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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ulysses S. Grant And His Trees In Japan

I would imagine that more than a few Americans are aware that once upon a time Japan presented the United States a gift of cherry trees in 1912 that currently grow in Washington DC (see HERE).

But how many of you are aware that Japan celebrates the planting of a tree in its country that was performed by a former President of the United States of America?

Yup. And, I'm talking about President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885).

Someone get this man a cigar! STAT!
After his leadership role as a General during the sad American Civil War, and eight tiresome years as the 18th president of the U.S., when he was charged with rebuilding a nation divided, Grant just wanted to relax and enjoy life as a private citizen.

But, despite his wishes, Grant could hardly help himself, and while on a simple vacation with his family to visit England, it became a trek that affected the way Japan looked at the world, and even played a key role in theRyûkyû Islands dispute, still a prevailing enticement for antagonistic relations between Japan and neighboring China.

Ooooohh… spooky, isn't it?

I'll skip most of the travel itinerary of the Grants, because it has nothing to do with Japan, and there are far, far, better resources on the subject that you can read, to get a complete picture of who Grant was.
This woodblock print by Yoshu Shuen shows a reception given by the Meiji Emperor and Empress of Japan for Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia.
Leaving the US on May 17, 1877, the simple vacation became a two-year globe-trotting adventure across Europe, the Middle East and, of course, Asia.

Note, again, that at this time Grant was an ordinary citizen of the U.S., and though he lacked any official title or maintained any political power, he was treated with much respect - especially in China and Japan.

Some background about Japan.

Grant and family arrived in Japan on June 21, 1879 and stayed until September 3, 1879.

Japan at that time was still pretty new to this whole internationalization thing, having only decades earlier opened up its political borders to allow foreigners to freely travel in, and its Japanese citizens to freely travel out.

Japan was hardly a modern nation when the Americans first 'encouraged' Japan to open up its economic borders in 1853, when US Commodore Perry and his Black ships first arrived. In fact, aside from the Dutch introducing firearms as one of the few countries in the world allowed to trade with Japan between 1600 and 1850 (approximately), Japan was indeed a pretty backwater nation compared to most European and North American nations.

But… in the 25 years since opening up is doors, Japan had made huge leaps and strides in modernizing itself, as it sought to become equal to its global peers.

Japan, at that time, was in the middle of a huge dispute with China over the Ryûkyû Islands. Japan had basically abolished the Ryûkyû Kingdom and made it a part of the Okinawa province between March and May of 1879.

Japan did this, supposedly, to stop China from doing the same. This made China mad, because China couldn't really do anything about it thanks to an 1871 treaty each had signed to respect one another's territorial sovereignty, and, Ryukyu, regardless of how it was achieved, was now a part of Japan's territory.

Before going to Japan, Grant et al stopped off in China. Although wielding no political power, the Chinese powers asked him to at least meet with the Japanese to discuss the situation to see if he could arrange a peaceful resolution.

Oh, Mister Graaaaant? I say in my best Mary Tyler Moore voice, which ain't that high at all!

As such, Grant became embroiled as an unofficial diplomat between the two nations.

In Japan, Grant understood the Japanese position on the Ryûkyû Islands thanks to its treaty, and even though he had no political power (of course he did - just not officially), Grant assured Japanese officials of the US policy of supporting a strong Asia against European encroachment.

He spoke out against those European governments which, unlike the US, outright refused to even consider renegotiation of the treaties.

As such, he asked Japan resolve the Ryûkyû Islands situation diplomatically and peacefully.

Grant also had some influence upon the Meiji Emperor and Meiji government officials, as his non-official advice helped shape Japanese domestic and foreign policy, as well as the Meiji Constitution.

Japan at that time did not have many Western-style conveniences, such as a hotel. It did, of course, have Japanese-style hotels, but there is indeed a marked difference between the two.

Having said that, some of the more elite Japanese residences and buildings had Western amenities.

The Enryôkan, originally constructed by the shogunate as a naval academy (on the grounds of the Hama Detached Palace - Hama rikyû - was renovated as a residence for the Grants and some visiting European princes.

As well, a set of Western-style silverware, emblazoned with the Imperial chrysanthemum crest, was commissioned specifically for this purpose, and an Imperial jinrikisha was sent to Nagasaki to meet the Grants.

Former U.S. President Grant meeting Japan Emperor Meiji (right).
The date of July 4—America's Independence Day—was specifically chosen by Japan's Emperor, as the date to meet - and, as you would expect, it went well.

I found a note on the types of foods the Japanese served the Grant family at a party on July 8, 1879 at the house of Japanese Minister of the Right Iwakura Tomomi (surname first). This menu is still kept at Tokyo's Ueno Seiyoken restaurant, which is the oldest western-style restaurant in Japan. Aha! Western-style restaurant.

The menu was:
  • Potage Consommé (soup);
  • Chaud-froid Cottelette Mouton (mutton);
  • Bouchée a la béchamel (white sauce chicken);
  • Filet Chateaubriand (beef);
  • Caille au riz (quail);
  • Asperges Beurre Fondu (asparagus);
  • Punch (liquored sherbet);
  • Dindonneau Truff Jambon salada (turkey and ham salad);
  • Glacée (ice cream);
  • Charlette Parisienne (cake);
  • Gâteau (cake);
  • and (non-described) fruits.
Is it just me, but is everything on the menu French? Was there no American cuisine yet? No KFC, Arbys or baloney sandwich? Was Velvetta not invented yet? Did they not have hot dogs and apple pie? Did no one have a barbeque?!

