Sunday, August 8, 2010

How (American) Independence Stirred Japan

'How Independence Stirred Japan' was published in the July 4, 1976 edition of the Honolulu Star Bulletin. It was written by Ki Kimura, “president of Mejii Era Culture Institute and author of the book ‘A Study of the History of Literary Relationship Between Japan and the U.S.’ (in Japanese).

I came across this article by accident. It helps encapsulate the long and complicated relationship between America and Japan, briefly mentioning the “formal mission” to Washington, though nothing about the visit to Honolulu by the Japanese ambassadors in March, 1860.

The article is not available online, so it is transcribed here:

So isolated were the Japanese from world affairs that they remained unaware of the American Revolution for over half a century. This was due to an edict issued by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1634 in the belief that the country’s peace and security would be best served by severing contacts with foreign lands and sealing out all outside information.

The sole exception was the Dutch who were permitted to trade at Nagasaki. They were allowed once every four years to visit Edo (today’s Tokyo), the seat of the Tokugawa Government for an audience with the Shogun.

In 1826, Philip Franz von Siebold arrived in Edo as a member of the Dutch mission. In a conversation with Takahashi Sakuzaemon, most learned of the Government’s astrologers, Siebold said:

“In America, commemorative ceremonies are to be held on a grand scale as it is exactly 50 years since Washington led the people of the 13 colonies to independence from Britain and founded the United States of America.”

Only a few Japanese at that time knew vaguely of North and South America on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. But even they did not grasp the significance of the founding of the United States. It took another 27 years, when Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry’s fleet arrived in 1853, for them to gain a real understanding of that event in 1776.

Perry persuaded Japan to abandon its two centuries of isolation. In 1860, the Shogunate sent its first formal mission to Washington to seal the treaty of friendship concluded between Japan and the United States.

Once contact was established with the United States, its influence was quickly felt in Japan even to the extent of a short-lived republic being established in a corner of the country. The fall of the Shogunate and the birth of a modern state saw forces loyal to the Emperor taking over all territories, troops and weapons with the exception of naval units which escaped from Edo Bay and reached Hokkaido.

Their commander was Takeaki Enomoto, who had studied in the Netherlands and was at the time Japan’s leading naval authority. He proclaimed the founding of a republic in Hokkaido with a blood relative of the former Tokugawa Shogun as its leader, persuading foreign warships and consulates at Hakodate to remain neutral.

Four top officials of the new republic –the president, vice-president and the navy and army secretaries- were elected by vote following the American system. However, the republic soon was attacked by the Emperor’s forces and defeated.

Thomas Jefferson’s influence upon Japan was even more direct than that of George Washington. The Declaration of Independence, largely a product of Jefferson’s work, was the first of the American state papers to be translated in Japan. The translator was Yukichi Fukuzawa, who spearheaded the nation’s modernization, authored many notable works, and founded Keio University, the oldest in Japan.

Fukuzawa had visited the United States and Europe in the last days of the Shogunate. It was in his monumental work Seiyo Jijo (Conditions of the West) published in 1869, that he included a complete translation of the Declaration of Independence.

The concept that Fukuzawa understood best in the Declaration of Independence was the idea of equality –that “all men are created equal.” As he put it, “Nature does not produce man above man, nor does it produce man beneath man.” Fukuzawa substituted the word “nature” for the occidental conception of the creator as the quickest means to gain understanding among his people.

Ranking on a par with Fukuzawa’s Keio University is Waseda University, founded by Shigenobu Okuma, one of the greatest statesmen of Japan in the Meiji Era. Although he headed two Cabinets, he remained mainly outside the Government, wielding great influence as the leader of the opposition group. American newspapers and magazines of the time referred to Okuma as “the Jeffersonian Premier.”

Okuma has studied under Guido Fridrin Verbeck, a missionary sent by the Dutch Reformed Church in America, and had learned English through the New Testament and the Constitution of the United States. He was particularly attracted by the fact that Thomas Jefferson had not only been one of the founders of the United States but had also established the University of Virginia.

In the early years of the Meiji Era, Okuma was named Chief State Councillor, which was then the nation’s highest political office corresponding to the prime ministership. He was forced out in a plot by court officials close to the Emperor.

Okuma then formed the Kaishinto (Progressive Party) in opposition to the Jiyu-to (Liberal Party) which was Japan’s first political party. Okuma was dissatisfied with the Liberals because their radical platform, based on Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social. He preferred a platform closer to that of the British Gladstonian Liberals.

