, arriving 3/17/1860 with great fanfare. News reached San Francisco that the Powhatan would bypass San Francisco and go directly to Panama, but this proved to be false. Repairs were made to the Kanrinmaru at the Mare Island Navy Yard. Three members of the Kanrinmaru crew died during the voyage or right after arriving San Francisco: Boiler man Minekichi (37), sailor Minezo (22), and sailor Gennosuke (25). Charles Wolcott Brooks, a trader, found them tomb stones and buried them. Later they were transferred to Colma Hill where the Pacific Ocean can be viewed. There continues to be the Japanese Cemetery in Colma. Japan appointed Brooks the first consul of Japan in San Francisco in 1867.
    The Powhatan arrived in San Francisco on 3/29/1860. A welcome reception was planned and chaired by San Francisco Mayor Teschenmaker. It was attended by army generals, volunteer army generals, statesmen, judges, and consuls from Britain, France, Netherlands, Russia, among others. While in San Francisco, Fukuzawa toured a Telegraph Office, a Galvanizing Plant, and a Sugar Refining Plant. He shopped at a book store with John Manjiro and bought an English-Chinese Webster dictionary and some children’s books. In his diary he noted:“Wasn’t surprised at all by telegraph and galvanizing…”  “Our colleague wearing zouri(sandals) and two swords did not know what to do upon entering a room with lush wall-to-wall carpeting … eventually stepped on…suddenly delivered sake bottle…big noise when opened…bubbles popped up…something solid inside the glass…put it in the mouth and startled...?”(it was ice)
     On 4/10/1860, the Kanrinmaru returned to Edo, stopping at Hawaii en route. The Japanese crew assumed full responsibility for navigation home.
     The embassy sailed to Panama on the Powhatan, leaving on 4/7/1860. They then took a steam train across the isthmus from Aspinwall (now Colon). This was the first time the Japanese officials rode on a full size train. They were met by the frigate USS Roanoke and welcomed aboard. They sailed to Fort Monroe where they transferred to the steamer Philadelphia, which took them up the Potomac River, passing Mount Vernon and Alexandria. The embassy received a big welcome from Americans they passed on shore and received a warm reception at the Washington Navy Yard. There they unloaded tons of cargo including a large strange box. They next traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to Willard’s Hotel where they were welcomed by the dignitaries in Washington. They deposited $80,000 cash and jewels in the hotel safety deposit box. Later they were taken on a tour of the Washington Navy yard where they were shown ship building, steam engine manufacturing, gear/nuts/bolts manufacturing, and canon/rifle/shell manufacturing. Oguri convinced himself that industrialization starts from ship building and steel making and took a nut as a sample. His experience led the Japanese to build the Yokosuka Ship Building/Steel Plant. Now there is a U.S. Navy Base in Yokosuka.
     At their first dinner in America, they had a good appetite for American food and ate everything on the table except the meat, which was inconsistent with their Buddhist leanings. They did not enjoy the western custom of putting butter on their rice, but did enjoy pipe smoking after dinner.
     On May 16, 1860, they visited Lewis Cass, the Secretary of State, at his office in semi-formal attire. They presented their credentials from the Shogun and a copy of the treaty. It was carried in that large mysterious box mentioned earlier; its sides were five feet wide.
     On May 17, 1860, they visited the White House. The Envoy left Willard’s Hotel for the White House in formal court wear ( “Eboshi” headgear and purple brocade “Kariginu” clothing) in a carriage accompanied by an honor guard of Marines and military bands. They met with President Buchanan and presented their credentials in the East Room. Shinmi handed a pile of letters to the President, who handed them to Lewis Cass. After brief addresses, the President shook hands with the Ambassadors. They presented several gifts from the Tokugawa Shogun:  two long swords, saddle and stirrups with silver lacquer decoration, hanging scrolls (by artists of the Kano and Sumiyoshi schools), ten pairs of folding screens, multicolored hanging curtains, lacquered book shelves, ink stone cases, and stationery boxes, Gold, silver, and copper coins, and a silk screen in black and gold lacquered frame.
