〈160 Years of the US-Japan Relationship〉
Early Encounters between Japan and the United States of America

Shotaro Oshima

160 Years of the US-Japan Relationship: Early Encounters, Wartime and the Present

Last year, Japan and the United States of America marked the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1860.  At this historical milestone, KaFSA is pleased to introduce four articles focusing on Early Encounters, Wartime and the Present, hoping for an ever deepening  and enduring friendly relations between our countries for the future.(KaFSA, March 31, 2021)

~~This essay is dedicated to Yukio Okamoto who was taken by the Corona Virus on April 24, 2020. He was a true diplomat who showed by example that diplomacy was about people and worked with devotion to strengthen the bond between Japanese and American peoples. The memory of this endearing diplomat will be the guiding star for us left behind in this unchartered and uncertain world1.~~


   Although people inhabited the islands comprising today’s Japan since time immemorial, historians differ in their assessment of when Japan became Japan (the term used by English speakers to identify 日本・Nippon). Arguably, by the seventh century Nippon was calling itself Nippon (日本).
   Fast forward ten centuries to 1603 when Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Shogunate (Shogun is the title given to the head of a military government) in Edo (Tokyo). When Japan came under a new Shogunate regime in the beginning of the seventeenth century, none of the thirteen colonies along the Atlantic Coast of North America existed. One hundred eighty years later, when the United States of America became independent from Great Britain by the Paris Treaty in 1783, it did not yet encompass the regions facing the Pacific. It was not until the 1840s that its territories reached the Pacific Coast and it became a “neighbor,” separated by the Pacific Ocean, with Japan. Because Tokugawa Shogunate was pursuing its policy of self-seclusion from the world (Sakoku) and its doors were closed (save for a small contact with the Dutch and the Chinese for trade), it required initiative from the Americans for the neighbors to meet.
   Encounters between the Japanese and American peoples presuppose the existence of these “peoples.” Although it is relatively easy to define the Japanese people, defining the American people could take a book2. Any definition of the American people also involves politically sensitive facts about the early years of the Republic, when neither Native Americans nor African-American slaves qualified as citizens of the United States.
   In any event, it is reasonable to assume that encounters between Japanese and the Native Americans occurred before the citizens of the United States came to inhabit the Pacific Northwest. This is because the current called “Kuroshio” which “…sweeps northeasterly past Japan toward the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, thence curving around and passing south along the coast of Alaska, Oregon and California … has swept … junks [from Japan] toward America at an average rate of fully ten miles a day.”3 As a result, untold numbers of Japanese “castaways” must have drifted to the Pacific Northwest coast of what is now the United States during those by-gone years4.


FIRST Japanese “Castaway” on record to reach “America”
   In 1782, Daikokuya Kodayu and others became “castaways” when their ship was caught in a severe storm and went adrift on its way to Edo along the southern coast of Japan facing the Pacific. Kodayu and the other persons on the ship touched ground on the island of Amchitka, one of the Aleutian Islands, off Alaska, where they were rescued by the locals. Because this occurred before the United States purchased Alaska from Russia (“Seward’s Folly”) Kodayu was rescued in “Russian America”5. He was eventually brought to St. Petersburg, where he had an audience with Empress Ekaterina and implored her to send him home. In 1792, Russians, who were looking for an opportunity to negotiate with the Shogunate to open Japan, sent Kodayu on the Ekaterina under the command of Lieutenant Adam Laxman to use him as an excuse to approach Japan. Their attempt to negotiate the opening of Japan was rebuffed. (The Shogunate, however, allowed Kodayu to come back and used him as a source of information on the Russians.)

FIRST Americans who Landed on Japanese Soil
   In late April 1791, two American commercial ships, the Lady Washington and the Grace, anchored off Oshima Island off the Kii Peninsula in the hope of visiting Japan to do business. They stayed in the Oshima area for about ten days. During their stay they were allowed to land to obtain water and wood for fuel and to mingle and exchange gifts with the local people. They were not, however, allowed to fully engage in trade due to the rigid self-seclusion policy of the Shogunate and had to leave6.

FIRST Japanese Castaways who Reached American territory
   As mentioned, because Alaska was still part of Russia, Kodayu did not qualify for the honor of being the First to reach the United States. That honor went to another castaway, Otokichi, whose ship was caught in a storm off Edo in 1832 and drifted for 14 months until it came ashore near what is now Cape Flattery, WA, which was then part of the Oregon territory. He and two others who survived the ordeal at sea were “held captive and treated as slaves” by the local Native Americans until they were saved by officials of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The story of his life including the experience on the American ship the Morrison until his death in 1867 in Singapore is extremely exciting but has to be skipped here7. The Morrison entered Edo Bay in 1837 to return Otokichi and some other castaways back to Japan, but it was chased away by the batteries guarding the mouth of the Bay. This incident was a famous example of the Shogunate’s policy of denying entry of foreign ships by force which was withdrawn a few years later due to the international reactions to the incident8.

