CHINA AND JAPAN
Arrival at Yokuhama -- Visit of the Ambassadors to the Ship -- Lieutenant Brooke ordered to the Candimar -- Fire in Yokuhama -- It is rebuilt on a larger scale -- Agreeable visit to the Prime Minister -- Handsome Presents -- Cordial Adieux -- Romantic Adventure of the Chaplain -- Embarkation of the Embassy -- List of the officials -- Sailing of the Candimar -- Delay of the Powhatan -- The Currency Question -- Final Departure from Japan.
We reached Yokuhama Bay on the 11th of January, 1860, after the most boisterous and disagreeable passage we had made during the cruise, and found the thermometer standing at 30°, a temperature far below any we had experienced since December, 1857.
It was soon ascertained that the number of additional rooms built on our deck were insufficient for the accommodation of the Japanese Embassy, and the ship's carpenters were set to work at once to erect two more large state-rooms; one of the guns on each side of the quarter-deck being dismounted, to make them more spacious and convenient. The coal hulk was removed from her anchorage nearer to the ship, and we commenced receiving coal from her, transported in native boats, which proved a somewhat tedious operation.
On the 16th, the Japanese steamer Candimar arrived from Yedo, with the Embassadors on board, who came down to pay their respects to Flag-officer Tattnall, and to inspect the ship which was to become their home for so long a period, and during their first voyage upon the fickle element. They were received with a salute of 17 guns, and expressed themselves highly gratified by the attentions shown them, and the appearance of everything on board. Returning to their vessel after spending an hour on board the Powhatan, she got under way again and proceeded to Yedo. The Embassadors informed the Flag-officer that their preparations to embark could not possibly be completed before the 9th of the following month, and expressed a wish that Lieutenant Brooke might be ordered to take passage to San Francisco in the Candimar for the purpose of aiding the Japanese commander in the navigation of the vessel across the North Pacific. None of the native officers had ever undertaken so long a voyage, and the boisterous weather they might expect to encounter in that ocean during the winter season, would have been rather too severe a test of their nautical qualifications, considering that all their former experience had been confined to the passage between Yedo and Nagasaki, in making which the most favorable weather had generally been selected.
Lieutenant Brooke's high professional attainments and great personal popularity among the native officials at Kanagawa, together with the fact of his recent misfortune in losing the vessel under his command, induced the Flag-officer cheerfully to grant the request of the Embassadors, and he was accordingly ordered to the Candimar, when she returned to Yokuhama, on the 3d of February, to be equipped for the voyage and receive him on board, with the seven other persons from the Fenimore Cooper remaining on shore under his orders.
During our absence at Hong Kong, a large portion of the town of Yokuhama had been destroyed by fire, including the extensive Tea-house described in a foregoing chapter, and several of the foreign merchants had suffered considerable losses by the conflagration of their warehouses. Laborers were busily employed removing the rubbish from the scene of the late disaster, and mechanics in constructing new buildings of a more imposing and commodious character -- the competition among the foreign merchants, in seeking the most eligible locations for their residences, having reached a pitch of excitement scarcely equalled among the business men on Broadway. A new Tea-house had already been erected in the centre of the marsh back of the town, far surpassing in size and style that which had been destroyed, a long causeway leading through the marsh towards this national palace of licentiousness.
The shops continued to present their unrivalled attractions to foreigners of all nations visiting the place, and some new and beautiful article was brought into market every day that we remained there; so that making daily visits to the smiling shopmen became both an interesting and necessary occupation, to those who could afford to indulge their taste for the curious and unique.
There were other shops for the sale of the more essential articles that were required on board for daily consumption, of which there was an abundant supply at extremely moderate prices; hampers containing a bushel and a half of fine Irish potatoes being sold for an itzibu, a pair of splendid pheasants, wild geese, or wild ducks, for the same, and wild boar meat and venison commanded no higher prices in proportion; we frequently bought for our mess, a fine fat buck for two dollars. Beef was to be procured without difficulty, but not upon the same economical terms. The fish caught in the bay are generally more remarkable for beauty of form and color, than for delicacy of flavor; but there was no limit to the supply, the number of fishing boats constantly employed in the capture of the finny tribe, seeming almost equal to that of the unwary victims.