     On May 23, 1860, the treaty was signed by Secretary of State, Lewis Cass, and the three ambassadors from Japan. The treaty was written in three different languages: English, Dutch, and Japanese. Discussions between the Americans and the Japanese were usually done in Dutch, a language known by both.
     The political situation in the United States was very unsettled at this time. The panic of 1857 has damaged President Buchanan’s reputation and Lincoln had been nominated as the Republican candidate for President.
     The editor of the NY Times wrote an op ed discussing the Japanese. He chose to describe them as the “England of the Pacific”. The delegation had come to study, compare, criticize, and inquire and find a light out from the darkness. The Japanese people were described as singular among Orientals for intellectual activities, having practical good sense and a zeal for the acquisition of knowledge. They wished to learn of foreign customs, but reserved the right not to adopt them. They were people of simple habits who enjoyed rational and healthy pleasures. Although they do not sing, they enjoy music. Japan was unique among Eastern nations in rejecting polygamy and treating women with respect. The art of Japan was deemed immature, lacking shading and perspective. They were less judgmental and showed less respect for personal life. Japan was said to teach all children reading and writing. Books were inexpensive and available to all. Kyoto was deemed to the Athens of Japan. Such a generous view of a non white people was remarkable for this era when slavery was still legal in the United States.
     One member of the Japanese delegation drew considerable attention. He was Onojiro Tateishi, an interpreter. This youngest member of the delegation was nicknamed “Tommy” after his first name Tamehachit. “Tommy” was an idol among American ladies and reciprocated by saying “I like American lady very much;  I want to marry and live here with pletty lady (not ‘pretty’)” when asked for his autograph. He learned to sing and whistle, “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “Hail Columbia”. He even ended up with a dance tune named after him, the “Tommy Polka”.
     The delegation toured and shopped in Washington, visiting the Smithsonian Museum, the Capitol, and the National Astronomical Observatory. They also attempted to observe daily life, including watching a woman iron clothes and sew using the newly invented sewing machines.
     The social life of the delegation was quite full in Washington. In May, they had a Festival Ball at the Willard Hotel and later had a welcome reception at the White House. While the delegation was in Washington, news of the Sakuradamon incident reached them. JSFC showed a film based on this incident in December 2011. Naosuke Ii, who functioned as Prime Minister for the Shogunate, was assassinated on the 15th of March. He was going from his house to the palace when he was attacked by the fourteen Japanese dressed as travelers. He was the person who earlier approved the treaty over the objections of the Imperial Court. This news arrived on the Schooner Page on June 13, 1860.
     The delegation next moved to Philadelphia. The Delegation watched a torchlight procession of 4000 firefighters and 200 fire engines from the balcony of the Continental Hotel. The Ambassadors visited Point Breeze to watch two balloons ascend. Townsend Harris had told them of balloons while they were in Edo. They visited the gas works and another group was invited to a chess club. There they demonstrated “shoji” and amazed the chess players with the speed of play. They quickly learned chess. They also visited medical doctor and observed surgical operations.
     On June 14, 1860, they visited the Philadelphia mint. Oguri met with the director of the Mint and explained the unfairness of the valuation of coinage. He brought three gold coins (“Ansei Koban”) and showed they were exactly the same weight proving the quality of the Japanese coinage. Comparing the content of gold of both Japanese and American coins, he demonstrated the unfairness of the proposed exchange rate. The director of the mint agreed.
     On June 16, 1860, the delegation traveled to New York. They took train from Philadelphia to Camden to Amboy, New Jersey. There they boarded the Steamboat Alida at 10AM, where they received a welcome reception on the deck. The ship sailed along the scenic shoreline of New Jersey. They were obliged to sail around Staten Island due to an ebb tide. At 2PM, the Alida docked at the Battery Pier 1, North River. 7000 military men were on hand to greet them and the start of their 13 day stay. The Embassy proceeded to the Metropolitan Hotel located at Broadway & Prince Street. The entrance was lighted with 2000 colorful Venetian lanterns and its “Welcome” sign was lit by more lights. They were assigned all 74 rooms on the second floor. The Ambassadors were assigned the suites on the Broadway side with a private baths and a dining room. The bed covers were embroidered with Chinese silk fabricated in Calcutta. A card inscribed with the Japanese emblem and “Japanese Embassy” was posted on all their doors. The corridors were decorated with pictures of Japanese scenery. Flags of Japan and America were hung from the ceiling. Saloon walls were decorated with flowers, evergreens, and flags. Singing canaries were placed in cages in the Promenade.