FIRST American Individual to Visit Japan: Ranald MacDonald
   Otokichi and his fellow castaways, the first Japanese to visit the American territory, have an interesting connection to Ranald MacDonald, the first American to visit Japan, who was not with the Navy, a trader, or a whaler (although he did approach Japan aboard an American whaling ship). MacDonald was in a small boat that landed on Rishiri Island off the northern coast of Hokkaido in June 1848 when Japan was still closed to foreigners9. He was a son of a Scottish father who worked in the Oregon Territory for the Hudson’s Bay Company and a Chinook mother. He grew up believing that the Japanese were connected to his mother’s people. He also knew about the three castaways from Japan who had come to Queen Charlotte Island (which is close to Cape Flattery) in the winter of 1834-35 when he was ten years old. MacDonald’s auto-biography includes the following entry: “However, I must admit, that when I started on my own mission [to go to Japan] … of the Queen Charlotte Island waifs I did know, being in the country at the time.10” Although MacDonald never met the castaways, his knowledge of them was instrumental in creating his yearning to visit his mother’s ancestorial land.

FIRST Japanese to be educated in America: John Manjiro
   The most famous Japanese “castaway” was Nakahama Manjiro, better known as John Manjiro, whose saga began in January 1841 when he was 14. He and four other fishermen lost control of their boat in a storm, drifted on the Kuroshio meandering southeast11 and landed on an uninhabited island (Tori Shima), where they were saved by the John Howland (Captain William H. Whitfield) on June 27. “This dramatic encounter was the beginning of the first friendly contact between the Japanese and the American people.12” Manjiro was brought back to Fairhaven, a whaling town in Massachusetts, where he was educated. After he worked on a whaling ship, he mined for gold in California and then planned his return to Japan. His plan to return was risky because Japan’s policy, while it was still in seclusion, was to refuse to welcome back those who had left the country “illegally.” Manjiro used a small boat from a whaling ship to land on Japanese soil in 1851. He was eventually pardoned and offered jobs with the Shogunate as well as the Meiji Government. He is well-known for his role as a navigator for the Japanese ship the Kanrinmaru which accompanied the Powhatan, the US Navy ship that was provided by the U.S. government to transport the first Japanese Embassy from Edo to the United States in 1860, to San Francisco.

American Encounters with the Japanese in the 1840s
   During the mid-1840s there were numerous encounters between Japanese and Americans who approached Japan, either, amicably, inadvertently, or officially.
   In April 1845, an American whale ship, the Manhattan, rescued some Japanese castaways and brought them to the Bay of Edo. The Japanese thanked the Americans for their benevolence and took the Japanese back but refused any other engagement with the ship’s men.
   In May1846, another American whale ship, the Lawrence, was shipwrecked and its survivors landed on the island of Eturofu off Hokkaido. They were held in Japan for over a year and eventually transported home by the Dutch from Nagasaki.
   In July 1846, Commodore James Biddle, who had been authorized by the Secretary of the Navy to contact and inquire about Japan’s willingness to open its ports and to make a treaty, brought the Columbus and the Vincennes to Edo Bay. According to the Secretary of the Navy’s annual report for 1847, “Our squadron was treated with kindness, and its wants supplied, but no one was permitted to land; and to the offer of friendly intercourse, the unchangeable answer was… ‘Go away, and do not come back any more’.13


   The two most famous Japanese castaways to arrive in the United States were John Manjiro, who arrived in 1841 and Hikozo / Joseph Heco, who will be discussed below, who arrived in 1851. During the intervening period there was a great transformation in the size of the United States that had profound domestic political and geopolitical consequences.
   The “new and larger” United States took shape in two stages in short succession. In 1846 the compromise with Great Britain over the boundary in the Oregon territory settled a long simmering dispute over the boundary of overlapping claims of jurisdiction. In 1848 the peace treaty following the war between the United States and Mexico resulted in the acquisition of California and other lands from Mexico. As a result of the two treaties, the United States reached the Pacific coast and came to face Japan on the other side of this ocean.
   At the same time, the rapid development of ocean-going steam ships made connecting California and China by the so-called the Great Circle Route a realistic option. This Great Circle Route is “…[T]he shortest distance between two points on the surface of a globe…is a section of a great circle, or a circle which has for its centre [sic] the centre [sic]of the globe…Such a curved line is …the shortest route between our Pacific shores and China.14
   Japan, which was situated along this Great Circle Route between San Francisco and Shanghai, was now critical to America’s emerging Pacific strategy. At a minimum, the United States had to open Japan to provide a way-station for coal along the new “sea line of communication” traversing the Pacific.

