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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?

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Gates Ajar — Fall 1998

Tuesday, October 6th, 1998

150th Anniversary of MacDonald’s Trip to Japan Celebrated in 1998 — FOM Members Tour Japan in September

1998 has been an active year for Friends of MacDonald and one that was full of events including Ranald MacDonald’s birthday luncheon held in Astoria on February 3rd., an educational outreach at the Japan-America Society of Oregon’s “Glimpse of Japan Workshop” in May, a sailing adventure and historical reenactment on board Lady Washington in June, and a members’ tour of Japan in September.

These highlights – among a calendar of conferences, lecture programs and book presentations – provide more news than can be fully told in this newsletter.  So we hope that readers will come to FOM events planned for 1999 and take part of the 150th Anniversary year of Ranald MacDonald’s stay in Japan.

In September a delegation of five FOM USA members set foot on Rishiri Island to view the place where Ranald MacDonald set foot in Japan as an intentional castaway in 1848.  The tour was organized by Mr. Ken Nakano who led the 1998 adventure from Hokkaido to Nagasaki in the footsteps of MacDonald.

Participants included: Atsumi Tsukimori of Spokane, Fred Schodt of San Francisco, Massie Tomita and May Namba of Seattle, and FOM tour adviser and tour leader Ken Nakano.  FOM is especially grateful to Ken for his efforts at organizing a most successful trip to Japan.

FOM is also deeply grateful for the warm welcome our members received from so many friends during their tour of Japan.  For a first-hand account of the trip see the story by Atsumi Tsukimori inside this newsletter.

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MacDonald’s Castaway Arrival Reenacted on Board Lady Washington on 150th Anniversary

On June 27th, 1848, as the whaling ship Plymouth lay off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, a young adventurer named Ranald MacDonald launched a small boat from the ship and sailed toward Japan.  He intended to arrive as a castaway in order to enter a feudal kingdom where no foreigners were allowed and foreign trade was outlawed by the Tokugawa Shogun.  But MacDonald was convinced that the Japanese people would welcome him and so he equipped his boat “Little Plymouth” with provisions for thirty days and carried books for purpose of teaching the Japanese about the world from which he came. . . 150 years later, on June 27, 1998, the scene was reenacted for members of FOM and passengers on the Lady Washington during the Saturday afternoon sail on Gray’s Harbor from Westport, Washington.  Young Ranald MacDonald was portrayed by Captain Les Bolton, Executive Director of Grays Harbor Historical Seaport.  Dressed in 19th century sea-faring attire, the bold adventurer climbed into the small boat “Little Plymouth” and rowed off for “Japan”.  Then he rocked his boat and took on water so as to appear as a castaway as MacDonald actually did 150 years ago.

Departing from historical accuracy at the end of the day, Captain Bolton rejoined the ship to greet guests such as Consul Rikio Minamiyama and family from the Consulate General of Japan Seattle Office, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Berney from Astoria and Friends of MacDonald Chairman Jim Mockford with Cheryl and Jenny Mockford, too.  A full charter of ship passengers joined in on the fun.

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JASO Glimpse of Japan Workshop

On May 1, 1998 the Japan America Society of Oregon (JASO) organized its Glimpse of Japan Workshop at the World Trade Center in Portland.  FOM Chairman Jim Mockford presented “The Adventures of Ranald MacDonald” as one of the many workshops that students and teachers attended during the day.  Because a large number of participants were Japanese language students, the presentation included an exploration of Ranald MacDonald’s study of Japanese.  FOM has a copy of Kenji Sonoda’s publication , “Ranald MacDonald’s Glossary of English and Japanese Words” which was utilized as a resource for the Glimpse of Japan Workshop.

The annual event is attended by hundreds of students in the Portland area.  Friends of MacDonald founder Mas Tomita enjoyed presenting the story of Ranald MacDonald at this event in 1994 and FOM was delighted to continue to participate in this informative and important educational program.

