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Posts Tagged ‘Commodore Perry’

Samurai in Washington D.C.

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

150 years ago, the world had yet to discover Japan, and the people of Japan had never seen America …

In the summer of 1860, before the Civil War erased all thoughts of international affairs from America’s mind, the Japan’s Tokugawa government sent its first diplomatic mission to the United States:  a group of 77 samurai whose purpose was to exchange the instruments of ratification of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1858). The agreement opened the ports of Edo and four other Japanese cities to American trade, among other stipulations. In the years  before the Civil War, the Japanese visitors captivated the American people and the press.samurai-reception-in-wash-dc-1860 Landing of Japanese Embassy at Navy Yard in Washington, DC, May 1860

Throughout their seven-week tour, the guests from Japan were greeted with great excitement, if not outright curiosity given their “exotic” dress and demeanor. Everywhere they went, they were met by overflowing crowds, and impressive parades were staged in their honor. The historic visit was widely covered in the American press of the day, which relished recounting every detail of the visits made by these exotic visitors. In fact, these Japanese envoys from across the Pacific became celebrities who captivated much attention across a nation that had yet to experience the outbreak of the American Civil War. This remarkable encounter of cultures was described in the June 11, 1860 edition of The New York Times as “… an event which, if it have any significance at all, involves consequences the most momentous to the civilization and the commerce of the world for ages to come.”uss-powhatan-w-1st-japanese-embassy-to-us-circa-1860

USS Powhatan carrying the First Japanese Embassy to America, circa 1860. Woodblock print, ink and colors on paper. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA (The U.S. frigate Powhatan was the so-called “Black Ship” formerly under the command of Commodore Perry)

This momentous event was not only a first for Japan, but for the West as well. Before the Japanese Embassy’s arrival on American shores, no Western country had ever received a diplomatic mission from East Asia. The significance of this great honor was not lost on the fledgling American republic. Congress adjourned for their arrival at the Navy Yard, while a crowd of 5,000 gathered to greet the samurai at the docks. Another 20,000 Washingtonians – Washington’s population at that time was about 75,000 – cheered along their route to the Willard Hotel, where the samurai would lodge during their stay. Men and boys climbed trees to get a better look as ladies tossed flowers from crowded, second-story windows.

Vice Envoy Muragaki described the scene in his private journal:

“What immense crowds there were! The streets were like seas of human beings; the windows and balconies were thronged with people eager to get a glimpse of the procession. I could not help smiling at the wonder in their eyes, which reached a culminating point when they caught sight of our party wearing costumes that they had never seen before or even dreamt of. I might say that the whole procession seemed to the people of Washington to be a scene out of fairyland, as, indeed, their city appeared to us.

It was however, not without a feeling of pride and satisfaction that we drove, in such grand style, through the streets of the American metropolis, as the first Ambassadors that Japan had ever sent abroad, and that we witnessed the enthusiastic welcome accorded to us by the citizens.”

Herman Melville called Japan “impenetrable” in Moby Dick (1851), and predicted that “(if) that double-bolted land, Japan, is even to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due; for all ready she is on the threshold.”  Less than three years later Commodore Perry’s steam-powered “Black Ships” [which included the U.S. frigate Powhatan] lowered their anchors in Edo Bay in 1853 and Japan’s official policy of national isolation, which had been followed for over two centuries, did indeed come to an end.

When I Googled “1860 Japanese ambassadors to America” over 90,300 results appeared.  Of course I did not visit each and every website, but I did peruse the first four pages totaling just under 40 links.  For Japanophiles the very idea that 90,000+ pages were devoted to one subject, e.g., the first Japanese embassy to visit America, is gratifying.   For Friends of MacDonald members, however, the sparkles of delight are definitely muted; nearly every web article I inspected lovingly pointed out that Commodore Perry had “opened” Japan a mere 7 years before the official Japanese embassy visit, but none – NOT ONE – made mention of the fact that it had been Ranald MacDonald’s efforts – his design, if you will -that had facilitated the success of America’s first official contact with Japan, but Ranald had clearly articulated his intent, to wit:

“Wonder in an ocean of wonders! – to us, on its opposite shore, gazing, searching into the far, far offing, it was ever an object of intense curiosity. What of such people? What of their manner of life? What of their unrivalled(sic) wealth with its gleam of gold and things most precious? What of their life, social, municipal and national? What of their feelings and tendencies – if any – toward association or friendly relations with other people, especially us, neighbors of their East?

These and such like questions and considerations ever recurring; the subject, oft, of talk amongst my elders … entering deeply into my young and naturally receptive mind; breeding, in their own way, thoughts and aspirations which dominated me as a soul possessed.  I resolved, within myself, to personally solve the mystery, if possible, at any cost of effort – yea, even life itself.