Proposal to Open Japan which Impressed the Fillmore Administration
   In June 1848, 15 seamen from the American whaling ship the Lagoda mutinied in the whaling grounds in the North Pacific off Japan and jumped ship by boat15. When they reached Hokkaido, they were incarcerated by the Japanese authorities and treated harshly. When reports that they were under the custody of the Japanese reached the American East India Squadron, Commodore David Geisinger ordered Commander James Glynn of the Preble to go to Nagasaki to rescue these “captives.” Glynn’s mission, with the help of the Dutch, succeeded in April 1849. When he brought the seamen back to San Francisco at the end of the year, the seamen disclosed the “barbarous treatment” they had received from the Shogunate authorities. Their story created a public outcry that led some media and politicians to call for naval action to sanction the Japanese government.
   An important consequence of this incident was that Glynn did not follow the public outcry to sanction Japan. Instead, he used the media to express his view that the United States should send an expedition to Japan to seek its opening. His view reached President Millard Fillmore and Secretary of State Daniel Webster, and became the basis for Fillmore’s decision to send Commodore James Aulick to Japan, as described below. (Glynn’s view, which was based on his experience of dealing with the Japanese authorities in Nagasaki, was presented directly to President Fillmore in the White House in early June. Fillmore directed him to prepare a written report to Secretary Webster. The report, which was submitted a few days later and dated June 10, 1851, elaborated his views in detail16.)

Castaways and the First Initiative to Open Japan
   Hikozo, who later took on the name Joseph Heco, was one of 14 Japanese castaways who were set adrift by a storm in November 1850. He was 13 years old when he and the other castaways were rescued by an American freighter the Auckland and taken to San Francisco in March 1851. In 1858 he made history by becoming the first Japanese to be naturalized as an American citizen. His story, told in his own words, provides precious insights into the early encounters between Japan and the United States. Hikozo’s path to naturalization begins with the fact that Mr. Beverly Sanders, who was politically connected, took Hikozo under his wings. His chance connection to Sanders was one reason why Hikozo/Joseph Heco had so many first of a kind experiences for a Japanese and should be viewed in the light of the following time line of events17.
   On the American side, the arrival of the 14 castaways in San Francisco in March 1851 was big news to those who had been made aware of Japan by the Lagoda incident and the view of Commander Glynn. Commodore John Aulick of the East India Squadron, who was in Washington D.C. when he heard the news of the castaways, suggested that the United States take them back to Japan and use its benevolent act to persuade Japan to come out of its seclusion. President Millard Fillmore and Secretary of State Daniel Webster accepted his suggestion and decided to send a naval expedition under his command to Japan to carry it out. Fillmore entrusted the Commodore with a letter dated May 10 to the “Emperor of Japan” (in quotes because the letter was meant to be delivered to the Shogun in Edo, not the Emperor in Kyoto) that was intended to be a “State Paper” between two sovereigns. Aulick was recalled before his expedition reached Japan for reasons unrelated to President Fillmore’s commitment to open Japan, which he had made in mid-1851, almost a year before he appointed Admiral Matthew C. Perry to command a diplomatic mission to Japan.

FIRST American Diplomatic Mission to Japan: Commodore Perry’s Fleet of Black Ships
   The first diplomatic mission sent by an American President to reach Japan was headed by Commodore Perry. As mentioned, Commodore Biddle’s instruction to contact the Japanese government was from the Secretary of the Navy, and was not a diplomatic mission under the instruction from the Secretary of State, and Commodore Aulick, who was given the full diplomatic powers to negotiate with Japan, was recalled before reaching that country. Due to the confusion following Aulick’s dismissal, Hikozo, who had been brought to Hong Kong by an American navy ship and was waiting there to be sent back to Japan, decided instead to accept an offer by an American, who had befriended him, to go back to the United States and try his luck there.
   The story of how Perry prepared, negotiated and concluded the first treaty with Japan is well known. The point to be emphasized here is that the letter from President Millard Fillmore to the “Emperor” that Perry was entrusted to deliver stressed that Japan could be reached by steamships in eighteen days from California.
   For Commodore Perry the most important of the three major objectives of the mission (protection of American seamen in distress, opening of ports and opening of commercial relations) was to open some ports for coaling stations. The Treaty of Amity and Peace (Treaty of Kanagawa), which he concluded in March 1854, realized that objective. Some have criticized Perry for failing to obtain concessions from the government of Japan to open its market for trade. He believed that once the ports were opened an agreement on trade would later follow.
   The negotiations for the Treaty of Kanagawa had many anomalies from the point of view of diplomatic protocol. Perry’s credentials and the letter he was entrusted to deliver were signed by President Fillmore, who had left office in March 1853, rather than Franklin Pierce, who was the President when the letter was actually delivered to the Shogun’s representatives in July 1853. In addition, the letter was addressed to the “Emperor of Japan” when it was intended for the Shogun in Edo (not the Emperor in Kyoto).
   Fortunately for the Americans, the Japanese did not use the irregularities to reject the letter. More likely than not, they did not realize that there had been a change in who was the president. The fact that the new American president and his administration seemed not to care about the diplomatic protocol, letting Fillmore’s Letter pass as the “State Paper,” a letter from a sovereign to a sovereign, may also have been significant. Moreover, the Treaty of Kanagawa, which was Japan’s first treaty with another sovereign state, did not establish diplomatic relations and was only a first step towards full recognition.

