(The following is a post by Eiichi Ito, reference specialist in the Asian Division.)
Every year some 700,000 visitors come to Washington, D.C. to view the famous sakura, the cherry blossoms (a gift from the city of Tokyo in 1912), and to enjoy the events organized throughout the city as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Many among this large number of tourists are from Japan, as sakura-viewing is a much cherished Japanese tradition. Watching these visitors recently, I couldn’t help but wonder: who were the first Japanese visitors to Washington, D.C. and when did they come? In search for an answer, I turned to the Japanese rare book collection of over 5,500 items, housed in the Library’s Asian Division, and in that collection I found a unique item which could offer a clue.
It is a pictorial journal of the first Japanese delegation to the United States in 1860. What story does this item tell us?
In 1854, under mounting Western pressure, Japan decided to abandon its two-hundred-year-old national seclusion policy when Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy returned to Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay). He had come a year earlier to deliver the United States President Millard Fillmore’s letter, requesting that Japan open its ports to American trade. Following Commodore Perry’s second visit, the two countries signed the Treaty of Peace and Amity, also known as the “Kanagawa Treaty,” in Kanagawa (now Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture) on March 31, 1854.
Subsequently, in 1858 Townsend Harris (1804-1878), the first U.S. Consul General to Japan, successfully negotiated The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, or the “Harris Treaty of 1858.” This was the first trade agreement between the two countries. It set a model for Japan’s similar agreements with other Western countries, including Britain, France, the Netherlands and Russia, all signed in 1858.
Ratification of the Harris Treaty in Washington resulted in the first Japanese diplomatic visit to Washington in 1860. Led by three principal Ambassadors to the U.S. — Masaoki Shinmi, Norimasa Muragaki and Tadamasa Oguri, the first Japanese delegation, after making stops in Hawaii, San Francisco and Panama, landed at the Washington Navy Yard on the Anacostia River on May 14, 1860. Subsequent to Washington, they also visited Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York before setting off the home-bound-voyage across the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. A member of this delegation most likely documented this visit in a journal with a series of sketches. By just looking at those illustrations, one can feel the curiosity and eagerness of the delegation to see and learn from everything they encountered.
Who did these illustrations? Unfortunately, there is no indication in the journal.
In November 2015, the Asian Division hosted a talk on this pictorial journal by Kristi B. Jamrisko, a Ph.D. student of art history at the University Maryland, College Park. Jamrisko believes that the sketches could be the work of Toshichi Sato, attendant to Ambassador Oguri. Sato’s diary, which contained drawings along with notes of records and impressions throughout the journey, had been kept privately until it was published in 2001 under the title, “Bakumatsu Kenbei Shisetsu Oguri Tadamasa Jusha No Kiroku: Nanushi Sato Toshichi No Sekai Isshu.” All the illustrations in the Library’s copy closely resemble those included in the published journal.
If the Library’s pictorial journal were truly the work of Sato, it could be a valuable record of the first visit of the Japanese delegation.