Monday, April 8, 2019

Year 2019 Update!

The Japanese Embassy at the Washington D.C. shipyard in 1860: Vice-Ambassador Muragaki Norimasa (third from left), Ambassador Shinmi Masaoki (middle), and Oguri Tadamasa (second from right)

Years ago, when I started this project about the visit in Year 1860 to the Hawaiian Kingdom by the delegation representing a newly-opened Japan on its way to the United States of America I was never quite sure what would lay ahead. 

I saw this blog as a free resource available to all who were interested in this remarkable event in our history. That continues, by the way. 

Back in 2013 and 2014 I gave some thought to turning this into a book project. That, too, continues. But as things go life has a way of interfering with our best intentions and our plans. 

My teaching schedule increased for one thing. In 2015 I was invited by the Chinese government to come to Beijing as an official guest for its 70th year commemorations of the end of World War II. Stories about my research into my late-father's service in China caught their attention -and off I went to Beijing. That excursion was both life and career changing, launching my current career as a radio broadcast journalist. I worked again as an adjunct instructor, a professional tax preparer, started traveling extensively again, and so on. 

Historical things like these tend to capture my passion for history and my imagination as well. I'm always delighted when others join in, too. 

Just after the beginning of 2019 I received an email from Mr. Jon Yoshimura representing Hawaii Governor Ige's office. It seemed that this blog was attracting attention -I'm all for that! 

It was by phone with Jon Yoshimura that I learned about the creation of a new organization -Society of Descendants of the First Japanese Embassy-  comprising the descendants of the 1860 Japanese delegation. 

We had a lively conversation, traded thoughts and ideas, and I received an invitation to attend an event this month at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. 

In 2016 Naval District Washington held a commemoration ceremony marking the arrival of the Japanese Embassy in 1860. Read about it here. 

I learn about a truly dedicated gentleman spearheading the preservation of the 1860 Japanese Embassy's history -Takashi Muragaki, chairman of the Society of Descendants of the First Japanese Embassy and a fourth generation descendant of Vice Ambassador, Norimasa Awajinokami Muragaki (see picture above). 

Arigato! I salute you! Trust me, this is hard work. It's often thankless, but it comes with its own rewards. 

All this came about just when my three-year Marvels of China: Pathways to the Pacific Rim radio show concluded its run on 1490 WGCH and online worldwide (We lost the underwriting sponsorship due to complications resulting from the current trade war). 

I started a successor weekly broadcast in the same time slot, Asia Today with Jeffrey Bingham Mead, also on 1490 WGCH and online worldwide every Saturday morning starting 10:30 a.m. Eastern USA Time. 

When you're in radio broadcasting its a good sign when you are presented with an avalanche of material. 

We live in a fantastic time, a period of history when people all over the world are learning about each other and connecting as never before. Sure, it has its challenges. But it also comes with opportunities and surprises galore. It's never dull. 

What's next? Tune in! In the meantime please peruse this historical blog site. Share it. Be enriched and let your imagination soar. 

You can also contact me by email anytime:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Japanese Embassy Visits Hong Kong: 1861

Source: Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu: Thursday, March 7, 1861.

The Embassy visited Hongkong, in October. One of the Hongkong papers has the following, which refutes the silly report started by the Polynesian, that the Embassy consisted only of the lower orders, and embraced none of the high rank:

As for the Japanese-they are allowed to do pretty much as they like, and conduct themselves in the most exemplary manner possible. They have the whole of the poop to themselves, which is about one hundred feet long, and if the nasal organs are to be the test of cleanliness, they certainly give the lie to the failing so prevalent with Asiatics on board ship. The attendants whom we saw, appeared as happy and contended as men could be. The more intelligent among them take great interest in the progress of the ship, perfectly understanding the use of the globes, &c. One of the interpreters is a very good navigator indeed, and is allowed every facility for the gratification of his thirst for knowledge. The Commissioners themselves appear to have won the respect of all, by their undeviating affability and gentlemanly conduct.