FIRST Japanese to meet an American President
   Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., Hikozo became the first Japanese to meet a President of the United States. This was the first of his many experiences in the United States that were a first for a castaway from Japan. As previously noted, all were the result of Hikozo’s chance meeting with Beverly Sanders, who was the Collector of Customs for the Port of San Francisco, in early June of 1853 when Hikozo returned to San Francisco from Hong Kong18. Sanders was a businessman with political connections to the Whig Party (his first wife was niece of Senator/Secretary of State Daniel Webster).19 He had been placed in his position in San Francisco by President Fillmore in November of the previous year. When President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, took over the White House in March, Sanders, along with many other patronage appointees from the Whig administration, was on his way out (Official records state that Sander’s successor was appointed on March 22, 1853). Sanders was planning the next step in his career when he met Hikozo and saw Hikozo as a good fit for his plans. When Sanders went back to Baltimore, he took Hikozo with him. Sanders second wife, Elizabeth, took care of the young boy as if he was her own son. With her encouragement Hikozo was baptized in 1854 and got his Christian name, Joseph Heco.
   Sanders was in his late forties, and well established on the East Coast, when he took an active interest in the future of California. As Heco mentioned in his autobiography, after Sanders returned to Baltimore, he took Heco to Washington D.C. where he obtained a passport to go to Russia in connection with a business he was planning on the West Coast that involved Russians. During this trip Sanders took Heco to a meeting with President Pierce, which suggested that Sanders’ connections in both the Whig and Democrat Party. The Japanese boy was introduced to the “Chief of the Nation,” Franklin Pierce, who “seemed to be about 38 or 40 years of age…20” (In fact, he was almost fifty years old.) After Sanders completed his trip to Russia, where he obtained a commission from the Russian Government to work in San Francisco, he and Heco returned to the West Coast.
   While Heco was working for Sanders after their return to San Francisco, Heco met Senator William McKendree Gwin of California. Gwin made Heco a job offer that Heco accepted, and he returned to Washington D.C. with Gwin as his clerk21. On November 25, 1857, Senator Gwin took Heco to the White House and introduced him to another President, James Buchanan.22

FIRST American Woman to come to Japan
   From Japanese castaways to Perry’s Black Ships to a Japanese meeting American Presidents, all but three of the persons mentioned in this essay so far have been men. The three exceptions are, Empress Ekaterina, MacDonald’s mother and Mrs. Sanders.
   According to Howard F. Van Zandt, the honor of being the FIRST American Woman to come to Japan goes to: “Abigail [Jernegan, wife of the captain of the Eliza F. Mason, a whale boat, who] became the first American woman to spend a night on Japanese soil.23” Van Zandt’s reference is a brief digression in his detailed saga of some enterprising Americans who came to Shimoda on the Caroline E. Foote in mid-March 1855, shortly after the Treaty of Kanagawa had been signed, to seek business opportunities. The wives of the Captain and the two officers became the first women to reside at Shimoda, where they stayed until late May. The duration of their stay was due to a complicated circumstance involving the Russian seamen of the Diana, which had been wrecked beyond repair when it was anchored in Shimoda in late December 1854 and a major earthquake hit. Some of the Russians managed to charter the Caroline E. Foote from the enterprising Americans who arrived in Shimoda about four months later. As a result, the wives and families of the American officers had to wait at Shimoda for the Caroline E. Foote’s return from Kamchatka24.

SECOND Fleet to come to Shimoda, the “Forgotten Black Ships”
   The American families temporarily living in Shimoda were “found” by Commander John Rodgers when he came to Shimoda in mid-May 1855 to check on the Treaty that Perry had concluded. The ships Rogers commanded, the Vincennes and the John Hankock, (which Professor Atsushi Goto called the “Forgotten Black Ships”), were on an expedition to survey the North Pacific as well as the Arctic through the Bering Straits25. Although their mission is not as well-known as Perry’s mission, it had a considerable impact on the Shogunate which, despite the treaty that Perry had concluded, was apparently still very wary of truly opening up. Rodgers, like Perry, applied pressure on the Shogunate on certain aspects of the implementation of the Treaty. This pressure, which exacerbated the internal divisions between the forces for compromise and the forces for expelling the foreigners by force if necessary, contributed to “soften up” the Japanese political system before the arrival of Townsend Harris to Shimoda in 1856.

FIRST American Consul in Japan
   Harris’s arrival was a surprise for Japan because the Shogunate, unlike the United States, interpreted the agreement as requiring the Americans to obtain the Shogunate’s prior approval before they sent a Consul. Before Harris left for Japan to become the first American Consul in Shimoda, President Pierce provided him with credentials, dated September 12, 1855, that authorized him to negotiate a treaty to establish both a commercial relationship and a diplomatic relationship.26 In July of 1858, Harris, after overcoming a host of difficulties during the two years, succeeded in the conclusion of a new treaty, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, that finally opened Japan for commerce and established diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan. It was the first treaty to establish diplomatic relations between Japan and another country.