There appeared to be no great variety of fruits in Japan; but during a former visit to this place in the month of October, we procured an abundance of remarkably fine grapes, and at this time (January) there was in market a profusion of the most luscious persimmons in the world. They measured nearly six inches in circumference, and were entirely free from the roughness and astringency of taste found in that fruit in other countries. The natives dry them, and pack them in boxes for transportation, in which state they resemble both in appearance and flavor the best Smyrna figs. The grape is also preserved, and in a very peculiar manner, the fruit being encased in a coating of sugar about an eighth of an inch in thickness, excluding the air so thoroughly that it may be kept for months in perfection.
By the end of January, the additional state-rooms found necessary were completed, and all the apartments intended for the exclusive use of the Embassy were nicely painted, and put into habitable condition. The decks were covered with the soft matting peculiar to the country, one of which was also placed in each berth, numbering in all fifty-four, exclusive of those appropriated for the Embassadors and higher officials, in the upper and lower cabins. The coal had all been received on board, filling not only the bunkers, but every available spot on the upper deck with this invaluable agent of the great motor of modern times; the few small corners unsuited to its stowage, were occupied by bullocks, sheep, pigs, poultry, and an endless variety of indescribable Japanese comestibles, done up in equally strange looking tubs and packages.
We got under way for Yedo on the 1st of February, where we anchored within two hours, near the same spot selected on our former visits. The Flag-officer lost no time in calling on Mr. Harris, to inform him that the ship was in readiness for the reception of the Embassadors and their suite, and to ascertain precisely at what time they would be prepared to embark. Mr. Harris placed such implicit confidence in the punctuality and fidelity of the Japanese officials generally, that he assured the Flag-officer he might dispel any apprehension of delay on the part of the Embassy, as every one connected with it would undoubtedly be on board the ship, prepared for immediate departure, at the original time appointed. Although the preliminary arrangements had all been made by Mr. Harris, it was evident that a personal interview between the Flag-officer and the distinguished functionaries soon to become his guests, would be productive of mutual advantage; and therefore immediate preparations were made for a meeting at the palace of the Prime Minister of the Empire -- the party consisting of the Flag-officer and Mr. Harris, Captain Pearson, the Flag-lieutenant (Trenchard), and myself.
We assembled at the residence of Mr. Harris on the morning of the 5th of February, attended by servants bearing the paraphernalia in which we were to be arrayed for the occasion, and being received by the host with the almost overpowering politeness for which he is distinguished, were conducted to the respective apartments assigned us for the immediate adornment of our persons, by means of epaulettes, cocked hats, swords, gold laced coats and pantaloons, as the cortège was to move precisely at meridian. A few minutes before this hour, the spacious yard in front of the dwelling exhibited quite an animated scene. being filled with norimons and their bearers, and also a number of highly respectable looking individuals, who were dressed in the national costume, and wore a sort of uniform, or livery, made of dark blue cotton bound with red. Upon inquiry as to the part these gentlemen were to play in the drama about to be performed, I was told that no dignitary of Mr. Harris's rank could pay an official visit to Yedo, without being attended by at least fifteen or twenty persons of this class, as an escort or body guard, each individual having some special duty nominally assigned him. The native Princes, and other high officials, maintain a retinue for this special purpose; but the foreign ministers order them for State occasions, as they do any number of extra norimons they may require. One of the peculiar demonstrations of respect shown by the norimon-bearers to the rank of the person they may be carrying, consists in making a display of the muscular development so employed, for which purpose they bare their legs entirely, even in the coldest weather, tucking up the skirt of their long garments under the belt around their waists. This arrangement also, considerably facilitates their movements, and as they had a march of nearly five miles to perform, it was scarcely to be wondered at that they availed of this advantage to its utmost extent.