Satisfied in my own conscience with my purpose, I never abandoned it.  That purpose was to learn of them; and, if occasion should offer it, to instruct them of us.” ~~ Ranald MacDonald, The Narrative of His Life, 1824-1894; pg.131 (annotated and edited by Wm. Lewis & N. Murakami)

And so he did.  And if Ranald had not had the opportunity – and the audacity – to instruct several, bright Japanese students in the complexities of the English language – among them the Emperor’s eventual chief interpreter to Commodore Perry, Einosuke Moriyama – who knows how America’s initial foray into Japan would have turned out?

***


Gates Ajar – Spring 2009

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

A Pilgrimage to Nagasaki to Meet Obama-san

January 20, 2009 was indeed an historic day, not only for Americans, but also for many people all over the world.  On that day a “New Era” started with the inauguration of the new President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, in Washington D.C.  But where was I on that day?  I was sitting next to another Mr. Obama at a dining table in a Chinese Restaurant in the ANA Nagasaki Hotel in Japan. This white-haired gentleman – about 40 year’s Barack Obama’s senior – was Dr. Masami Obama (83), a gynecologist and obstetrician of Nagasaki City in Japan. Perhaps I need to, 1) introduce who this Japanese Obama-san is, and, 2) explain why I was meeting with him in Nagasaki on January 20, 2009.

Dr. Obama, Mas Yatabe, Mr. Maeda

[left to right: Dr. Obama, Mas Yatabe, Mr. Minoru Maeda]

Dr. Obama has been an active Rotarian for many years and was president of Rotary Club Nagasaki South Chapter in 1988. He was the first Chairman of FOM Nagasaki as well, which was formed on March 6, 1998 [FOM in America’s official organization date was May 20, 1988].  Dr. Obama was the force behind the effort to erect the impressive granite monument of Ranald MacDonald not too far from Dejima in Nagasaki in 1994 as the commemoration of their 30th anniversary of the Chapter.

As I stood across from Ranald MacDonald’s monument in front of this rather large, well-fenced house where the make-shift prison “Daihian” used to be [the so-called jail house “Daihian” stood less than a 10-minute walk from Dejima Island on the way to Matsunomori Shrine near the famous Great Suwa Jinja],  I could not help but imagine Moriyama Einosuke [who would later become chief interpreter for the Tokugawa Shogunate] and 13 other native-Japanese Dutch/Japanese interpreters walking into the house to take English lessons from a native English speaker for the first time in Japanese history. What a significant event that was! The year was 1848 [a full 5 years before Commodore Perry of the East India Fleet of America came to the Uraga port with 4 black ships with a demand that Japan open its doors to American vessels] and a native Oregonian, Ranald MacDonald, was the teacher. Many historians, including Mr. Akira Yoshimura, the author of “Umi-no-Sairei” [Festival of the Sea)] believe the English lessons at Daihian influenced the outcome of the negotiations between the Tokugawa Shogunate and Commodore Perry of the United States of America, which took place several years later. The ability of the native Japanese interpreters to understand and speak English and their knowledge of the current events of the world impressed the American negotiators and raised their level of respect for the Japanese negotiators.

Along my journey to Nagasaki to meet with Dr. Obama and visit the Ranald MacDonald Monument, I met several other remarkable Friends of MacDonald in Japan, and I would like to introduce them to our members (in no particular order):

Mr. Yuji Aisaka of Kyoto is an ex-English teacher and an absolutely amazing person.  Mr. Aisaka was present at the dedication ceremony of Ranald MacDonald’s birth place monument in Astoria in 1988. He has also visited MacDonald’s grave in Toroda, Washington. He attended and observed the Shinto-style dedication ceremony of the Monument of Ranald MacDonald in Nagasaki in 1994.  Moreover, Mr. Aisaka searched out and visited the house where Ranald MacDonald’s father, Archibald McDonald, lived in Scotland!  Mr. Aisaka is perhaps the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic friend of MacDonald around. He has given me books, newspaper clippings, a DVD, a video, etc., all related to MacDonald – and even reference material of Otokichi of Mihama. He says he is in love with the Columbia River – and I believe him!

Mr. Tetsuya Sano of Kobe, a former Hyogo State Representative and one of the Executives of the Hyogo Scouts Association was a leader of the Hyogo Boy Scouts when they erected the Sankichi “Friendship” monument at Fort Vancouver in Washington State in 1989. He and I traveled together with Mayor Koichi Saito and 107 citizens of Mihama in 1997 to the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, Washington, to follow in the footsteps of Sankichi in the Pacific Northwest.  Mr. Sano presented me with a very interesting book written by the late Akira Yoshimura who authored a book about Ranald MacDonald’s venture into Japan called “Umi no Sairei” [Festival of the Sea]. The book I was given included the episodes behind the book and the research journals of the book Umi no Sairei.