     On the 25th of June 1860, they had a Grand Ball at the Metropolitan Hotel. It started with a Welcome Parade on Broadway in front of the Metropolitan Hotel. Viewing stands were set up on Broadway and seats sold for $1. Japanese and American flags waved on the streets and welcome banners were placed on buildings. Approximately 800,000 people attended the parade. Security included 400 police and 6440 military personnel (After the Civil War, US military personnel were prohibited from normal law enforcement by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878). A reenactment of this event was held in 2010. Afterwards a banquet was held at the mansion of James Bennett, Sr, founder of New York Herald. The site of the mansion is now Bennett Park,
     The delegation relaxed at Central Park. A group took a carriage from the Metropolitan Hotel, and “Tommy” hastily jumped into a carriage to avoid a crowd of American ladies. The park’s chief architecture Frederick Olmsted welcomed them and showed a Japanese native Cryptomeria Japonica which he brought from England. Ambassador Shinmi got off the carriage and attended the planting ceremony.
    The Ambassador told Olmstead that the trunk will grow to a diameter of three feet by extending his arms. After the planting ceremony, the group ran around the park for about half of an hour like children, climbing the rocks and using their newly purchased binoculars.
     They also went our tours of industrial facilities, such as the Spalding “Prepared Glue” plant. The delegation was surprised by the ready-to-use glue; in Japan “Nikawa” glue was made when needed. They visited the United States Steam Sugar Refining Company and saw a great deal of machinery including copper vacuum pans, engines, and a powdering mill. They presented the company president with a set of “hakama” (Japanese pantaloons).
     They went shopping on Broadway, stopping at a bookstore where they purchased two dozen books on American currency. They bought jewelry and wrist watches although they were prohibited by Japanese law from wearing them at home. They bought shoes and checked out the newest sewing machines at Wilson&Banker. The Chinese pottery they thought they bought turned out to be made in Japan.
     They received presents from President James Buchanan:
    American Watch Company’s gold hunting watches were given to His Majesty the Tycoon and his Chief Ambassador. These were gold hunting watches with an engraved picture of President Buchanan on the lid and an eagle on the back. The dial was finished with Arabic and Japanese characters. The second in command of the delegation received a similar watch, but with the Capitol engraved on the lid. “Tommy” received an unengraved watch.
     The Delegation said farewell to America on June 30, 1860 as the sailed on the USS Niagara (4800 ton). They sailed to the east, thereby making the delegation the first Japanese to circumnavigate the globe. They stopped at Luanda, Angola; Batavia on Jakarta; and Hong Kong before arriving at Edo, Japan on November 9th, 1860.
     In both Japan and the United States events occurred which precluded further development of relations. When the delegation returned to Japan, they were not received well. Although the anti-alien sect in the imperial court had been banished after the Sakuradamon incident, it continued to pop up. Eventually the Shogunate lost all its power in the Meiji restoration of 1868. In the United States, the Civil War started in 1861 and overshadowed most foreign relations.
     The delegation did have important long term consequences, especially for Japan. Capitalism and public companies appeared in Japan and grew rapidly. Western science and technology flourished. The government was modernized following western examples and individualism and people’s rights were developing. Baseball was introduced to Japan. By the time of the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago, Japan participated in the fair on same level as developed western nations.

    New York Historical Society (Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly)
    The City College of New York – The City College Library
    Naval Historical Center
    Shimoda City – Historical sites and museums
    Books written by Shiba Ryotaro, Sakamoto Fujiyoshi, Sato Masami, Tsunafuchi Kenjo, Masao Miyoshi “As We Saw Them”, etc.
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