Published on January 22, 2008
Japan’s First Embassy: Japan’s First Embassy As We Saw Them What was the government of Japan during their “closed period?”: What was the government of Japan during their “closed period?” The Tokugawa period, (1603—1868) unlike the shogunate before it, was based on the strict class hierarchy originally established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The warrior-caste of samurai were at the top, followed by farmers, artisans, and traders. This inflexibility of caste and bureaucratic procedure led to its eventual downfall. One important rule of the government was the ban of navigation beyond the coastal waters, which led to the misconception that Japan was closed off from the world. But…: But… Japan was never a completely “closed country” They did have Chinese traders, and several members of the Dutch East India Company lived in the island of Deshima. Of course, their business and role in Japan was very regulated by the government. Also,: Also, Japan had absorbed many aspects of Chinese and Dutch society. They used the Chinese writing system and city planning structures. From the Dutch, knowledge in fields ranging from medicine to painting. Japanese students had traveled and read Western literature, and brought back an understanding of the facts of the geography of the world. The Arrival of the Americans, and the “opening of Japan.”: The Arrival of the Americans, and the “opening of Japan.” On July 8,1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo (Tokyo) Bay. America had decided that a postive trading partnership with Japan was essential. On March 31 1854 representatives of Japan and the United States signed a historic treaty. A United States naval officer, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, negotiated for several months with Japanese officials to achieve the goal of opening the doors of trade with Japan. This is when Japan began to trade openly with partners other than the Dutch and Chinese. How this impacted Japan: How this impacted Japan Commodore Perry in some ways was seen as an intrusion by the Tokugawa shogunate. They were not ready to open Japan. It turned out that Perry's arrival was more deadly to the shogunate than annoying. Perry, sensing that the Tokugawas were apprehensive to any sort of business with foreigners, threatened war if they refused to give him permission. Upon which the shogunate could not do anything but to sign the formal documents. The Japanese critics now said the Shogun had sold their fatherland to the devils, so the Shogun must go. But in truth, the Japanese, all didn't want a threatening presence of any foreigner. Improvements: Improvements After Perry, came a troubled time as the government transformed the country from a feudal into a modern state. In the area of global interaction, things improved. As more and more Western ships arrived, there was more contact with the outside world. Other motivating factors for improvement: Other motivating factors for improvement China had suffered loss in the Opium War of 1840-42. This also was a motivating factor for Japan to modernize. They were fearful of military invasion. Therefore, Japan was eager to learn from the west so that they would not travel the way of China. How do I say…: How do I say… The main problem Japan now faced was their lack of aptitude with the English language. In fact, a tiny percentage of Japanese translators knew English in the early to mid 1800s. Until the 1870s all negotiations were still conducted in Dutch. This is also true in America, as there were no true Japanese interpreters. The best they had were rescued Japanese fishermen. At first, the language barrier was seen as overwhelming. Throughout all of this: Throughout all of this The treaty with Perry allowed Japan and American to develop a trading partnership, but details still needed to be finalized. In 1860, Japan's Tokugawa government decided to send its first official ambassadors to the United States on an important mission – to finalize the treaty ratifications based on agreements concluded between Townsend Harris and the Japanese government in 1858. Townsend Harris, the first American ambassador to Japan (appointed U.S. Consul to Japan in 1854 after Commodore Perry's opening of Japan), set the stage for this historic Japanese expedition to America. Men on a Mission: Men on a Mission The mission was headed by Shimmi Buzen-no-Kami Masaoki as the Chief Ambassador and Muragaki Awaji-no-Kami Norimasa as the Vice-Ambassador. Another position, held by Oguri Bungo-no-Kami, was the metsuke. His role was to act as a spy, censor, attorney general, and liaison. It was their role to not only finalize the ratification, but to learn about the “strength and greatness of the United States (pg.21).” Along with these men, were 74 others, all of whom were not necessarily the best choices from Japan. The shogunate sent humble officers to America. The ambassadors