Punctually at the hour appointed we all took possession of the norimon appointed to each, according to his official position -- the Minister and the Flag-officer being supplied with much larger ones than the rest of the party. The imaginary pike bearers, etc., formed in the rear of the line of norimons, the one containing the Minister being preceded by six stalwart natives, two of whom bore the American flag. Next to him came the Dutch interpreter and Secretary to the Legation, Mr. Hueskin, and then followed the Flag and other officers of the ship according to rank, a complete list of their names and official titles having been forwarded previously to the Prime Minister, as also of the number of commissioned officers remaining on board. Arriving int he street, this imposing procession evidently created quite a sensation among the grave and unsophisticated populace, who gazed in wondering admiration upon the scene, apparently undecided for a moment, as they saw it approaching, concerning the propriety of making the same obeisance required during the passage of one of their own Damios, by kneeling and bowing their heads to the earth. The sight of the flag, however, with which they had become pretty generally acquainted, immediately quieted any apprehensions of the wrath of their offended dignitaries being visited on them for want of due respect; and they greeted us whenever they could catch a responsive glance, with smiles of kindly welcome, apparently making a running commentary upon our appearance, though whether complimentary or the reverse, will ever remain unknown to us. Of course, their language was quite incomprehensible, and seated in a norimon it is quite impossible to form a very clear idea of the objects by which one is surrounded, and as the line of vision is brought down to about the level of the knees while standing, but we could see enough in passing, to form a tolerably correct idea of the generally character of the impression made upon the people by such an unusual parade of foreigners in the Imperial city.
We passed through miles of narrow streets, lined on each side with neat and cleanly shops for the sale of the various articles known in the country, and crowded by as happy, healthy looking people as I ever saw, most of whom stopped low enough to catch a passing glimpse of out tout ensemble as we reclined à la Turque, cocked hat in hand, upon the cushions of the norimon. From this busy quarter we soon emerged upon a large open space covered with booths, indicating it to be a market stand, and immediately beyond this appeared a broad stream of water, enclosed, as far as the eye could reach, between stone walls. Passing along the wide avenue, between this stream and a range of handsome stone buildings on the right, occupied by some of the hereditary Princes, we soon came to another open area, with the angle of a stone wall constructed of massive blocks of granite, jutting out upon it, and reaching to the height of thirty feet. Just beyond the angle of this wall, a huge gateway stood open to receive us, and as we entered a number of soldiers were visible at a small guard-house, armed with what appeared in the distance to be rifles, a rack containing similar weapons being placed in front of the guard-room. We pursued our course through an extended line of handsome one-storied buildings on each side, until we came to a second wall at the same height as the first, and passing through another gateway guarded in a similar manner to the former, we came suddenly upon a smoothly paved walk, leading directly to the entrance-hall of the Prime Minister's palace. Before entering this second gate we dismounted from our norimons, which we left outside, as it was very important that we should be relieved from the cramped position to which we had been subjected by those torturing vehicles, some little time previous to the interview, otherwise the whole party would inevitably have gone limping into the hall of audience, and thereby destroyed completely the imposing effect of our "war paint." The etiquette of the country also requires all visitors to leave their norimons outside the threshold, only the owner of the house alighting within. We were met at the entrance of the palace by four or five grave and dignified officials, who conducted us through a wide verandah, covered with the soft matting of the country; here, in accordance with the national custom, we should have left our boots, but not appearing to observe the insinuating straw sandals placed at the door for our use, we passed from this verandah into a recess on the left, and turned into a spacious hall beyond, the rear wall of which was covered with thickly ornamented paper, the opposite side consisting of sliding sashes with paper in lieu of glass. On this side of the hall appeared about a dozen lower officials, placed at regular intervals on their knees, and scarcely venturing to raise their heads sufficiently to catch a hasty glimpse of the strangers, as we passed toward the upper end, and took our seats in the handsome arm chairs placed for us in the rear of a row of small tables. Between each two of these tables there stood a large brazier with a glowing charcoal fire, the weather being such as to render this quite a necessary provision for comfort. Our Minister was placed at the upper table, immediately opposite to a similar one in front of the Emperor's representative, and the other members of the party were seated in accordance with the order of their entrance, the Interpreter always occupying the position next to the Minister, for the sake of convenience.