The Governor General of Netherlands India paid marked attention to the Ambassadors during their short stay in Batavia. They were received with great honors when they landed, and after being conveyed in great state to Government house, partook of as splendid a banquet as the resources of the country could produce.

It turns out it was a mistake to suppose that the great proportion of the followers in this Japan Embassy are menials. It was imagined that such was the case when they embarked, but it has since been ascertained that out of the whole batch only three are, strictly speaking, menials. The greater number consist of young men of good families, who being seized with desire to travel, submitted to the indignity of being considered menials, and have in fact partaken of the accommodation assigned to the servants of the Embassy. This will fully account for the large number that accommodation was applied for on board the Powhatan, when she took them over.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

CHINA AND JAPAN , by LT James D. Johnston, U.S.N. (1860

CHINA AND JAPAN , by LT James D. Johnston, U.S.N. (1860)

James D. Johnston, lieutenant, U.S. Navy, executive officer of the Steam-Frigate Powhatan, wrote an account of the trip of the Powhatan to open diplomatic relations with China and to transport the first Japanese ambassadors to the United States less than seven years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry forced his way into Japan in 1853.

These were also the last years before the Civil War, before Southerners such as Johnston entered the Confederate Navy.

This book is now annotated to show what was meant by passing references which were much clearer at the time it was written, and also to trace events in the lives of the participants after the voyage.

The preliminary part of the book includes a table of contents explaining what the various chapters listed below actually cover. Or just start reading the book from the beginning.

"...with thanks, by order of the Emperor, to His Majesty King Kamehameha IV..."

Source: The Polynesian: Sat., Nov. 16, 1861.

Depatches from Jedo, or 5th and 31st August last, from the Government of Japan, through His Excellency Townsend Harris, the Minister of the United States, with thanks, by order of the Emperor, to His Majesty King Kamehameha IV., for his kind reception of the Japanese Embassy, and with valuable presents to His Majesty in acknowledgement of that kind reception were received at the Foreign Office yesterday. 

The First United States Vessel to Japan

Source: The Polynesian. Honolulu: May 19, 1860.

The first United States vessel to Japan was the ship Franklin, of Boston, belonging to James and Thomas H. Perkins, and commanded by James Devereaux, of Salem. Felt says that this ship sailed Dec. 11, 1798 for Batavia and Japan, and reached a port of the latter country on June 17th of the next year. Returning, she arrived back at Salem May 10th, 1800. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An 1860 Description of the Hawaiian Islands: Richmond (Virginia) Enquirer

The following article was featured in The Polynesian, published in Honolulu on November 16, 1860. “We have been favored with a copy of the annexed letter, published in the Richmond Enquirer in May last. We re-publish it to show the impressions of the writer respecting the Islands, Government, &c.” It is dated March 15, 1860, which was just before the Japanese ambassadors set off for California on their journey to Washington, D.C. The author is not named.


To the “Enquirer,” Richmond, Va.:

This, I presume, is the first letter ever received by you from the ‘Island World.’ It is written to afford some little information to your readers, and to friends, who have kindly requested letters on the subject. To comply with each individual request for “a letter” would be impossible, and I therefore throw myself on your kindness and ask its publication.

Outside of New England very little seems known respecting these beautiful and interesting Islands:- when about to visit them, on a late occasion, in taking leave of friends in Virginia and Washington, some of them appeared alarmed at the idea that your correspondent should venture to go to a land inhabited by “cannibals.” I hope after they read this letter, they will have no fears that I shall be “killed and eaten up,” unless, indeed, it shall be done by kindness, such as never has been exceeded by any people, in whose midst my lot has been cast.

In the year 1778 the Islands were discovered by Cook, and the whole group, eight in number, were supposed to contain a population of some four hundred thousand, quiet, peaceable and contented ‘Polynesians,’ living of course, in a primitive state-but happy. From various causes the number at present is much diminished. Some thirty or forty years since the missionaries made their appearance; and it is but simple justice to them to say, that they have done much toward Christianizing the natives- (I will not say civilizing them, for it is difficult to imagine, to see them in their present state, that they ever were otherwise than a civil race). They have done much towards educating them. Most excellent schools and colleges have been established, and are in successful operation; and already some of the natives (and among them the present King) have been well educated, and reflect great credit on their institutions.

