Search This Blog & Get A Rife

Saturday, March 21, 2015

U.S. Negotiations With 1846 Japan

Here's a cool newspaper article from the September 12, 1846 edition of The Polynesian newspaper out of Honolulu, Hawaii dealing with how the United States, pre-Commodore Perry, was attempting to make inroads with Japan re: trade.

It's adventures like this that helped make up the United States' mind that might makes right when it comes to dealing with the Japanese.

Thanks again to Vinny for suggesting I find ample materials from the Early American Newspapers via

There is no headline for this article, and, regardless of the circumstances, I will re-type it here exactly as it appeared in the newspaper, though I will not conform to the exact spread of words per line the article had.

I will add, where applicable, (brackets) with a corrected word by my self.

For your edification:
Collingwood, Vincennes, Manhattan and Columbus are all U.S. sailing ships.

The writing is choppy and stilted, so nothing like my own verbose stories, but is easily understandable.

Read on:

(No headline)

Japan.—Visit of U.S.S. Columbus.‚The U.S. Ship of the line Columbus, 100 guns, bearing the broad pennant of Commodore James Biddle, commanding U.S. east India Squadron, arrived in our waters on Wednesday morning and anchored in the outer roads.  This stately vessel is the largest ever seen here, carrying, when all mounted (mounted), twenty-two guns more than the Collingwood.  She is from China, via Japan, forty-three days from Jeddo, which place Commodore Biddle visited with the design of opening intercourse with the Emperor of japan, by forwarding him a letter from the United States Government.  The ship anchored some distance below the city for want of proper charts and the indisposition of the authorities to allow her to come nearer. The communication was forwarded to the Emperor, explaining the objects of the visit, to which he replied that he had heard of the United States, that they were flourishing and great nation, and that he hoped they would continue to prosperous, but declined any closer relations with them.  The only foreign trade that would be allowed was with the Dutch and Chinese.  He begged the ship would supply herself with what she wanted speedily, up anchor, be off, and never return.  Landing was disallowed, but the ship was supplied with such as the country afforded, wood, water, poultry, eggs, and vegetables, for which neither pay nor presents were received in return.  Nothing like trade was allowed with the numerous visitors that came aboard. Even presents of coin, &c., that Jack (Commodore James Biddle) gave some of the shore people, were afterwards returned.  The only productions of the country obtained were a parcel of presents sent by the Emperor to the Commodore, which were declined by him.  The Japanese officer having them in charge dared not return without delivering them, and as it was at the dusk of the evening, he threw his packet into one of the quarter boats and pulled off for shore as fast as possible. There being no way to return it, the contents were divided among the officers, but the contained nothing of much value or skill in workmanship.
The Japanese had heard of the intended visit of the Columbus, but seemed some surprised at her dimensions. She was visited by many of the inhabitants, evidently with the Emperor's permission, but there were no females among them.  Armed boats were kept about her, as in the case of the Manhattan, but they were not of force to resist a man-of-war.
The men are represented as a fine athletic race, inquisitive and intelligent.  The shore off which the Columbus lay was rocky, but wooded, fertile, and apparently well cultivated.  Hogs and bullocks were not to be had, though other supplies were plentiful. The Columbus lay there 10 days and then sailed for this place,  The Vincennes was subjected to similar treatment.
These are all the particulars we have as yet gathered of this visit to Japan.  The result shows that it met with no better success than previous attempts, and that the Japanese are determined to preserve in their exclusive policy, content with the amount of their present intercourse with Christendom, through the agents of the Dutch factory at Nangassacki.  In looking at the result of contact of the European races with the native powers in India and China, one cannot but admire the polite wariness of the Japanese.  Every visitor is treated hospitably, but kept on board his own ship. Complements are met with compliments, wants gratuitously supplied, and not a shadow of real complaint given.  Christendom will dinned this peaceful, gentlemanly demeanor, a stronger barrier to their attempts at securing a diplomatic and trading foothold than were all the elephants and sabers of India, or the unwieldly war-junks and pompous proclamations of the Chinese.  As yet not even the most frivolous pretext for force, or even pushing negotiations has been given. How long Japan will be enabled to maintain herself as a terra incognito, is a problem of great interest to us lovers of something new.  In the present age it is almost the only country there would be an excitement in visiting, or that could furnish a taking (>???< ) book.
The Columbus and Vincennes have both suffered somewhat from the diseases of the eastern climate, although the weather at Japan and hence has been very fine.   Since leaving the U. States about twenty men have died on board the former, and she has now a large number on the sick list—mostly down with the scurvy or diarrhea and dysentery.  The crew generally are feeble, having been for the last ninety days on salt provisions.  They, undoubtedly, will speedily recruit under the regenerating influence of our Trades and markets.     

There are several interesting points in this article that I enjoyed, chief amongst them being the writer's admiration for the Japanese attempt to keep the gaijin from gaining entrance to its country, saying that that the sabre-rattling of India, and the pomposity of the Chinese was in stark contrast to the gracious humility shown by the Japanese who simply stated: Here's some food—no money required—now go away or we might have to kill you, even though your warship is magnificent.

I also loved the fact that the ambassador who came bearing The Emperor's gifts was afraid of what would happen to him should the Americans refuse the gift (and keep in mind that the Emperor was still only a puppet Emperor at this time, with the real power belonging to the hawkish Shogun military leader.)... so tossing the presents into a row boat and then scrambling over to his own craft to escape the possibility of the Americans returning the Emperor's gift—now that's historical comedy!

Now... I mentioned the whole Emperor/Shogun thing... they really are separate... but the Americans were not fully cognizant that the Emperor they were dealing with was actually the Shogun—two different people.

This whole event took place beginning on July 20, 1846, when Biddle, as Commodore anchored the ships USS Columbus and USS Vincennes in Uraga Channel at the mouth to Edo Bay.

The plan was to set up trade dialogue with Japan just like what he had done with China.

After sending his request to the Japanese leaders, he was requested to join representatives of the Shogun's office on board a Japanese junk to receive the official response.

While Commodore Biddle wasn't thrilled to have to leave his ship, he reconsidered.

Let the misunderstanding between the Japanese and gaijin ensue.

Misunderstanding just what the heck a samurai guard was instructing him to do, Biddle was forcibly knocked back by a guard who then drew his sword.

Oh yeah... who hasn't had a weapon drawn upon them for a social faux pas? Just me and Biddle? Damn. Noboko's dad must have hated me. 

Anyhow,  Japanese officials apologized tremendously for the slight, and while it is not mentioned anywhere I can read, I would bet that THAT samurai guard either had to commit seppuku )ritualistic suicide) for his transgression and making the Shogun look bad, or he was promoted for his quick work in embarrassing gaijin sticking their nose where it does not belong, namely Japan.

Along with what was said in the newspaper article above, Biddle was told that THIS part of Tokyo was not the place to conduct foreign business (keep away from the leader - far away!), and that all foreign affairs were conducted through Nagasaki, and that he should sail away immediately. 

Needless to say... all of this was taken into account by Commodore Perry in 1853 when he, and his four black ships bullied Japan into opening up trade negotiations with the United States... the friendly, upstart country with the big cannon and balls in its britches.

Andrew Joseph


No comments:

Post a Comment