On the right of the Prime Minister, and opposite to our Flag-officer, was the Minister of Marine, and on his right were placed the three Embassadors, who were soon to become the honored guests of our country. Mori-yama, the native Interpreter, accompanied by Namoora, who had been designated the principal Interpreter to the Embassy, were on their knees in the space between the two ministers, and as Mr. Hueskin communicated to the former Mr. Harris's remarks to the Prime Minister, in the Dutch language, they were delivered by him in Japanese to his superior. While the conversation relative to the embarkation of the Embassy was going forward, servants dressed in silks had placed upon each of the tables, small cups of powdered tea, and trays holding pipes and boxes of tobacco, with which we were requested to regale ourselves as soon as it was concluded. The Flag-officer availed of the opportunity afforded by this interview, to urge upon the Minister the great advantage of conveying the Embassadors to the United States via the Cape of Good Hope, in preference to the route across the North Pacific at that boisterous season, and the passage over the Isthmus from Panama. After representing fairly all the inconveniences and discomforts to which they would probably be exposed on the latter route, and explaining that his reason for mentioning the subject, was simply to give them the benefit of his experience in relation to it, the Flag-officer left the decision entirely to the judgement of the Premier, by whom it was immediately referred to the Embassadors, and they, after a little private consultation, expressed a decided preference for the Panama route, as they had always contemplated going in that way, and had therefore made it a subject of special study. This of course decided the mater, and as there was no more official talking to be done, we all proceeded to discuss the various edibles with which the tables had been abundantly supplied, and to drink the powdered tea, followed by numberless glasses of saki, all which we were required by etiquette to taste, and some of which taste compelled us to finish.
As we were indulging in a pipe after this delicate refection, two servants marched in, bearing a neat tray, upon which were laid five rolls of silk, which was placed before Mr. Harris, with a request that he would accept the offering as a slight mark of friendly regard, from the Prime Minister. Mr. Harris expressed his thanks in appropriate terms, and presently in came four other servants,with a similar tray of silks and a beautiful box containing a fine sword blade, which were placed before the Flag-officer with the same request, and, of course, accepted with thanks. This ceremony was repeated until each of the visitors had received a present corresponding with his position, the name and rank of each being placed on a large card written in Japanese and English, and handed to him with the presents. Trays, each holding two pieces of beautiful crape silk were then brought in, and deposited before us, to be presented to the eleven commissioned officers who had not been able to attend, but as these articles could not conveniently be taken with us, they were sent on board the ship the following day, by order of the Prime Minister.
These presents were offered in accordance with a peculiar custom of the Japanese, and which exists among most oriental nations, requiring them, on ceremonial occasions, to testify their respect and friendship by some substantial token; and a refusal to accept the gift they regard as an evidence of ill-breeding and discourtesy, even indicating feelings of animosity. Consequently, there was no alternative for the Minister and Flag-officer but to accept the friendly tokens in the spirit with which they were proffered; and as they did so, of course there was no disposition on the part of their inferiors in rank to decline such refined and tasteful presents, coming as they did from a source at once elevated and novel. To avoid invidious remarks, however, Commodore Tattnall transferred the presents he had received to two of the ward-room officers.
Soon after expressing our admiration and thanks for these beautiful productions of Japanese art, we rose to take our departure; but, abandoning all ceremony, the distinguished host and the Embassadors also left their seats, and joined us in the centre of the hall, expressing in animated terms their great admiration of our uniforms, the epaulettes exciting quite enthusiastic encomiums, and the cocked hat being evidently regarded as a peculiar "institution." A little badinage on this subject gave an agreeable termination to our visit; and bidding a respectful adieu to the assembled dignitaries at the entrance of the audience-hall, we were escorted to the door of the palace by the Embassadors and other attendant officials, where we again doubled ourselves up, and squirmed into the dreaded norimons, to be carried back to the residence of our Minister by the same route we had pursued in going to the palace.
Reaching Mr. Harris's comfortable residence, we hastened to relieve our weary frames from the fatiguing position we were compelled to maintain in these abominable contrivances (which are a reproach to the ingenuity of the Japanese), and to divest ourselves of the buckram in which we had so long been encased. The remainder of the evening was passed in entertaining conversation with our agreeable host, and, after an early breakfast in the morning, we returned to the ship.