FIRST Japanese to be naturalized and become American
   Around this time Heco persuaded Sanders to let him go back to Japan to work for the American consulate in Kanagawa. In order to avoid any problem with the Shogunate authorities upon his entry to Japan, he became the first Japanese to be naturalized. His autobiography states that on June 7, 1858 “Mr. Sanders thought it best that I should be naturalized before I left Baltimore [to go back to Japan]. So he took me to the U.S. Court where I applied for and obtained a certificate of naturalization signed by the U. S. Court Judge Gill and Mr. Spencer, Clerk of Court. And thus I became a citizen of the United States of America.27” Nobody questioned whether his status as a Japanese national precluded him from becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States.

FIRST American Resident Minister in the Capital of Japan
   The terms of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce signed in July 1858, enabled the United States to send a diplomatic representative to Japan. Harris was elevated to the position of Resident Minister,28 and in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce,29 he stablished the American Legation in July 1859 in Zenpukuji in Azabu, Edo, which was the seat of the Government of Japan/the Shogunate.

FIRST Embassy from Japan and the “State Paper” to the President
   The first ever official delegation from Japan to the United States (or to any sovereign state under the modern international system) arrived in Washington, D.C. on May 14, 1860. It was headed by Shinmi Buzennokami and two deputy envoys. Its purpose was to exchange the instruments of ratification for the 1858 Treaty. James Buchanan, the 15th president, welcomed the delegation and received the Envoys at the White House on May 17, where they delivered the “State Paper” from the Shogun to the President. Buchanan reported this visit in his last Annual Message of the President to the Congress on December 3, 1860: “The ratifications of the treaty were exchanged with unusual solemnity. For this purpose the Tycoon* had accredited three of his most distinguished subjects as envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary, who were received and treated with marked distinction and kindness, both by the Government and people of the United States.” (* “Tycoon” is derived from the Japanese term 大君- Taikun- which was used in Japan as an honorific for the Shogun.)
   The Japanese delegation’s daily record provides information about the delegation’s impressions of their visit to the White House. They noted that they were impressed by the presence of formally dressed ladies at the reception the President hosted. The Americans were impressed by the colorful formal attire of the members of the Japanese delegation, by their “chonmage” hairstyle, and by the two swords at their side.
   The members of the first Embassy also made themselves available to receive people at the Willard Hotel where they were staying. At the end of the May 22 session of the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House announced that “the Japanese princes will be much pleased to receive [members of the House] and their families on Friday [25th] and Saturday next [26th], at their quarters at Willards’, from eleven o’clock, a.m., to one o’clock, p.m.30” The event and dates correspond to the record kept by the delegation.

FIRST time Japanese observed the Senate in session
   In 1858, before Heco became a naturalized citizen, he was the first Japanese to visit the Senate. More than two years later, on May 23, 1860, members of the official Japanese Embassy were escorted to the Senate by a senior official of the American Government for their first visit to the Senate. Japanese records reveal that the members were taken aback by the animated debate on the floor and that they joked among themselves that its proceedings were like the boisterous auctions at the early morning fish market in Edo. When they asked what was happening, they were told: “matters of state are deliberated, members fully express their views, and in the end the issue will be decided by the Vice President who has considered all the views. (NB. A translation from the Japanese records.) The Congressional records for that day’s discussion reveal that the heated debate was over the question of the extension of slavery to new territories.31 They also reveal a long intervention by Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas who stated that if Lincoln, who had become the Republican candidate for president on May 18, won the election it could only mean secession of the southern states.32


   The new relationship between Japan and the U.S. established by the formal ratification of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce soon faced tremendous challenges because of domestic upheavals in both countries. In April 1861, a month after the inauguration of President Lincoln, the United States was engaged in a civil war. The war essentially ended in April 1865 and was followed a few days later by the assassination of the President. In the latter half of the decade, Japan was engaged in a civil war between the forces supporting the Shogunate and the forces rallying around the Emperor. In 1868 the Japanese civil war ended except for pockets of resistance and the Emperor Meiji and his supporters assumed power replacing the Shogunate.

   The period is covered by innumerable historians from all possible angles. For the purpose of this essay, I will simply state that the most significant result of the respective civil wars was that each country emerged at the end with a new political system that was more liberal and democratic than before. The Civil War in the United States resulted in revisions to the Constitution that, among other things: (1) abolished slavery (the Thirteenth Amendment); (2) made “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” citizens of the United States and enjoined each state from denying any to “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (the Fourteenth Amendment); and (3) enjoined the United States and each state from denying or abridging the right of any citizen to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude” (the Fifteenth Amendment ). On the Japanese side, the forces supporting the Emperor against the Shogunate began the war with anti-foreign, nationalistic views. However, by the time they overcame the Shogun’s resistance, their views evolved towards pro-modernization. The young leaders of the Meiji Restoration quickly realized that the regressive views of the anti-foreigner movement had no chance of keeping Japan from being colonized by the Western powers. They realized that “if you can’t beat them, join them.” The result was that the Meiji Restoration began replacing the “ancient regime,” which was based on a feudalistic class system, and moving toward modernization by liberalizing and democratizing the political system, promoting trade and investment and industrialization, and providing universal education.