Is conducted under a written constitution, which in its provisions is liberal and enlightened-it is modeled very much after some of our State Governments- the “Laws enacted by the King, the Nobles and Representatives in Legislative Council” are respected by all and rigidly enforced.

Is a well educated and talented man-dignified and gentlemanly in his deportment; is very well informed; speaks and writes the English language very well; has traveled in the United States and Europe. He lives in great comfort, quite as much as the President of the United States; has an ample income, and is much respected by foreigners, and loved by the natives. He is only twenty-seven years of age. He appoints his successor.

Is only about twenty-one years of age; said to be very charitable, good-hearted and kind to her people, who appear to idolize her.

Consists of “a Minister or Foreign Relations,” “a Minister of Finance” and “a Minister of the Interior.” The first is filled by a talented Scotch gentlemen, who has been much in the United States, and holds our institutions and Government in very high estimation. He holds office not for its salary, (he being very wealthy and without a family) but solely to give the Government the benefit of his experience and services.

The office the Minister of Finance is held by our late United States Commissioner from Illinois, a native of New York. He is a gentleman of fine talents and general information.

The Minister of the Interior is a native, brother of the King. He is well educated and is very popular. On the whole, the Government is a very good one.

As I have already said, the natives are quiet and happy, easily governed, kind in their disposition, very friendly to all foreigners, and especially Americans. Many of them are well educated, especially the females, who are intelligent and genteel. The higher class dress with great aste, and life the foreigners, some of them are pretty. The lower class, kanakas, (men), also dress like foreigners, but the wahine (women) of that class dress in very loose dresses, often made of fine silks, but frequently go barefooted. All classes, native and foreign, ride on horseback, and at full speed. The wahines ride as fast as men do, and very gracefully. It is a fine sight to see of an evening hundreds of them on horseback, with long scarfs “thrown to the breeze.” All classes look neat and clean. No people pay greater attention tom personal cleanliness. As a race, the natives, in size and personal appearance, I think are greatly superior to the Chinese, Japanese, or any of the Polynesian race I have seen.

The whole area of all the islands is about six thousand square miles, or three million, eight hundred and forty thousand acres. They are within an area of about three hundred and fifty miles, and in latitude from 20 to 22 they are called the “pathway” to China and Japan. The climate is a very equably one. The thermometer varying from 68 to 80 all year round. It is never oppressively hot in the day, and always pleasant at night, never too warm to dispense with a blanket.

Every species of fruit raised in the tropics, are grown on some of the Islands, and very many kinds not found on other islands. The same may be said of vegetables of almost every kind. Wheat and Indian corn, in some localities, are successfully cultivated, especially wheat. Coffee of a very superior quality has heretofore been extensively and profitably raised. But within the last year or two, an insect has attacked and injured the trees. It is said to be similar to the insects which have done much damage to other coffee growing countries, and for a time almost put a stop to its cultivation, and then wholly disappeared. Doubtless it will be the same on these Islands. Sugar is, and will no doubt continue to be, the great staple of the Islands. The cane continues to grow for two years, and attains a size which is almost incredible. It “rations” from eight to ten years-never, of course, being injured by frosts, as they are unknown. The quantity raised is about two tons to an acre-often four and six have been raised-which commands in the San Francisco market from eight to nine cents per pound. Labor (in abundance) is obtained at from five to six dollars per month, and the whole cost of feeing (the only expense) is about two dollars per month. Lands of a very fine quality can be purchased at from five to ten dollars. It will be seen from the above that sugar can be raised at three cents per pound, and that the profit is immense. The quality of that now being made is very superior.

Grazing is also an extensive and profitable business. The increase of cattle is so great that many thousands have to be killed off to keep the stocks under, and the hides alone saved. I may mention in this connection, that in the year 1793 Vancouver placed on one of the Islands, four head of cattle only, and from their increase some thirty thousand have been killed, and the same number still remains. The beef and mutton are very superior-quite equal to any in Virginia. The living on the Islands is equal to any anywhere. Fish and fowls tame and wild, are supplied in great abundance, and of fine quality. The best fish are kept in large ponds, fed as we feed our poultry, and taken out when wanted.

