“The Kanrinmaru in Rough Seas"A Japanese woodblock print depicting the stormy voyage of the Kanrin Maru in 1860.
Exactly 150 years ago today, a sailing ship flying a flag never seen in North America before entered the Golden Gate. It was the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship ever to cross the Pacific, and its arrival in San Francisco made history.
Japan had been closed to the rest of the world for more than 200 years until 1854, when Commodore Matthew Perry and his squadron of American warships forced the Japanese to open their doors to trade.
Six years later, the Japanese government decided to send a diplomatic mission to the United States to ratify a treaty between the two countries. They selected San Francisco as their first port.
"It was the first time a Japanese delegation came to the United States," said Yasumasa Nagamine, who is now Japanese consul general in San Francisco. "It was a very important time, a turning point in Japanese history."
The Kanrin Maru had a difficult and stormy 37-day voyage from Japan in the late winter of 1860. During its time of isolation, the Japanese had no oceangoing ships. Only one of the Japanese crew had ever been beyond the sight of land. It was an epic voyage.
After the ship arrived, the crew's appearance on American soil seemed mutually baffling.
The San Franciscans of 1860 were familiar with the Chinese, who had been in California for years, but were amazed by the Japanese. They noted that the senior man aboard, Admiral Yoshitake Kimura, had a shaved head and a topknot in the manner of a samurai. They observed that important officers carried two swords and were obsessed with etiquette, "which almost stands in the place of a state religion with the Japanese," noted the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. They always wore robes and never wore hats.
The Japanese were surprised that San Franciscans walked on expensive rugs with their muddy boots. They were astonished that the powerful governor of California traveled without an escort of retainers and that Americans used horses to pull their carriages. It amazed them that men treated women as equals.
The Japanese were the toast of the town: They attended receptions in their honor and a civic banquet, where they were treated to Champagne, cold turkey and wild game - an exotic repast to Japanese tastes.
Capt. Kaishu Katsu, skipper of the Kanrin Maru, was served ice cream after one banquet. "I have never tasted such a wonderful thing in my life," he said, diplomatically.
They toured San Francisco. They inspected the river steamer Chrysopolis, then under construction at Rincon Point, making drawings and notes on the vessel's construction. It had only been seven years since Japan had become aware that there were even such things as steamships.
The officers attended a performance of " Richard III" at Maguire's Opera House, possibly the first time Shakespeare was performed for a Japanese audience.
It was a significant learning experience on both sides.
Several important men were aboard the Kanrin Maru on that trip to San Francisco. Among them was Fukuzawa Yukichi, who later founded Keio University, the oldest private college in Japan. Katsu, the captain of the ship, later became one of the architects of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The official envoys from Japan, including the first ambassador, arrived a few days after the Kanrin Maru aboard the Powhatan, an American warship. They sailed from Japan to San Francisco and on to Panama, when they crossed the isthmus by rail and then sailed up the East Coast to Washington, where they presented their credentials to President James Buchanan.
The Kanrin Maru, meanwhile, remained in San Francisco Bay for some months. Damaged on its way across the Pacific, it was given new paint, new sails and two new masts at the Mare Island Naval Base.
The ship sailed for Japan on May 8, 1860, firing a 21-gun salute in honor of the United States. Three of the Japanese sailors died when the ship was in San Francisco and they are buried in Colma.
Relations between the United States and Japan did not live up to the early promise, as World War II proved. "But now," said Consul General Nagamine, "we have a very strong relationship.
"We have a long history," he said. "And this (anniversary) is an occasion to look ahead."
A plaque marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Japanese ship Kanrin Maru will be dedicated today at 4 at Pier 9 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The ceremony will include performances by the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Japanese Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine and Japanese American community leaders will speak.
The monument commemorate the arrival of the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese naval ship in San Francisco Bay, on 17 March 1860. It was presented to the City of San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, as part of a centennial celebration of the opening of their diplomatic relations. Behind the monument, a Cosco container ship is about to sail under the Golden Gate bridge. City Birds digital photo
Peter Kaminski from San Francisco, California, USA - Kanrin Maru Monument Plaque Uploaded by AlbertHerring
This plaque describes the Kanrin Maru Monument (see next and previous photo). It reads: This monument is erected to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese naval ship KANRIN MARU in San Francisco Bay on 17 March 1860. The KANRIN MARU crossed the Pacific at the same time as the U.S.S. POWHATAN which brought the first Japanese embassy to the United States. PRESENTED to the City of San Francisco by its sister city Osaka as a token of its sincere desire to further strenghten the ties of friendship and goodwill between the United States and Japan and as part of the program to mark the centennial celebration of the opening of their diplomatic relations. 17 May, 1960 This plaque presented by the CITY of SAN FRANCISCO
Members of the Japanese Embassy to the United States (1860), who sailed on the Kanrin Maru and the USS Powhatan. Fukuzawa Yukichi sits on the right.
published by 東洋文化協會 (The Eastern Culture Association) - The Japanese book "幕末・明治・大正 回顧八十年史" (Memories for 80 years, Bakumatsu, Meiji, Taisho)
Sailors of the Kanrin Maru, the Embassy's escort; from right, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Okada Seizō, Hida Hamagorō, Konagai Gohachirō, Hamaguchi Yoemon, Nezu Kinjirō.
For more on the Kanrin Maru go HERE