   Due to the internal existential threats that the government in each of the two countries faced and to the roles some European powers played in their internal power struggle, historical accounts of both countries during this decade of upheaval tend to overlook the diplomatic relations between the two. Without going into details, the following will refer to some anecdotal events having diplomatic implications between Japan and the United States during this decade.
   When the United States was fighting a civil war at home, its diplomacy toward Japan had a low profile because its foreign policy priority was to make sure that Great Britain remained neutral and did not formally recognize the Confederacy. This necessitated American diplomatic efforts to avoid antagonizing the British in other theaters of the world including Japan, lest such activities affect the biggest priority.
   During the “Boshin War,” the Japanese civil war, the United States, was more scrupulous in maintaining its neutrality, while major European powers, particularly Great Britain and France wielded their influences over the two sides of the power struggle and to some degree contributed to the outcome.

ASSASSINATION of an American Diplomat in Japan
   The period following the conclusion of the so-called “Five Ansei Treaties” (the treaties that that set up diplomatic ties between Japan and five western powers starting with the United States, followed by Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Russia all in 1858 or the Fifth Year of Ansei of the Japanese calendar) Japan’s relationship with the outside world was tense and tenuous. Opening Japan to foreigners was profoundly upsetting and unsettling to many parts of Japan’s body politic, including a small minority of troublesome radical samurais who had a fanatic opposition to the presence of foreigners on Japanese soil that led them to draw their swords and indiscriminately attack foreigners.
   The most tragic example of their conduct occurred during the initial days of the diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States when, on January 15, 1861, they attacked and killed Henry Heusken, who was Harris’s interpreter and trusted assistant. Although there were many other foreign victims during this tense period, Heusken’s death, as the first diplomat to be assassinated, caused the diplomatic community to panic. Harris did not join this panic. While personally mourning the death of his trusted deputy and friend from a random act of violence, he nevertheless eschewed drastic military action against Japan. He realized that if the major powers reacted too strongly, it could lead to war.
   At the time Heusken was assassinated, Heco was, for the first time since he was rescued as a castaway, back in Japan. He was working as an interpreter for the American Consul in Kanagawa (which was an inland town close to the port town of Yokohama), when he learned of the tragic incident, which happened in Edo some miles away. Heco was himself repeatedly warned by the Japanese authorities of the danger to his life as someone collaborating with the foreigners.

FIRST Japanese-American who met President Abraham Lincoln
   Heco returned to Washington D.C. in January 1862 to pursue a position as a Federal officer in Japan (“U.S. Naval Store-keeper at Kanagawa”33) and to avoid the danger on his life. While in the capital, he was introduced to Seward, the Secretary of State under President Lincoln. At the time of the introduction, he was disappointed because his hoped-for job in Japan had not materialized. Seward surprised him by offering a new position created for an interpreter in the Consulate in Kanagawa.
   Before leaving Washington D.C. to assume his new position in Japan, he paid a visit to the Secretary of State to bid farewell on March 12, 1862. Seward, who had given him the commission in Japan, was pleased to see him and said,
   “So you are ready to go back to your native country! But have you seen our Tycoon?” Then, with Heco in train, he “… walked out of his office, and into the rear garden, across to the President’s mansion….” After President Lincoln turned his attention to Seward, and Heco was introduced as a Japanese gentleman, “He [Lincoln] shook hands with me very cordially, and then he made a great many inquiries about the position of affairs in our country.34

FIRST Reference to Japan by President Lincoln in his Annual Message of December 1863
   The Secretary of State was fully informed of the domestic political problems brewing in Japan by his Resident Ministers in Japan. Initially, Harris was kept in his position (even though he had been appointed by Pierce, a Democratic President). He left Japan in April 1862 and Robert H. Pruyn35 succeeded him and assumed his responsibilities in May 1862. The Lincoln Administration’s awareness of instabilities in Japan, is reflected in the following remarks in Lincoln’s Annual Message of December 1863: “In common with other Western powers, our relations with Japan have been brought into serious jeopardy through the perverse opposition of the hereditary aristocracy of the Empire to the enlightened and liberal policy of the Tycoon, designed to bring the country into the society of nations. It is hoped, although not with entire confidence, that these difficulties may be peacefully overcome.”

ASSASSINATION of President Lincoln and Heco’s letter to Seward
   The American Civil War essentially ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in April 9, 1865. Five days later President Lincoln was assassinated.
   When Heco learned of the assassination, he wrote to Seward who had been severely injured by one of the assassins. “In the course of this month [July 1865] we heard of the murder of President Lincoln, and of the attack on Mr. Seward, …, I at once wrote to Mr. Seward, tendering my sincere condolence to him and through him to President Lincoln’s Family. In reply I received the following autograph letter. [A copy of the September 25, 1865 letter from Seward to Heco, which thanked Heco for his thoughts, is attached in pages following this description.]36

AMERICAN NEUTRALITY in the unfolding civil war in Japan.
   Around this time, the Japanese political situation further deteriorated and evolved into open hostilities between the Shogun’s forces and the Emperor’s supporters.
   Fighting began in earnest in early 1868. The United States saw “Japan … a theater of civil war, …and the Executive …maintained strict neutrality among the belligerents…” as stated by President Andrew Johnson in his Annual State of the Union Message in December 1868. In other words, American diplomacy, whose priority under Seward was to keep Great Britain neutral between the Union and the Confederacy during its Civil War, was now observing strict neutrality between the warring forces in Japan.