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ASPAC Conference

“Bridges:  Early Ties Between Japan and the United States” was the title of a panel presentation by FOM members at the ASPAC ’98 Conference held at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington in June 1988.  ASPAC is the Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast chapter of the Association of Asian Studies and the FOM panel was chaired by Dr. Stephan Kohl, Professor of Japanese Literature at the University of Oregon.  FOM Chairman Jim Mockford discussed his paper, “Maritime Explorations of the Coast of Japan”, and was followed by Peter Morris who presented “MacDonald, The Intentional Castaway”.  Dr. Kohl described the story of Japanese castaways whose adventure took place in 1815.

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NASOH Conference, Vancouver Heritage Lecture,

WSU-Nishinomiya Japanese Educators Program

The North American Society for Oceanic History (NASOH) invited FOM Chairman Jim Mockford to present his paper “Maritime Exploration of the Coast of Japan in the Late 18th Century” at the NASOH ’98 Conference held at the San Diego Maritime Museum in April.  Mockford’s lecture was adapted to include the story of Ranald MacDonald’s Adventure in Japan.  A presentation copy of Ranald MacDonald’s biography was presented to the Naval Historical Center.  In September Mockford gave a lecture to the Vancouver heritage Program at the historic Marshall House on Officer’s Row, Vancouver, Washington. MacDonald was one of the first six students at the Fort Vancouver school in 1834.

In October Washington State University-Vancouver Branch Campus hosted educators from Nishinomiya, Japan.  Mockford told Ranald MacDonald’s story in Japanese and accompanied the teachers to Fort Vancouver where they visited the Japanese castaway’s monument and toured the site where young Ranald MacDonald attended school.  Only two months after MacDonald left for Canada in the spring of 1834 the three Japanese castaways arrived at the fort and attended school.  It is said that their story influenced Ranald MacDonald to become a castaway in Japan.

fort-vancouver-1854-fsdm2

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ATSUMI’S JAPAN TRIP REPORT~Participating in the Ranald MacDonald 150th Anniversary Tour

Ever since I read an article about “Explorer’s Smile Led to Japan Trade”  in the local newspapers about five years ago, I was charmed by Ranald MacDonald.  I visited Toroda, Washington right away (MacDonald’s grave site) and I have dreamed about a possible trip to see the historical sites which mark his legacy.  This September, the dream came true.

This September I was lucky enough to be included in the 150th Anniversary trip to Japan organized by Ken Nakano and completed the two-week visit with wonderful memories and great satisfaction.  Traveling from the northern tip of Hokkaido where Ranald MacDonald first landed to the southern tip of Kyushu where he spent most of his time teaching English was not an easy task.  There was one ferry boat ride, one local airplane flight, many bullet train rides, not to mention two underground tunnels.  It was a miracle to accomplish so much in so little time – despite the Northwest Airlines strike!  I want to thank Ken Nakano for organizing and working hard through the entire trip.

There were four heart-warming meetings with Japan’s MacDonald Society in Sapporo, Rishiri, Tokyo and Nagasaki, and three other just as wonderful meetings including one organized by the Japan-America Society of Hakodate, one in Matsumae with Matsumae towns people, and another in the town of Mihama, Aichi, where the Japanese castaway Otokichi is remembered today.  Our group of five, Ken Nakano and Massie Tomita, May Namba, Fred Schodt, and myself, felt as though we had known our Japanese hosts our whole lives.

We visited the actual landing site at Rishiri Island and then saw the town of Era in Matsumae where Ranald MacDonald spent 22 days before he was shipped to Nagasaki.  Then we went to Nagasaki to see the spot where he lived for seven months and taught English.  We also visited Ranald MacDonald’s original student Moriyama’s grave in Nagasaki.  There are two other of Moriyama’s graves in Tokyo – one is “owned” by Moriyama’s son from his second marriage and this one now keeps Moriyama’s bones; the other is “owned” by Moriyama’s daughter from his first marriage.  We visited all three and dedicated flowers.  In Tokyo we paid a courtesy visit to the American Ambassador to Japan, The Hon. Tom Foley, and the Canadian Embassy.  Then we attended a meeting with Tokyo Friends of MacDonald group including Torao Tomita and Akira Yoshimura.

In those two weeks in September  I went to so many places and met so many wonderful people.  O learned a lot about true friendship and I cried a lot when I departed from each place.  I thank all the people I met who also love Ranald MacDonald, and Ken Nakano who made this dream trip come true.  ~ Atsumi Tsukimori McCauley

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