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    Japanese officials’ first visit to the U.S. in 1860

    Japanese envoy greets President Buchanan during a treaty ratification

    Photo By Ryo Isobe | Japanese envoy greets President Buchanan during a treaty ratification. Harper’s...... read more read more



    Story by Ryo Isobe 

    Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka

    It was in 1854 that Japan opened its ports for trade with foreign countries for the first time in more than 250 years. It was thanks to Commodore Matthew Perry and the arrival of the U.S. Navy to Japan in 1853, which pressed Japan to close two agreements in 1854 and 1858 enabling the opening of several ports for trade and support for foreign ships. Until then, Japan had enjoyed a relatively calm period under the Tokugawa Shogunate’s seclusion policy where the economy and culture thrived domestically.

    Through these new agreements with foreign countries, Japan was opened to nations which were quite new and unfamiliar, and their influences and the impact upon the long-sleeping Japan were unprecedented both in scale and nature.

    Japan then, half forcibly, steered its way forward to modernization and incorporated itself into an international free trade system. While the newly westernized and modernized Japan, which was spearheaded by new facilities, such as Yokosuka Iron Works. The inclusion of these changes, such as the Iron Works, which would later equip Japan with steam-powered iron ships, for example, also meant that Japan would be put to the test whether it could navigate itself in the rough waters of global competition in terms of trade, industry, and continue to uphold its sovereignty as a nation state.

    It was during this period in 1860 that Japanese officials set foot on American soil for the first time to ratify the Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between the United States and the Empire of Japan, and their experience and encounter with the West ushered the Japanese envoys into a world where industrialization was the norm. With a sense of immediate need to catch up with the rest of the world, their first experience with the West led to the construction of Yokosuka Iron Works, which began in 1865.

    The Japanese group of officials, consisting of 77 samurais, civil service professionals, and commoners, set sail aboard USS Pawhatan with 312 U.S. Sailors and government officials in 1860 from Shinagawa bound for the U.S. in order to ratify the Treaty that was struck between the two countries in 1858. Their additional mission included gathering first-hand information which would contribute to Japan’s diplomatic policy and prosperity.

    Their itinerary included visits to Hawaii and then to San Francisco, and a journey by train across the Isthmus of Panama — Panama Canal was completed 54 years later in 1914. One of the envoy members recorded his impression of riding a train:
    “There’s nothing comparable in terms of speed. The creaking sound of a wheel — there were six on one train — was like thunder. People and things seen from the train went far way back in behind before we knew it.”

    The party then traveled to Washington D.C. aboard USS Roanoke, and their arrival in the U.S.’s capitol was feted by the American people and officials. A slew of festivities, parties, and ceremonies were held to welcome them. It was also the first opportunity for Americans to see Japanese customs and demeanor, and their visit to the U.S. capital culminated in their meeting with President James Buchanan, Jr. and an exchange of ratifications.
    After they left the White House, they also visited the Washington Navy Yard, from which Oguri brought screws to Japan which he seemed to think symbolize the age of irons. The official party also visited New York, and were welcomed there as well.
    As a first-hand witness, Walt Whitman left a poem called “A Broadway Pageant” depicting and commemorating this fervor of the people of New York:

    “OVER sea, hither from Niphon,
    Courteous, the Princes of Asia, swart-cheek’d princes,
    First-comers, guests, two-sworded princes,
    Lesson—giving princes, leaning back in their open barouches, bare-headed, impassive,
    This day they ride through Manhattan.”

    After they visited New York, they had planned to go back to Japan on the same route they had navigated, but due to damages and an estimated repair period for USS Pawhatan, they traveled back to Japan through the African continent and Cape of Good Hope and South East Asia aboard USS Niagara. That made them the first official Japanese party to make a round-the-world trip arriving back in Japan in 9 months after the initial departure.



    Date Taken: 03.23.2023
    Date Posted: 03.23.2023 01:18
    Story ID: 440991

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