Early in the afternoon of the same day, February 5th, several large native boats were seen approaching the ship; and when they reached us, it was ascertained that they contained a number of iron-bound boxes, fitted with handles for the convenience of transportation, and of a size and general appearance indicating their contents to be of more than ordinary consequence and value. It was at once surmised that these were presents from the Emperor to the President of the United States; and of course they were handled with becoming caution and respect, while receiving on board and stowing them away for the voyage. These precious tokens of Imperial regard were accompanied by numerous small packages securely bound with ropes of straw, the weight of which left no room for doubt as to their value; and, upon inquiry, they were found to contain Mexican dollars, to the amount of nearly one hundred thousand, belonging to the members of the Embassy.
The suspicion which had still lingered in the minds of some of the officers, that we were to be disappointed, after all the preparations made for the reception of the Embassy on board, could no longer exist after this important and valuable shipment; and the appearance on our deck, three days afterward, of a neat and compact cooking-range, gave equal assurance that the culinary arrangements had received a due share of attention on the part of the chef de cuisine to the Embassadors. The construction and manufacture of this portable range afforded a remarkable specimen of the ingenuity and workmanship of the native mechanics, deserving of special notice. It consisted of four oblong copper boilers, two feet deep by eighteen inches in width, the lower half enclosing a small furnace of charcoal, which opened in front; and the covers of each boiler were so constructed that the whole four could be fitted closely together, forming a range of sufficient capacity to boil the food of at least two hundred persons. As the Japanese neither roast nor bake any article of their diet, no arrangement was made for that style of cooking. The whole affair was finished with the neatness for which all their mechanical works are distinguished; but their delay in bringing it on board had excited no little apprehension, lest the large accession to our usual number should interfere materially with the already limited and inconvenient cooking arrangements provided for the officers and crew of the ship -- never dreaming that within twenty-four hours of the time appointed for our sailing, so complete and commodious an affairs as this range proved to be, could be prepared for service. Mechanics had come on board while we remained at Yokuhama, and taken an accurate measurement of the caboose-house built on our deck at Hong Kong, and forwarding the requisite dimensions to other mechanics at Yedo, it was manufactured and brought on board, where, with the aid of a little soft mud, it was soon so firmly fixed in its place, that the ship might have rolled over, and it would have remained in its position.
An incident occurred about this time which illustrates the fact that considerable deference will have to be paid to the peculiar notions of this singular people for some time to come, and which ought to serve as a slight warning to strangers visiting the country, against the unrestrained indulgence of their curiosity. The Chaplain of the Powhatan had been reading some work describing the wonders of Yedo, an account a very large and much frequented temple, situated in a distant quarter of the city; and he determined, in a spirit of inquiry and thirst for learning, for which he is justly distinguished, to have a look at this interesting edifice. He mentioned his resolve to Mr. Huesken, the Secretary of the Legation, desiring to enlist his kind offices in the procurement of a horse and guide, but that gentleman assured him that he would require the protection of two or three officials in travelling so far beyond the ordinary limits of foreign incursion, as the inhabitants of that part of the city were much averse to the intrusion of strangers, and would probably insult him, or even commit some outrage upon his person, if he ventured alone into their secluded precinct. The Chaplain was too much accustomed to rambling alone wherever his "own sweet will" dictated, to entertain for a moment any apprehension of danger; and his eagerness to acquire information would have overcome, at all events, a small mountain of obstacles of whatever description; so he resolutely declined the services of the officials, and started off on his kicking pony, with a small boy to act as pilot, who conducted him safely to the end of his perilous journey, and, on arriving at the temple, he dismounted and walked into the immense crowd of men, women, and children assembled therein, with as much noncha-lance as if he was to be the officiating clergyman on the important occasion which called them together. But, while he was gazing with intense curiosity and delight at the interior decorations of the heathen fane, he suddenly felt a gentle tap on the upper part of his person, which he was not long in ascertaining came from a small missile projected by the hand of some one in the crowd, and as he turned to direct his attention more to the mass of animation around him than he had hitherto condescended to do, he felt his arms suddenly seized by a couple of genteel officials, who quietly walked him out of the temple, and, by an expressive pantomime, motioned him on to his pony, and back to the Minister's residence, distant some seven miles; where he learned for the first time that these officials had dogged his steps from the moment of his starting, and that, but for their timely interference, he would probably have been stoned to death by the incensed populace. The adventurous parson considered himself fully compensated, however, for the trouble and hazard of his excursion, by the momentary glimpse he had obtained of the particular object of his research, especially as he had passed through a very populous and well-built portion of Yedo in its pursuit, which he described as being far superior to any he had previously seen.