Later, following Jefferson’s example, Okuma founded a private school. That school is now Waseda University. Waseda and Fukuzawa’s Keio University are frequently compared to Yale and Harvard. Recently, in connection with the centenary of Waseda’s founding, steps were taken to establish ties with the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

City of Yeddo, 1860: “…magnificent in that nature which the Japanese have contrived to presume in the midst of so much art ..."

The same article also quotes another American newspaper source, though that source is not specified:

“Unlike to Pekin, Yeddo is not surrounded by walls; no magnificent gate-ways open their massive doors; no nine-story towers rise and frown above them; and no bastion and parapets upon the walls with cannon peering through the embrasures, or mounted above them, reminds the stranger as he approaches the city, that its happy people ever understood the art of war, or that he lives in a world where it was ever known.

“Ascending the flight of steps, and standing in the front street, and gazing upon what meets the eye as it turns in different directions, the first feeling is that of disappointment –the houses are so unlike in size and elegance, to what we expected to find them; and the second feeling is that of utter bewilderment, as he sees everywhere tall trees and groves and a thick undergrowth, while hills rise here and there of a considerable size and elevation, all shrouded in a mass of luxuriant vegetation –hills as rural and rough as any to be seen in a country town in New England and New York, which the human foot seems never to have approached, or the hand to have touched.

“I was in the midst of a city larger in territory and population than London, and yet seemed to be in a forest! That feeling is the one first awakened, and wander where one will, and as long as he will, it is only deepened; and in my case at least, made the more delicious. It is a law, or custom, which amounts to the same thing with the Japanese, that every man is bound to leave on his grounds as many trees as he found, and if he cuts one down, to plant another in its place. Hence the forest city. Some groves covered acres, while in other places, however thick the trees were planted, and deep the shade they cast, among them were to be seen neat houses, and fine gardens, and the most elegant shrubs dwarfed, and their branches trimmed in a most fanciful form.

“The distance from the landing or Front street to the house occupied by Mr. Harris is said to be two miles and a half. Commodore Tatnall and his Flag-Lieutenant, took a single norimon, a sort of chair like a box, with mats or cushions on the bottom, and suspended from a beam which rests on the shoulders of two or four men, as circumstances may require.

“As for myself I chose to walk and see, however the rain poured; and crossing the street to street, all of which cross at right angles, wandering amidst groves, looking into the shops which line the streets, and filled with curiosities of Japanese art, jostling amidst the crowds, but always pushing onwards, we reached the height of a considerable hill, when there instantly burst upon the eye the imperial castle, the massive and vast palaces of the Daimions, or great princes of the empire, all located outside of the walls of the imperial castle, while the temples crowned the height of the hills amidst the solemn shade of trees, and groves were seen like native forests in other directions, and a considerable river slowly wound its way in another, and wide streets stretched away in straight lines beyond the reach of the eye. At once all the first impressions was effaced, and I felt that I was in the midst of an immense and magnificent city –magnificent, not in splendid houses and palaces, and stores, and paved streets, and public works of art like Paris and Rome, and London, but magnificent in that nature which the Japanese have contrived to presume in the midst of so much art and such an immense population.”

City of Yeddo, 1860: “I cannot give you any idea of it, it is so unique, so unlike anything except itself..."

An article published by Samuel C. Damon in the July 1860 describes the Japanese city of Yeddo. Today that city is known as Japan’s capital city, Tokyo. The name change occurred in 1868.

The following is the published text describing the city. The author is not mentioned by name except as ‘Japan Correspondence of the Boston Traveler.’

“What shall I say of this great and most singular of cities? A volume is needed to describe it, without attempting to give its history. I have read of old Ninevah and Babylon below the ground, and have seen and handled the works of art which have been disinterred and created so much admiration on both sides of the Atlantic; but one living Yeddo, above the ground, is worth a hundred old fogy cities below it. I cannot give you any idea of it, it is so unique, so unlike anything except itself, and so impossible, as you will think. I have seen several places of interest, and maintained a cool head, but I was bewildered and confounded when I saw this.

“It is situated on the western shore of this charming gulf, twenty miles wide by twenty-four miles long. It stretches for twenty miles and more along a beach of semicircular form, with its horns turned outwards, and along which a street extends, crowded with blocks of stores and houses, and teeming with moving crowds, while shop-keepers, artisans, women and children, seem equally numerous within doors and at the doors. Indeed, a dozen or fifteen miles might be added to the length of the city in this direction, since there is nothing but an unbroken succession of towns and villages for this distance, which is as populous and well-built as the city itself.

