Charles D. Fredricks (New York)

Members of the First Japanese Embassy to the United States

Tinted albumen stereoscopic view (half shown), 1860

The world-weary expression of the diplomat on the right was well-earned. The members of the first Japanese Embassy were feted, celebrated, entertained and paraded through the streets of Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. The Japanese retinue included 77 people, from doctors to cooks, accompanied by tons of baggage.

The three ambassadors and their staff were sent to Washington to sign and exchange a treaty of "friendship and commerce" prepared in 1858, four years after the treaty signed by Commodore Perry. By the time they arrived, the United States was just months away from Civil War, and anti-Western pressures were rocking the government of Japan.

The ambassadors and their staff were the first Japanese ever seen by Americans-- aside from some isolated shipwrecked sailors. The Broadway photographer C. D. Fredricks made a series of stereoscopic portraits so that the public could purchase 3-D photographs of the celebrities, the better to get a closer look at their distinctive hairstyles and colorful clothes.

Walt Whitman (who had been a newspaper reporter in Brooklyn) wrote a poem commemorating the excitement and nationalistic fervor that greeted the visitors as they were paraded through Manhattan:

When Broadway is entirely given up to foot-passengers and foot-standers—when the mass is densest;

When the façades of the houses are alive with people—when eyes gaze, riveted, tens of thousands at a time;

When the guests from the islands advance—when the pageant moves forward, visible;

When the summons is made—when the answer that waited thousands of years, answers;

I too, arising, answering, descend to the pavements, merge with the crowd, and gaze with them.

Click here for the full text of Whitman's poem. "A Broadway Pageant" (opens in a new browser window)

Click here for the story of the Embassy's first visit to official Washington, from the White House Historical Association (opens in a new browser window)

Charles D. Fredricks (New York)

'Tommy,' An interpreter for the first Japanese Embassy to the United States

Tinted albumen stereoscopic view (half shown), 1860

Tateishi Onojiro Noriyuki was about 17 years old when he accompanied his father, a translator for the first Japanese Embassy to the United States.

'Tommy,' as he was known, was especially popular with American women, treated "like a present-day rock star." He was the subject of a brief character sketch in a book written by Lt. James D. Johnston, Captain of the U.S. Navy steamship that transported the diplomats.

(click here or scroll down to read Lt. Johnston's account of "Tommy")

 

 

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Tateise Onogero, or "Tommy," was the pet of the ship, as he afterwards became of the ladies while in the United States. He was seventeen years of age, and was the adopted son of Tokujuro, the second Interpreter, by whom he was placed at the Dutch school at Nagasaki, to learn the English language. After acquiring a very imperfect knowledge of a small vocabulary, he was brought to Yokuhama, and given a situation as Interpreter in the Custom-house, where his obliging disposition and peculiar, nervous, and, at the same time, sociable manners, soon made him so popular with the merchant's clerks who had to transact business at the Custom-house, that the poor fellow was kept in a constant state of excitement by his untiring efforts to please all, for no other Interpreter would be approached as long as his services could be procured.

I had occasion to employ him only two days before the ship left Yokuhama bay for Yedo, to receive the Embassy on board, and he then expressed the greatest apprehension lest he should not be permitted to join it. When he came on board afterward, I never witnessed more exuberant happiness in any countenance or manner than he exhibited; he seemed to want to embrace everybody in the ship, and his delighted appearance was observed even among the crew, to many of whom he advanced with a frank and cordial "How d'ye do?" The Captain of the main top was something of a wag, and never permitted interlopers in the starboard gangway without attaching some expressive sobriquet to them, the appositeness of which caused it to be generally adopted. To this facetious individual is our friend Tateise Onogero indebted for the euphonious nom de guerre under which he took captive so many of his fair admirers in our novelty loving country.

Tommy was in and out of the ward room an average of ten or twelve times a day, and, occasionally, when he would be attacked with the indescribable qualms of seasickness, he would fall asleep like a weary child upon the sofa; on awakening, after an hour's nap, he would evince the greatest astonishment at his whereabouts, and take a sudden leave with a "Good morning all gentlemens," although it might happen to be late in the afternoon. It seemed quite impossible to fix his attention upon any one subject more than a minute; and, frequently, just as it might be presumed his interest was excited to such a degree as to insure his remaining, he would suddenly depart, saying, "I have business; therefore, I go; good bye," the last words being spoken after he was out of sight.

Source: CHINA AND JAPAN , by Lieutenant James D. Johnston, U.S.N. (1860) ; complete online transcription available here (opens in a new window)
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