Immediately after the ceremonies of the reception were concluded, the usual quiet and systematic routine of duties progressed in their ordinary channels, and desiring to make an early acquaintance with the relative rank and individual appellations of the large accession to the number, for whose suitable accommodation it devolved upon me to assign quarters, I hastened to procure from the principal interpreter a correct list of the persons composing the Embassy, which is here subjoined:
Embassador No. 1
Embassador No. 2
Chief Censor (or Spy)
Officers of 1st rank belonging to Embassadors
Officers of 1st rank belonging to Censor
Under officers belonging to the Embassadors
Under officers belonging to the Treasurer
Under officers belonging to the Censor
This list comprises the number of officials of all grades who came on board, to which must be added fifty-two attendants with various distinct avocations -- such as barbers, pike-bearers, armorers, and servants, making a total of seventy-one persons.
The boats containing the baggage, amounting in all to more than fifty tons, were permitted to come alongside at the conclusion of the salute, and in a brief space of time, the endless variety of packages, consisting of chests, boxes, bales, tubs, bundles, buckets, bowls, cooking utensils, etc., etc., were transferred to our decks and distributed so rapidly by the intelligent attendants, with slight assistance from the crew, that some little wonder was excited as to what disposition had been made of them. The interpreters were instructed concerning the designation of the various apartments appropriated to the Embassy; and in the course of an hour these seventy-one strangers, but few of whom had ever before been on the deck of any vessel larger than one of their native junks, were as quietly and comfortably quartered as if they had spent their lives in a man-of-war.
As soon as the boats were discharged of their contents, the ship was got under way for Kanagawa, and reached the anchorage near that town at about 7 P.M. The dropping of our anchor was followed by the arrival of sundry boat loads of noisy domestic animals, for whose accommodation a large addition had been made to the ordinary supply of coops, pens, etc., and they "made night hideous" with their quacking, squealing, and cackling, until they got possession of their new quarters. This opportunity for replenishing the supplies of the ward-room mess was not neglected by our attentive steward, but in his laudable efforts to provide for our comfort, the poor fellow met with a sad fate. He was returning from Yokuhama to the ship before daybreak in the morning, in a native boat containing two bullocks, under the impression that we were going to sea at a very early hour, and the wind becoming quite fresh, and directly ahead, the boatmen found it impossible to make any progress against it, or to return in safety to the shore. The weight of the bullocks caused the boat to swim so deep, that she was soon swamped by the rising sea, at some distance from the beach. The lifeless body of the steward was found at the water's edge soon after daylight by a native fisherman, and the melancholy event was immediately communicated to the Captain of the Powhatan by a Japanese official sent off by the Governor. A party of men were despatched at once to perform the last rites of friendly respect to his remains, and they were decently interred in the foreign burial-ground at Yokuhama. It was afterwards learned that one of the boatmen was drowned, and the other narrowly escaped a similar fate. Both the bullocks, of course, found a watery grave, and fed the fishes instead of the more appreciative party to whom they rightfully belonged, in the ward-room of the Powhatan.
The ship was now in readiness to proceed on her voyage, and all were anxious to depart, particularly as the delightful weather we had experienced during the previous month had suddenly changed, and the appearance of snow, four inches deep, on our decks, seemed to admonish us that it was quite time to seek a more genial climate, leaving out the question our impatience at the numerous delays which had already extended our cruise beyond the ordinary limits. The Candimar was already on her way to San Francisco, having sailed from Uraga on the 9th.