The United States, NOT FIRST TO RECOGNIZE the new Meiji Government
   During the Japanese civil war, the United States joined the five European powers37, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Italy, who had made a joint declaration of neutrality in February 1868. Great Britain, while maintaining neutrality, was the first state to recognize the Meiji Restoration government when its new Minister, Harry Smith Parkes presented his credentials to the Emperor on May 22, 186838. On February 9, 1869, the six powers ended their jointly declared neutrality through another joint declaration in favor of the Meiji Government39. It was only after this declaration that the United States released the Stonewall, the ironclad warship which originally belonged to the Confederacy that the United States had sold to the Shogun’s representatives who came to Washington in 1867, to the new Government. When the vessel had arrived in Edo in April 1868, the American Resident Minister Robert Bruce Van Valkenburgh40 refused to release it to the Shogunate authorities on the ground that America had committed to neutrality41. When the United States made its public declaration in favor of the Meiji Government on February 9, 1869, Van Valkenburgh released the vessel as a material recognition of the formal transfer of power to the Meiji Government42.
   Thus, the decade of the 1860s which began with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Shogunate Japan and the ante bellum United States, ended with a newly established relationship between the Meiji Restoration Japan and the post-bellum United States of America.


   After the Meiji Restoration, the relations between Japan and the United States began on a new footing. Each country now had a political regime that was more committed to democracy and liberal values. How their relationship based on these shared values evolved over the next century and a half, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, is not for this essay to even attempt to sketch.

   If, however, the foregoing vignettes about the early encounters of Japanese and American peoples on both sides of the Pacific inform readers that something can be gained by looking back to see how a bond of friendship was forged between the two peoples, one who once had closed borders had gradually opened up their minds because of the encounters with those who appeared on the other side of the Pacific and the other who had the initiative and openness, then this essay has served its purpose.

Shotaro OSHIMA*
February 28, 2021

* Acknowledgement: I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to my close American friend from college days, Joshua Rabinowitz (MIT, PhD), (Harvard, JD), who reviewed numerous drafts of this paper. He helped me clarify what I wanted to say and turn my draft into a more “readable” essay. During this process, Joshua also provided insightful answers to questions I had about the cases that Japanese nationals brought to the United States Supreme Court during the period from 1892 to 1922. I learned much from his answers, but I decided that discussing those cases would distract from what I wanted to convey by this essay. The responsibility for the form and contents of this essay rests solely with the author.

