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Friday, September 30, 2016

1871 Japan - A Troubling Time In The News

From the Boston Traveller (published as the Daily Evening Traveller) newspaper of Boston, Mass., U.S.A, in the January 18, 1871 edition comes a short bit of news discussing how a small pocket of Japan was becoming dangerous to the foreign contingent.

Thanks to Vinnie for the heads up on the story from the Readex "America's Historical Newspapers" database. Click HERE for more on Readex, an important library of historical knowledge.

I am confused by the Boston Traveler is spelled with one "l", while the Daily Evening Traveller uses two... but I suppose that' a bit of English grammar I'm not hep with. 

While the Japan of 2016 is very safe for foreigners (generally speaking), it appears that in 1871 - some 20 years after Americans first forced their way into becoming economic trading partners with Japan, the initial fascination for all things western was not as strong amongst the average Joe Suzuki as it was in western civilization where all things-Japanese were in the midst of a full-scale cultural revolution.

It would be. In the U.S. and Europe, for example, seeing Japanese people and experiencing bits of their culture would have seen fantastic to the people of the day, what with the fact that until the 1850s, Japan had closed itself off from the rest of the world (except for a wee bit of foreign trading).

Most people outside of Japan would have been highly curious of the Japanese and their culture.

You would expect the same thing in Japan. And it did occur among the people… and while Japan and the west were setting up political relations, it’s people were fascinated by the westerners.

And then culture clash. While the government of Japan may have gotten over the initial forcefulness of the U.S. wanting to be an economic partner, it used western technology—especially after the end of the shogun-led Edo-jidai (Edo period) to build itself up, quickly in the technological department.

But the regular folk of Japan began to resent the forcefulness of the western visitor… their aggressiveness—which may have been quite common and accepted among western countries, was seen as culturally insensitive by the Japanese.

Of course, Japan was openly violent among themselves at this time, as there were still pockets of infighting as many refused top accept the new, western-style of government that Japan had adopted, effectively putting the warrior-class samurai out to pasture.

I’m not saying violence in Japan at this time was caused by samurai, but I am saying that Japan in the early 1870s was still a volatile place to be.

Enough preamble, here’s the brief article located on page 2:

Various Matters.
The roads in the vicinity of Yokohama are again becoming unsafe and foreigners are frequently attacked.
An English-Japanese railroad loan negotiated by H.A. Lay, is not giving satisfaction, but the negotiation is still progressing.
On the 20th of December, half a square mile of houses were burned in Yeddo, and on the same night the premises of Gadown, Walsh, Hall & Co., took fire, but the flames were extinguished after considerable damage had been done.
On the 29th of November a powder magazine exploded and several lives were lost.
Granert, an old merchant of Yokohama, committed suicide in a fit of despondency, caused by losses in business.
Portman, the interpreter at the United States Legation, had been suspended by Minister De Long, owing to complaints made by the Japanese and an angry correspondence had passed concerning it between De Long and Portman.
The rice crop had suffered severely in the southern provinces from unfavorable weather and an earthquake.

Yeddo is an archaic spelling of Edo, or what we call Tokyo

What the heck, here are a few more articles from the same edition and page concerning Japan.

They are just news tidbits and don’t man much in 2016, but it still provides an interesting peek into just what was going on in Japan.

Japanese Noblemen En Route to New York.
San Francisco, Jan. 17/—The steamship America; from Hong Kong via Yokohama, arrived to-day, with 40 passengers or San Francisco, 14 young Japanese noblemen, who go to New York to attend college, and 160 Chinese. She also brings a full cargo of teas and miscellaneous goods.

What’s interesting here, is that despite the higher number of Chinese passengers, it’s really about the 14 Japanese noblemen going to school in New York. What about the 160 Chinese? At this point in time in the U.S., news about Japan—infrequent though it was—was of keen interest to the general public.

American Business in Japan.
was utterly stagnant. Minister De Long and Sir Harry Parker have been on a visit to Kystin, where a strong disaffection against Satsuma exists. The latter had amassed a number of troops there, and it was feared that a civil war could not be much longer deferred.

I have no idea what Kystin is or where it is.

As for Satsuma - it's not a person... rather a group: The Satsuma Rebellion (西南戦争, Seinan Sensō aka Southwestern War) was a revolt of disaffected samurai against the new imperial government, nine years into the Meiji Era. Its name comes from Satsuma Domain, which had been influential in the Restoration and became home to unemployed samurai after military reforms rendered their status obsolete. The rebellion lasted from January 29, 1877, until September of that year.

I like how the newspaper editor was too lazy to create a full opening sentence, instead relying on the headline to continue directly into the copy. You can’t do that nowadays!

Of keen observance was the fact that the media still fared a Japanese civil war to explode soon.

Drowning of British Officers and Sailors.
Commander Snooks, Paymaster Bowles and some sailors of Her Britannic Majesty’s ship Ringdove were drowned in Yokohama bay by the upsetting of a boat on the 20th of December.

Okay, the loss of life is tragic anytime and anywhere, but the guys who drowned were sailors! Sailors who can’t swim. 

Anyhow, even nowadays, say in the U.S. Navy, you do NOT have to know how to swim, but they will teach you until you can swim I think 100 meters without having to grab the side of a pool.

I understand that nowadays there are plenty of jobs in the navy where one doesn’t ever have to dip one’s toe in the water… but in the 1870s…

Of course, I am only assuming those guys couldn’t swim. It is possible that they were concussed when the boat flipped over and drowned… or perhaps something more nefarious occurred.

There were plenty of Great Britain ships in the Royal Navy designated HMS Ringdove. The one mentioned in the article above was a wooden screw gun vessel (designed for naval warfare, and a troop carrier) launched in 1867 and sold in 1882.

It’s why I suggested something nefarious…

Andrew Joseph

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