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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Japanese History 1864 Via American Newspapers

I recently received a news article published in the New York Herald on February 7, 1865… back when a newspaper cost 4-cents.

The paper has front page news that it has set up a relationship with the Japan Herald newspaper of Yokohama and the Japan Commercial News of Kanagawa… which includes news up to and including November 30, 1864… meaning that 150 years ago, the world was a little over two months apart from learning about what happens around the world.

It's not as cool as me having IM's with people across the city or chatting via e-mail with others in Japan with about a minute delay… but, it's a start, right?

Anyhow… the New York Herald article notes that "various foreign Consuls in Japan have publicly recognized the Japan Herald as the official organ of their respective departments. The columns of the Herald are well supplied with advertisements, which shows that trade is in a flourishing condition in that distant country, despite the frequent convulsions arising from wars and rebellions."

These wars and rebellions are due to factions in Japan not being happy with the Shogun or with the country opening up its borders to gaijin (foreigners) - things that would eventually lead to the fall of the shogun-led Japan and a return of the Emperor as the major domo.

The article then mentions local sports… and I'm thinking 'cool… some sumo news', but no. It's the Americanization of what passed for sports in 1864… and its influence on Japan.

"Among the local sports indulged in we find mentioned the chase, mile races, hurdle races, wheelbarrow races, sack race, wrestling, three-legged races, water-bucket race, and other convivial pastimes well suited to the changeable temperament of the good people of Jeddo, Yokohama and Kanagawa."

Jeddo was the way the gaijin of the day spelled Edo, the former name of modern-day Tokyo. I can just imagine the Japanese doing wheelbarrow races… this was when the Japanese began getting stupid drunk to do their stupid sports we see nowadays on television… and I'm not talking about real sports… and, I have no idea what the 'chase' was.

The paper goes on to mention that there is some concern about the Japanese natives and the Europeans in the country…

"… the approaching departure from Japan of Sir B. Alcock, K. C. B., her Britannic Majesty's Plenipotentiary, and expresses great regret that he should leave at a period when his services are most urgently required to bring all the difficulties with the Japanese to a termination."

A treaty between France and Japan is not seen as valid by the Emperor. A plenipotentiary is someone who has the full powers of the country they represent. A gorogio (below) is a Japanese senator or in this case a high-level trusted politico. The 'Tycoon' refers to the leader of Japan, at this time it being the shogun.

"It seems that the favorable treaty concluded between France and Japan has been totally ignored by the Tycoon and his Gorogio, so that it is feared there will be some trouble with the Europeans and its natives.

"There is a strong body of British troops in Japan. On the 20th of October (1864) some sixteen hundred men were publicly reviewed to the great delight and astonishment of the Japanese. As a singular coincidence the national Japanese troops were also reviewed on the same parade by the side of the British soldiers. Their war dresses were very picturesque and were much admired."

Next, the newspapers talked about the murder of two British soldiers. It's never easy being a gaijin in Japan. Daiboots, mentioned below is meant to represent 'Daibutsu' - the giant buddha in the city of Kamakura:

"…Major George Walter Baldwin and Lieut. Robert Nicholas Bird, of her British Majesty's Twentieth regiment.

"On the 21st of November they left Yokohama on horseback for an excision to Kamakura and Daiboots, but on arriving near the first named place they were set upon and foully murdered. After the usual formality of an inquest, the bodies were interred with full military honors.

"The British, French, American and Dutch Ministers attended; also the Governor of Kanegawa and suite, and the officers of the ships-of-war and land forces in the country of every nationality. In closing its account of the funeral, the Japan Herald says:—"We know from the best authority, that Sir Rutherford Alcock is resolutely determined, by every means at his command, to urge, and if necessary, to compel the Japanese authorities to do their utmost to discover and deliver up the murderers." It is also stated that the Japanese authorities were doing their best to ferret out the perpetrators."

Among other prominent announcements in the papers are several of the proprietors of large hotels, offering splendid accommodations to the traveling public, with a sarcastic comment at the end:

"The caterer of the Commercial Hotel announces a comfortable, light and roomy dining room, and an excellent table d'hôte at seven P.M.. There are in the hotel several suites of private rooms nicely furnished, and fitting for the residence of ladies and families visiting from China, India, etc. The bedrooms are beautifully furnished, and the billiard tables and bowling alleys are all refurnished and redecorated.
So much for the spread of European ideas among the subjects of the Tycoon."

What I find even more cool, is that this news on Japan - as light as it was - was found on the front page of a newspaper, situated right beside a story about the U.S. Civil War, with reports that General Sherman and his rebels were involved in heavy skirmishes near Charleston and Branchville.

The implication, I glean from this is that any news on Japan was just as important as the news on the American civil war. I know.... my mind is blown, too. But such was the fascination with the newly opened up country of Japan... everyone wanted to know as much about the country and its news as possible.

Andrew Joseph

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