Saturday, March 20, 2010

Across the Pacific – In 1860!

Note to self: Next time I complain about the 10 hour flight between San Francisco and Tokyo, think about those fellows who set out for San Francisco from Japan on the Kanrin Maru 150 years ago facing a somewhat longer and more perilous trip!

~ Departure Uraga (Japan): 10 February 1860
~ Arrival San Francisco: 17 March 1860 (+37 days)
~ Turbulence en route: Extreme

This past Wednesday – St. Patrick’s Day – marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival in San Francisco of the Japanese navel vessel, the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship to land in the United States. The crossing of the Pacific from Japan had been a rough one. In fact the US naval vessel, the USS Powhatan, that the Kanrin Maru was accompanying, had to detour to Honolulu for repair to damage suffered in a typhoon and did not arrive in San Francisco until almost two weeks later.

This past Monday night at the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown, Professor Naoyuki Agawa from Keio University in Tokyo spoke about the Kanrin Maru’s voyage. Professor Agawa was a very appropriate choice for that presentation since, apart from giving a good talk, one of the crew of the Karin Maru, Fukuzawa Yukichi, was the founder of Keio.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, there was a ceremony held along the Embarcadero in front of Pier 9, at the base of Vallejo Street.

The ceremonies started with a rousing performance by Seiji Tanaka and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and speeches by Japan’s Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine, Monique Moyer, the Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco (who presented a proclamation from Mayor Newsome proclaiming March 17 as “Kanrin Maru Day,” a brave political move given San Francisco’s Irish electorate), and others. Following those speeches, a plaque embedded in the sidewalk was unveiled which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Kanrin Maru’s arrival.

In 1858, five years after Commodore Matthew Perry had forced his way into Tokyo Bay with his “black ships” and ended Japan’s 200 years of self-imposed isolation, the United States and Japan signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce. This was one of the “unequal treaties” that Japan was forced to sign during that period, and a motivation for the Japanese government to seek ways to demonstrate Japan’s capabilities and reestablish its stature, both domestically and internationally.

Although it was not necessary to send a delegation all the way to Washington in order to ratify the Treaty, the Shogunate decided to do so, and arranged for the official embassy to travel for the first leg of the trip to San Francisco aboard the USS Powhatan. However, they also decided to send along the Kanrin Maru, a small warship that Japan had acquired three years earlier from the Netherlands. The approximately 100 man crew of the Kanrin Maru included a number of individuals who would become famous Japanese historical figures, including, in addition to Fukuzawa Yukichi, Katsu Kaishu, the ship’s captain who was to later play a prominent role in the Meiji Restoration, and Nakahama (“John”) Manjiro, who was one of the few crew members with any oceangoing experience and who served as a translator.

The Kanrin Maru’s crew also included a US naval lieutenant named John Mercer Brooke whose ship had been damaged beyond repair during a mission to chart Japanese ports.

As it turned out, it was fortuitous that Lieutenant Brooke sailed with the Kanrin Maru since, as described further here, he and John Manjiro ended up played important roles in navigating the ship safely to San Francisco.

Pier 9 along the Embarcadero was selected for the location of the commemorative plaque since the Kanrin Maru docked at the Vallejo Street Wharf when it arrived in San Francisco.

However, although Pier 9 is at the foot of Vallejo Street, in 1860 the shore of the bay was closer to Battery Street, two blocks west of the Embarcadero, so the actual landing spot of the Kanrin Maru was somewhere to the west of the plaque. Here is a map and some photos showing the location of Pier 9.

Following the ceremony there was a reception for the attendees at the Pier 9 facilities of the San Francisco Bar Pilots, a very nice room at the end of the pier with a beautiful view of the bay. At the end of the day on the way back to my office, I decided to walk up Vallejo Street and came across Grumpy’s pub, which I had never seen before. Despite its name, it seemed to be a friendly spot and not too crowded, and it being St. Patrick’s Day in addition to Kanrin Maru Day, I followed my instincts.

The new plaque at Pier 9 is not the first monument in San Francisco to honor the Kanrin Maru. In 1960, upon the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Kanrin Maru, the City of Osaka, San Francisco’s sister city, donated a marker carved in black stone which can be found in Lincoln Park, not far from the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The location provides a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and is well worth a visit.

There are many more events to come this year as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary as described on Kanrin Maru 150 website.


gastronomichael said...

A friend, Greg Marutani, pointed out that the official residence of the Consul General of Japan in San Francisco is today coincidentally also on Vallejo Street, at the intersection with Divisadero - seen here in a photo taken in 1968 when the residence was used for filming a scene from the Steve McQueen movie "Bullitt":

Allen said...

Absolutely fabulous report on the Kanrin Maru and the celebration of its voyage 150 years ago.
Thank you,
Allen M. Okamoto
Kanrin Maru 150th Anniversary Committee

gastronomichael said...

Alan: Thanks for your kind comment, and thanks to you and all the other members of the Committee for organizing both last week's events and those to come. Mike