About eight-tenths of the trade of the islands is with the United States-the larger portion with California. There is, however, a good deal of trade and intercourse with China, Japan, England and France, Germany, &c. Some fifteen or Twenty Governments are represented here by Consuls. The whale fishery, carried on in American vessels, is immense. In former time, some eight or ten millions of dollars worth of oil and bone come into this port alone annually, and some two hundred ships were employed in the business. Of late years, the business has, from various causes, greatly diminished. Still it is of very great importance.

This is said to be the only foreign port in the world in which Americans outnumber all others. The foreigners are, generally speaking, very well informed, and most of them have traveled a great deal and have seen much of the world, and of course have enlarged and liberal views. They are very social, very friendly and moral. The churches (of which they have quite a large number) are better attended than in any country I have seen. They have excellent Ministers, to whom the congregations are much attached. I may mention among them the Rev. S.C. Damon and the Rev. Eli Corwin. I mention these two not to disparage others, but because it has been my good fortune to become better acquainted with them than others.

The great volcano on the island of Hawaii is said to be one of the grandest in the world, and is visited by all travelers who visit the North Pacific. I have not seen it yet, but design doing so in May, when I will attempt to give you a description of that, and many other things which may be worth writing about. I may here say that I have been favored with a view of the ‘Robes’ worn by the King and Queen in state occasions. They are made of the feathers of birds interwoven in fine canvas. The colors are varied, rich and beautiful, only two feathers from each bird. Many, many millions of birds must have been caught, and the two feathers only taken from their plumage. It is said that it has required some seventy or eighty years to complete them. Of course no monied value can be placed on them. When we reflect that all this was the work of “Nature,” having at that day no intercourse with the world, they are indeed remarkable.

The population is about twelve or thirteen thousand. The dwelling houses, many of them built of coral, are very comfortable, and many of them spacious. They are built in the rear of the streets, and the yards are filled with ornamental trees, flowers and shrubbery, all having an air or neatness and comfort. But that which would look strange to us, is to see a considerable town built up without a single chimney. Of course they are not required, as fires are never wanted. On the whole, it is a most agreeable place for a residence. The society, male and female, is very pleasant. I must close this crude letter. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Ambassadors Return to Japan -It was not a warm welcome

The December 15, 1860 edition of The Polynesian featured news of the return of the Japanese ambassadors to their homeland. Dated from Kanagawa on November 13, the article initially presented news about currency questions, the death of Prince Meto (who opposed the presence of foreigners, an assault on an attache from the French legation, the failure of an unnamed Prussian admiral to secure a treaty, and so on.

The following is the text of the middle section of the article:

The Niagara, with the Japanese Commissioners, arrived on the 10th Nov., all well. Off Yokohama a courier was sent ashore to proceed over land to Yeddo. No notice was taken of their arrival at Kanagawa by the Japanese, nor did they themselves exhibit any signs of curiosity or interest on their near approach to home. They appeared entirely indifferent, and Tommy, the ladies man, looked as dirty as though his face had not been washed since the belles of Washington had last kissed him. 

No notice was taken of them or the Niagara at Jeddo, except the usual salute to the ship. The Commissioners were not permitted to land in the ship's boat, but were quietly landed in a common Custom House boat in a remote part of the town, without any attention paid them. No official notice had been taken of the Niagara's arrival by the Government, no thanks presented nor gratitude expressed for the courtesies extended to them in America. The  Niagara would remain until the 15th, two days longer, to give them an opportunity should they desiree to improve it. 

The common talk on the streets of Kanagawa was that Uncle Sam had been sold. It was said that none of these Commissioners were men of rank, except what might have been conferred upon them temporarily, but that they were merely spies sent to ascertain the strength and condition of the American people, that when they had made their report, they would pass away and be heard of no more.