Crossing the Pacific
In January 1860, the Japanese mission boarded the U.S. frigate "Powhatan" and sailed 37 days across the Pacific. It was accompanied to San Francisco by the first Japanese piloted ship to cross the Pacific, the Kanrinmaru. The group of samurai next crossed Panama by railroad, and went on to Cuba. From there they headed to Washington, again by ship, and later visited New York, their final stop.
Huge welcome in the United States
Three ambassadors, Masaoki Shinmi and Norimasa Muragaki, and Tadamasa Oguri headed the mission. The arrival of the Japanese in Washington DC was a major event, and, the Congress granted a $50,000 budget (almost $1.5 million in today's dollars) to entertain them. On March 28th, the mission paid its official visit to President Buchanan. They spent three weeks sightseeing in Washington, before visiting Baltimore, Philadelphia, and finally New York. Everywhere the mission went, local dignitaries organized balls and receptions in their honor and large crowds turned out to see them, fascinated by the Japanese ambassadors' traditional clothing, top-knot hairstyle, and in particular, their prominent samurai swords.
American newspapers breathlessly followed the minutest details of the visit. Reflecting the popular views of the day, the press stressed how awed these visitors from afar would be when they encountered Western civilization and American progress. However, that outlook changed when the stately and polite ambassadors occasionally encountered unruly crowds. Dismayed by these unseemly popular displays, some editorials began asking just who was really more "civilized." The magazine Harper's Weekly lamented "there are undoubtedly ladies and gentlemen in America, but what a pity the Japanese will never know it . . . The barbarian and savage behavior has been entirely upon our part."
Warm Welcome by New Yorkers
The mission's final visit was to New York on June 16th, 1860. Once again, practically the entire city mobilized to greet them. When the mission reached Manhattan a parade was held in their honor on Broadway, where half a million New Yorkers turned out– including the great poet Walt Whitman, who wrote a poem in honor of the occasion (It would later be included in his Leaves of Grass). Broadway was packed as spectators peered out windows and dangled from lampposts and Japanese and American flags fluttered everywhere. The parade passed up Broadway from downtown to Union Square where a military review assembled. Later, a huge municipal ball was held in their honor. During their stay the mission would meet the mayor, tour the city, and from theater performances to popular songs, souvenirs to special "Japanese" cocktails, the summer of 1860 was the summer of Japan mania in New York.
That amazing first encounter between the Japanese and New Yorkers of 150 years ago was the dawn of the rich relationship we enjoy today. We hope you will join us in celebrating it during this special anniversary year.