1 Please take note of NYTimes Obituary on Yukio OKAMOTO: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/08/obituaries/yukio-okamoto-coronavirus-dead.html.
2 Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004.
3 Charles Wolcott Brooks, Japanese Wrecks stranded and picked up adrift in the North Pacific Ocean (San Francisco, CA, 1876),  p.1.
4 Bert Webber, Wrecked Japanese Junks adrift in the North Pacific Ocean (Fairfield, WA, 1984)
5 According to a book on Japanese castaways rescued by the Russians, the first on record goes back to the end of the 17th century, and there were others before Kodayu. These earlier castaways, however, ended their drift at sea at Kamchatka which was part of the Russian Far East, and not Russian America. See 木崎良平著「漂流民とロシア:北の黒船に揺れた幕末日本」中公新書、1991(Tentative translation, “Castaways and Russia; Final years of the Shogunate Japan rocked by Black Ships of the North,” by Kisaki Ryohei)
6 Scott Ridley & Hayato Sakurai, America’s First Visit to Japan, April 29 – May 8, 1791; Voyage of the Lady Washington and the Grace, (FROSTFISH Press, 2016.)
7 Webber, op. cit., “Chapter 6, The Cape Flattery Incident”, p.93-101.
8 Dennett, Tyler; American’s in East Asia: A Critical Study of the Policy of the United States with reference in China, Japan and Korea in the 19th Century. The MacMillan, 1922. p. 247-248 (cf. “Japanese sailors, three from the Northwest Coast”). This policy of the Shogunate is called “Edict to Expel Foreign Ships” which was introduced in 1825, withdrawn in1842.
9 See, Schodt, Frederik L.: Native American in the Land of the Shogun; Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan, (Berkeley, CA, 2003), p.185.
10 From Ranald MacDonald: The Narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime; of his experiences in the Pacific Whale Fishery; and of his great Adventure to Japan; with a sketch of his later life on the Western Frontier, 1824-1894, Edited and annotated from the original manuscripts by William S. Lewis and Nojiro Murakami, Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990. p.127.
11 中濱武彦「ジョン万次郎の羅針盤」(Nakahama Takehiko, John Manjiro’s Compass)富山房インターナショナル、東京、2020, p.25 with map — Kuroshio at times meanders from around Kii Peninsula southeastward, and turns northeast in the vicinity of Tori Shima. 
12 Drifting Toward the Southeast; The Story of Five Japanese Castaways, told by John Manjiro, translated by Nagakuni, Junya and Kitada, Junji, (New Bedford, MA, 2003).
13 The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, December 6, 1847, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, p. 23.
14 Diana Fontaine Corbin and Nannie Corbin, Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, January 1888, p.128.
15 Peter Booth Wiley, Yankees in the Land of the Gods; Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan, Viking, New York, NY, 1990, p.22.
16 Kenneth E. Shewmaker and Kenneth R. Stevens, Editors, The Papers of Daniel Webster, Diplomatic Papers, Volume 2, 1850-1852, University Press of New England, Hanover, NH, 1987, p.292-297.
17 Joseph Heco, edited by James Murdoch; “The Narrative of a Japanese; What he has seen and the people he has met in the course of the last forty years. Volumes I and II.” American -Japanese Publishing Association, San Francisco, CA.
Also a Japanese novelist wrote an account of Heco’s life, 吉村昭「アメリカ彦蔵」、読売新聞社、1999, based on “The Narrative of a Japanese.” This book has been translated by Philip Gabriel; Akira Yoshimura, Storm Rider, Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, FL, 2004.
18 Heco, op. cit. Volume I. p.132-133.
19 “Biographical Notes for Beverley Chunn(e) Sanders (1807-1883)”, retrieved from http://www.konvalinka.com/bcs1807b.htm, February 11, 2021.
20 Heco, op. cit., Volume I., p.140.
21 Ibid., Volume I. Letter by Gwin to Sanders, p.148-149.
22 Ibid., Volume I., p. 150-152.
23 Howard F. Van Zandt, Pioneer American Merchants in Japan, Lotus Press Limited, Tokyo, 1980, p.18.
24 Ibid., chapters IV through VIII.
25 Atsushi Goto, (後藤淳史 『忘れられた黒船:アメリカ北太平洋戦略と日本開国』講談社、2017年、“The Forgotten Black Ships: American North Pacific Strategy and the Opening of Japan”).
26 Carl Crow, He Opened the Door of Japan, Townsend Harris and the Story of His Amazing Adventures in Establishing American Relations with the Far East, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1939, p.211.
27 Heco, op. cit., Volume I., p. 158.
28 Minister Resident in Japan; Appointed: January 19, 1859, Presentation of Credentials: November 5, 1859, Termination of Mission: Presented recall on April 26, 1862.
29 ARTICLE XIV. This Treaty shall go into effect on the (4th of July, 1859,) fourth day of July, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine, on or before which day the ratifications of the same, shall be exchanged at the city of Washington, but if from any unforeseen cause, the ratifications cannot be exchanged by that time, the treaty shall still go into effect, at the date above mentioned.
30 House of Representatives debates, May 22, 1860, The Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 1st session, p.2264.
31 Senate debates, May 23, 1860, The Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 1st session, p.2264-2279.
32 Senate debates, ibid., p.2276. “I say disunion is imminent if a Republican is elected. I believe, though he may be inaugurated – and that will depend upon some of these States around here – he may never be the President of thirty-three States of this Union.”
33 Heco., op. cit., Volume I., p.280-281. (Letter addressed to the Navy Secretary dated Nov. 18, 1861, recommending Heco for the position.)
34 Ibid., pp. 299-302.
35 Minister Resident in Japan; Appointed: October 12, 1861, Presentation of Credentials: May 17, 1862, Termination of Mission: Left Japan April 28, 1865.
36 Heco, op. cit., Vo. II. p.78-81.
37 大石学編、「幕末維新史年表」、東京堂出版、2018年, p.198. (“The Chronology of events for the Last Years of the Shogunate and the Early years of the Meiji Restoration Regime”, edited by Oishi Manabu, Tokyo, 2018.) 
38 「外務省の百年([First] Hundred Years of the Foreign Ministry [of Japan])」, Hara Shobo, Tokyo, 1968, p.21.
39 “The Chronology of events”, op. cit., p.218.
40 Minister Resident in Japan; Appointed: January 18, 1866, Presentation of Credentials: May 4, 1867, Termination of Mission: Presented recall on November 11, 1869
41 Robert Erwin Johnson, Far China Station; The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters 1800~1898, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2013, p.142.
42 “The Chronology of events”, op. cit. p.218. Formal agreement on transfer was dated February 16. On the other hand, Johnson, op. cit., p.146, put the formal delivery in March. Both agree the ship was renamed and was operational in the naval battle at Hakodate in June 1869, when the last remaining resistance was vanquished.

Shotaro Oshima was a diplomat in Japan’s Foreign Service serving as Deputy Foreign Minister responsible for economic matters (2001-2002), Permanent Representative to the International Organizations in Geneva, including the WTO (2002- 2005), and Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2005-2007) and to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2000-2001). He also served as Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy of the University of Tokyo (2008-2015) and at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (2009-2018).