also were sent with very unspecific instructions, which made the negotiations more difficult. Just what were they thinking?: Just what were they thinking? The Japanese were unacquainted with the concept of a treaty. This led to much confusion and discovery. Their inexperience in America and with overseas journeys would lead to wonderment, as reflected in their journals. They traveled overseas, visited Hawaii, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Maybe, it wasn’t all that great. : Maybe, it wasn’t all that great. The Embassy had to overcome many difficulties in America. First, just crossing an entire ocean was new to most of the group. Many were seasick and spent their time in their cabins. Another was the food. The Japanese are unaccustomed to eating meat, dairy products, or bread. This led to issues with American restaurants, hotels, and balls. Bedding was a third issue. The samurai custom was to sleep on thin pads. Not to mention the foreign idea of how to use a chamber pot! Confusion in the ranks: Confusion in the ranks The high-ranking ambassadors kept tight control over the younger officers, who did want to explore America. The higher ranking officers spent time buying trinkets to bring back to Japan, and some of the lower officers wanted to go and see universities, social welfare programs, and nature. This led to some conflict within the group. Learning about America: Learning about America However they were, as a whole, able to learn a lot about American government, culture, and technology. The tall buildings impressed them, as did technology, such as trains, which was so important to the growth of the nation. Mr. President….Mr. President?: Mr. President….Mr. President? The Japanese were baffled by the idea of the President. They only had their Shogun as a reference. The Shogun was seen as almost a supernatural figure. When the President met with them in a business suit, they were duly amazed. They, then, had an interesting time explaining how he was chosen and how he dressed. Another aspect of their differences from the Americans was how they approached the President. They had wanted to present themselves in the usual ceremonial customs as they would any other high ranking officer at home. The Americans, especially President Buchanan, were not accustomed to all the pomp and circumstance. They were seen as disappointments to the ambassadors. The American perspective: The American perspective To the Americans, the arrival of the Japanese was a major event. America wanted to impress the Japanese, who were seen as more cultured than the Chinese, and as potential trading partners. The U.S. Congress provided a $50,000 budget to entertain the envoys - a lot of money at that time. Everywhere they went, the Japanese ambassadors were met by local men who put on lavish receptions in their honor. Large crowds turned out to see them. They were fascinated by the Japanese traditional clothing, topknot hairstyles, and, in particular, their prominent samurai swords. Everything was not that wonderful: Everything was not that wonderful America, as excited it was about having a new trading partnership in the East, still had some members of society treated the Japanese poorly. The translators were aware of the racial insults, especially when on the streets, and believed that the government could do something about it. They had recalled the time when the Japanese government stopped Japanese insults from being used on American visitors, like Commodore Perry. However, they were unaware of the differences between controlling members in a feudal and democratic society. In a democratic society, people have freedom of expression, whereas in a feudal society, they can face repercussions from the government. Back at Home: Back at Home Their visit took a few months, and did not accomplish everything that they had hoped for. The trading regulations greatly favored the Americans. The ambassadors, upon returning to Japan found that the political climate had changed. A pro-trade regent, Ii Kamon-no-Kami, was killed by xenophobic Mito warriors. This political shift also began to signal a series of anti-Western attacks. It also began to signal the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. In the end, the had not taken a clear stand on the new foreign relations they had made, and were caught between the fulfillment of treaty obligations and the opposition to the “barbarians” new presence. Bibliography: Bibliography "Consulate General of Japan in New York." CGJ. Diplomatic Ambassadors. 01 Nov. 2006 <http://www.cgj.org/en/c/vol_11-3/title_01.html>. Fredricks, Charles D. Members of the First Japanese Embassy to the United States. 1860. American Museum of Photography, New York. American Museum of Photography. 01 Nov. 2006 <http://www.photographymuseum.com/japaneseembassylg.html>. Miyoshi, Masao. As We Saw Them: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2005. 7-150.