Tateishi Onojiro, a 17-year-old interpreter-in-training and one of the youngest members of the first Japanese diplomatic mission, was also the most popular member of the 1860 samurai envoy to America. Nicknamed "Tommy" by the Americans, his cheerful and witty nature and youthful good looks made him extremely popular -- especially with the American ladies. The New York Times reported that Tommy, the recipient of scores of love letters from admirers, was constantly pursued by a "Light Female Brigade." When he returned to Japan, Tommy remained a popular figure of Japan's late Edo period and a wonderful photograph of the time captures him thoroughly enjoying a then still foreign "beer."

Riding the Tommy wave, C. Grobe, a German born East Coast based composer, produced a piece he named the "Tommy Polka" after Onojiro. Polka music was quite popular in the US at that time. The tune's (somewhat antiquated) lyrics describe the famous Tommy and his popular appeal:

"Wives and maids by scores are flocking
Round that charming, little man,
Known as Tommy, witty Tommy,
Yellow Tommy, from Japan."

As part of this year's 150th anniversary commemorations, the "Tommy Polka" is being revived in New York, the last stop of the 1860 embassy, thanks to Mamoru Takahara, Music Director of the New York Symphonic Ensemble, who together with his colleagues have updated and recorded this long forgotten piece of popular music history. Please enjoy the sounds of the "Tommy Polka" here.

 Tommy Polka
  Music File : Orchestra Version (mp3 / 2.9MB)
  Music File : Harp Version (mp3 / 1.7MB)
  Movie : New York Symphonic Ensemble Japan Tour 2010

Dedicated To TATEISHI ONOJIRO OR TOMMY Of the Japanese Embassy By C. Grove