Mr. Minoru Maeda, is a retired English teacher who lives in Nagasaki. Mr. Maeda was at the dinner with Dr. Obama on January 20th and he was the gentleman who kindly guided me around in Nagasaki to MacDonald’s monument, the historic Dejima, the China town and to the splendid Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture.  Mr. Maeda said that in 1988 he was inspired by an article about MacDonald written by Richard Reed of The Oregonian, who was at that time a staff writer for the Daily Yomiuri newspaper.   Mr. Maeda holds a Masters degree from University of Oregon and lived in the Eugene area with his wife and children for 2 and a half years in the 1980s and has many fond memories of Oregon.

Ms. Maiko Midorikawa had just returned from her honeymoon in Tahiti when I met her in Yokohama.  Maiko-san was the ‘go-between’ between myself and Dr. Obama prior to my visit to Nagasaki. She is a graduate of Nagasaki University and thoroughly enjoyed the 3 months she spent a short while ago in the Portland area as a Nagasaki Rotary Club exchange student.

A little more on  Dr. Masami Obama (83), the head of Obama Clinic, who is a true gentleman. He is quite active not only in his profession, but in Rotary club and other civic activities as well. I heard he is an avid golfer who just missed shooting his age by 1 stroke last year. I would like Dr. Obama to come and visit us and enjoy golfing in the Pacific Northwest in the near future.

Mr. Motohisa Shiota of Nagasaki, is another MacDonald enthusiast who was originally scheduled to be at the dinner with Dr. Obama and myself on January 20th, but his health did not allow him to come that day.  I hope he is feeling better by now and that I can meet him here or in Japan some day.

Mr. Eiji Nishiya, is an Executive Director of FOM, Hokkaido. I was only able to speak with Mr. Nishiya on the phone while I was in Japan, but on my next trip to Japan, I am hoping to visit him in Rishiri, Hokkaido and to see the monument that stands near the beach where young MacDonald set foot on Japanese soil for the first time in 1848.

Ms. Yumiko Kawamoto of Tokyo, a noted scholar of not only MacDonald, but of all the historical figures and events leading up to the closure of Tokugawa Shogunate era.

I saw Ms. Kawamoto in November, 2008, but regretfully, we were not able to get together this past January.  However, her advice on the phone prior to my pilgrimage to Nagasaki was invaluable.  Ms. Kawamura was a guest speaker at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland in 2004 along with Frederik L. Schodt who authored a book of Ranald MacDonald called “Native American in the Land of the Shogun”.

I might add that during my journey to Nagasaki I was able to recruit two gentlemen to join us as “International members” of our own FOM. They are Mr. Yoshio Kojima and Mr. Fuminori Marumoto. Mr. Kojima, a graduate of Portland State University in the early1970’s, is a retired English teacher living in Tatebayashi, Gunma.  Mr. Marumoto is president of Kumamoto Kenmin Department Store Ltd. and visited Portland twice in 2007. Kumamoto being not too far from Nagasaki, Mr. Marumoto was quite eager to learn more about Ranald MacDonald.

The most regrettable and truly disappointing thing during my trip to Nagasaki was during my visit to the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. In this new, $86 million museum [which was completed in 2005] – a wonderful and first class museum by any definition – nowhere did I find even a single mention of “Ranald MacDonald”.  My feelings of disappointment in the Museum’s presentation [or lack thereof] were compounded when I had the opportunity to view a video of the dedication ceremony of the MacDonald monument in 1994 [given to me by Mr. Aisaka after I came back to Portland.]  The dedication ceremony was attended by many of the local government, educational and civic leaders of the Nagasaki area then. Even the Honorable Consul Donald Y. Yamamoto from the US Consulate in Fukuoka was there to give a congratulatory speech – because Ranald MacDonald was a significant figure in the early days of the US-Japan relationship.  How unfortunate that MacDonald’s contribution is completely overlooked by the Museum of History and Culture – a perfect stage to preserve the story of the first native-English-speaking English teacher to Japan if there ever was one.

The closest thing to any reference that the museum had was “… in 1858, the first English School was opened …”  But that event was a full 10 years after Ranald MacDonald was brought to [and subsequently left] Nagasaki!  I sincerely hope that Dr. Obama and other MacDonald enthusiasts can do something about this gaping hole.  My understanding is that the Tokugawa Shogunate had given official permission to have such a class at Daihian in Nagasaki.  It should at least be mentioned somewhere within the museum that in 1848, Ranald MacDonald of Oregon Territory taught the first English to the 14 professional Dutch/Japanese interpreters of Dejima.

I must say that the time I had allocated to spend in Nagasaki on this trip was far too short. My original intention was to meet with and pay my respect to Dr. Obama and to see the Ranald MacDonald Monument and then turn around and go back to Tokyo. I will know better the next time, for sure.