Grant still had not talked to Japan about the Ryûkyû Islands, but it was during his stay in Nikko-shi, Tochigi-ken (home of the famous hear-no-evil/see-no-evil/speak-no-evil monkeys) between July 17-31, 1879 that Grant began his discussions with Japanese officials.

On July 22, Grant met with Minister of War Tsugumichi Saigô (surname first ) and Minister of the Interior Hirobumi Itô (surname first) and said 'hey boys, you need to find a peaceful way to resolve the islands issue, and you need to talk directly with China, without any third-party countries involved to ensure no one tries to pursue their own goals.' Those are my words, by the way.
A cartoon depicting (from left) Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan waiting to get its slice of Chinese pie.
He says that should China and Japan decide to war, the countries that would profit would be the European ones, who would then exploit a weaker Asia.

Itô says that the Ryûkyû Islands had a long and close relationship with Japan, that China's claims of sovereignty were nuts, and why the heck would Japan seize any land that belonged to China?

Itô told Grant that Japan would take his advice into consideration and thanked him for his honest views. Grant volunteered to tell China this, if Japan wished. 

But Grant wasn't done talking… On August 10, 1879, Grant met with the Emperor Meiji at the Nakajima Tea House at Hama Rikyû (Hama Detached Palace) in Tokyo and Grant’s advice was received with great confidence.
The inner garden of the teahouse at Hama Rikyu where Emperor Meiji met with Ulysses S. Grant in 1879.
He told them that the Chinese felt they were not receiving due respect as a sovereign power on this matter, but that the Chinese were open to negotiation and did not want a war.

Grant recommended that the Ryûkyû Islands be divided.

I have said in the past, without knowing of Grant's advice, that the islands should become an economic free-zone for China and Japan, turning it into a gambling mecca for all nations to use, with the Chinese and Japanese governments nationalizing any company that works the island.

Grants said that China did not want access to the Pacific to be blocked, and again recommended to the Emperor that any European power introduced as a third-party in the negotiations (or war) would work in favor of either Japan or China, but only to those of the European country(ies).

Along with the Ryûkyû Islands advice, Grant discussed with the Emperor his views on European foreign policy, the danger of foreign loans, universal suffrage, taxes to the peoples of Japan, the revision of unfair treaties to Japan, national education and—believe it or not—using foreigners to come in and teach the Japanese.

Emperor Meiji is said to have stated: "I have paid close attention to what you have said and shall consider it. I thank you for your kindness."

Because he had volunteered to continue the dialogue between Japan and China, Grant wrote a formal letter to both Iwakura Tomomi and the Chinese Prince Kung, suggesting that China rescind certain threatening missives it had sent to Japan, that both countries appoint representatives to enter into negotiations with one another, and that neither country invite a foreign power into the negotiations, but that an individual arbiter, whose decisions would be honored as binding by both parties, might be appointed should the negotiations reach an impasse.

Though Grant did leave Japan before the Ryûkyû Islands debate was settled, he did avert war… for a while, anyways.

Lastly, when discussing the creation of Japan's Meiji Constitution in 1889, Japan's Emperor kept Grant's advice in mind.

So where the fug is the story about the damn tree? Patience, inago (grasshopper)…

On July 15, 1879, the Grants visited the Tokugawa Shogunate family temple—Zojoji Temple at Shiba in Tokyo—and planted one cedar tree, still alive and very huge, today.
Did they make this sign from the cedar tree?! Kidding... the photo at the very top of this blog shows the cedar tree Grant planted.
But that's not all.

While the Grants were in Tokyo, on August 25, 1879, the citizens of Tokyo held a party for them at Ueno Park, which the Japanese Emperor attended, running from 2PM to 10PM. There was fencing (kendo), feats of horsemanship, archery (kyudo) and lots of food, and later when it got dark, fireworks.

In between all that, the Grants were each asked to plant a tree. Grant planted a hinoki (Lawson Cypress), and Mrs. Grant planted a gyokuran (known as a Bull Bay or Magnolia grandiflora) at Ueno Park. Both trees are evergreens.

Somewhere in this copse are the two trees planted by the Grants in 1879. 
The Grants left Japan from the port at Yokohama on September 3, 1879.

Fifty years later in August 1929, Viscount Shibusawa (who was known as the 'father of Japanese capitalism') and Baron Masuda (a very rich entrepreneur, and a dominant player in Japanese exports of silk cloth and thread, cotton, coal, and rice, and in the import of industrial products and weaponry) who were members of the original reception committee to welcome the Grants, erected a memorial monument near the spot where the Grants planted the two trees in Ueno Park.

A special memorial service was held at this site in 1935, on the 50th anniversary of Grant's death.
Since 1946 (after WWII), special memorial services have been held at this site, in Grant's honor, every year on Memorial Day (the last Monday of May).

Andrew Joseph
Thanks to Michael for casually dropping in a reference to Grant and the trees during one of our morning work chats over coffee. Seriously… it's like he thought I knew this stuff… Dude… I lived 200 kilometers north of Tokyo in a place that had the word 'field' twice in its name (Ohtawara-shi - Big-Rice field-Field-City)  … I don't think news travels that fast to the farmland areas. Still.

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