“In crossing the city from the western shore to the outskirts, I have walked two miles and a half, and then proceeded on horseback for ten miles more, making twelve and a half in the whole, while in other places it may be wider still. According to the lowest estimate, the city covers an area equal to seven of the New England farming towns, which were usually six miles square. And all is traversed by streets, usually wide, well-constructed, perfectly neat, and crossing each other at right angles –streets lined with houses and stores as compactly as they can be built, and crowded with moving and stationary masses as our Washington street, or New York Broadway, at least for considerable distances.

“The population is estimated generally at three millions, which Mr. Harris, our Minister, thinks is no exaggeration. For my part, judging from what I have seen when I have gone into the heart of the city, and crossed the city from side to side, I should be willing to add as many millions more; for the living, moving masses, seen from sunrise to sunset, and everywhere the same, fairly seemed beyond computation. One city as large as seven fine towns in Berkshire county, and containing a population three times as large as that of the whole State of Massachusetts! That is enough to think of for a moment.”

–Japan Correspondence of the Boston Traveler.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Japanese Embassy Arrives in Honolulu

The March 8, 1860 edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser reported the arrival of the U.S. Steam Frigate Powhatan:


NAVAL – The U.S. Steam frigate Powhatan, under command of Capt. G. F. Pearson, and bearing Flag Officer Josiah Tatnall, arrived at this port on Monday morning, 21 days from Japan.

On leaving Kanagawa, the “P” did not purpose touching here, but finding her supply of coal would not hold out to San Francisco, she changed her course for this port. She has consequently been some days longer in coming than had she come direct.

She has on board the Japanese Embassy to the United States, consisting of 72 persons. To accommodate this large number, state-rooms have been erected on the quarter deck.

During the voyage, which has been rough and stormy, the Japanese guests have made themselves very agreeable, not the slightest disturbance having occurred, but on the other hand, they have invariably appeared well pleased with their accommodations and officers of the vessel. Three interpreters accompany the Embassy, so that the wants of the strangers are easily met.

The Powhatan will remain here about two weeks, sailing we understand, on the 20th for San Francisco, where she is to be placed in the dry dock, at Mare island, to repair damages sustained in her cruises in the Japan seas. She leaks considerably, and otherwise needs much overhauling.

After repairing at San Francisco, she will receive on board the Japanese and proceed to Panama, where they will go to Aspinwall via the railroad, and embark on board the U.S. frigate Roanoke, and thence to New York or Annapolis.

The following is a list of the officers of the Powhatan:


Captain: George F. Pearson.

Lieutenants: James D. Johnston, Stephen D. Trenchard, Wm. W. Roberts, Alexander A. Semmes, Charles E. Thorburn, Robert Boyd, Jr.

Fleet Surgeon: W. A. W. Spotswood.

Passed Asst. Surgeon: Chas. H. Williamson.

Assistant Surgeon: John W. Sanford, Jr.

Purser: B. F. Gallaher.

Chaplain: Henry Wood.

Marine Officer: Captain A.S. Taylor.

Chief Engineer: William H. Shock.

First Asst. Engineers: Wm. W. Rutherford, Richard C. Potts.

Second Asst. Engineer: George W. City.

Third Asst. Engineers: Wm. H. King, E.R. Archer, Wm. W. Dungan, George S. Bright.

Boatswain: Edward Kenney.

Acting Gunner: Henry Fitzosbourne.

Carpenter: Joseph G. Thomas.

Sailmaker: Augustus A. Warren

Commodore’s Secretary: T. A. Nicholson.

Captain’s Clerk: Leonard W. Riley.

Purser’s Clerk: Chas. P. Thompson.

Master’s Mates: Chas. R. Betts, Augustus Stebbins, Gilbert M. L. Cook.

*This same list also appeared in the April, 1860 edition of The Friend, published in Honolulu by Rev. Samuel C. Damon.

“We wish only to throw out a suggestion.”

In the same March 8, 1860 edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser announced the arrival of the U.S.S. Powhatan, the editors provided the following comments:

ONLY A SUGGESTION. Now that our distinguished Japanese visitors are here, would it not be a good idea for his Excellency the Minister of Foreign Relations to hatch up a treaty with their excellencies Simme-Bujen-no-kami and Muragake-Awage-no-kami, Ambassadors from the court of Yeddo, and Ministers Extraordinary from His Imperial Highness the Emperor of Japan. Such a document might be extorted from their excellencies quite as easily as from the numerous other agents of less rank, who have honored the Minister with their autographs. It seems especially important that our alliances with the “Flowery Empire” should be cemented by a bond of union a few yards longer than the last diplomatic effort, inasmuch as our commerce with that nation (we have just sent off a clipper bark to Kanagawa) has already assumed formidable proportions, and it is also a well known fact that our whalers call at Hakodadi for their potatoes. We wish only to throw out a suggestion.