An unexpected cause of further detention arose at this unpropitious moment, in the shape of a diplomatic correspondence between our Minister resident at Yedo and the British Consul-General, in which the Flag-officer was necessarily involved, as he considered certain expressions in the first communication from the latter functionary, reflected injuriously upon the conduct of some of the officers of the ship; he therefore resolved not to leave the country until the subject under consideration was properly adjusted, so far as the credit of the Navy was concerned. There being neither railroads nor telegraph wires in Japan, two days were occupied in the transmission of the correspondence growing out of this matter, whereas, as many hours would have sufficed in our country of iron horses and lightning despatches. As this vexatious correspondence originated in the complicated and embarrassing state of the currency at Yokuhama, a few words of explanation of the subject may not be amiss during the delay in our departure which it occasioned.
In the treaty negotiated by Mr. Harris, and signed on board the Powhatan July 29th, 1858, it was agreed that the Japanese should receive "all foreign coins for their corresponding weight of Japanese coin of the same description;" a stipulation being added requiring the Government to furnish the Americans with Japanese coin in exchange for theirs, equal weight being given, and no discount charged for recoinage; and allowing the period of one year to elapse after the opening of each harbor, to enable the Japanese to become acquainted with the value of foreign coins. By the same article of the treaty containing these terms, Americans, and all other foreigners having treaties with Japan, were allowed to export the coins of the country (copper excepted), in any quantity they could command; and as the Japanese Government failed to establish, at the same time, the relative value of their gold coins according to the standard existing in other countries, this privilege was eagerly taken advantage of by all the early settlers at Yokuhama, when it was discovered that so large a profit could be made by purchasing obani, cobangs, and gold itzibus, with silver itzibus. The sale of these coins to foreigners was prohibited by an Imperial edict, but this did not appear to h ave the least effect, except to produce an extensive illicit traffic in them, the Japanese merchants evincing the greatest anxiety to get rid of their gold on what they regarded as exceedingly favorable terms -- receiving seven, eight, nine, and ultimately twelve Itzibus for the cobang, a coin whose value to them, as fixed by the Government, was only four. The demand for silver itzibus soon became too great for the supply, as the coining facilities of the Government were of a very primitive character, and those which were paid into the hands of the Japanese merchants were at once removed from the business circulation, by being deposited in their private treasuries.
This profitable exchange of silver for gold did not continue more than five months, however, as the Japanese Government eventually recognized the necessity for adopting the suggestion made by our Minister, that the only method of stopping the ruinous efflux of gold coin from the country, would be to receive the cobang at the custom-houses at its real value, according to the foreign standard. The number of silver itzibus required in this traffic was small, though, compared with the amount expended in the legitimate branches of trade, as there were many cargoes of rape-seed oil, raw silk, lacquered ware, and other articles to be paid for in this coin alone, their value amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, which had to be multiplied by three to ascertain the number of itzibus required.
Under these circumstances it became necessary for the custom-house officials (who always acted under instructions from Yedo), to distribute this essential medium of trade, pro rata, among all the foreign residents at Yokuhama and Kanagawa, who chose to make application at the custom-house for the exchange of their Mexican dollars for itzibus; and the number of dollars to be exchanged daily for each applicant, was determined by the amount in itzibus received from the mint at Yedo, thus causing daily variations in the amount to be exchanged, ranging from five to fifty dollars, the largest of these amounts being scarcely more than sufficient for the daily expenses of many of the mercantile establishments. As the names of the parties desiring to exchange their coin were required by the officials, the custom-house would be thronged every morning as soon as it was opened, with eager expectants, holding in their hands long lists of men of straw, for whom the stipulated amount of change was demanded; and it was quite as amusing to observe the imperturbable gravity and precision with which the unmoved officials weighed the coin, as to hear the absurd and ludicrous names invented by the ingenious and excited applicants. It occurred to me at the time that the latter would have made admirable census-takers for a thinly-settled but aspiring district, in our land-speculating Western country.
This financial ruse was soon discovered, of course, by the keen and wary officials, but they chose to wink at it for a time, preferring to gratify the demands of the foreigners as long as it remained in their power to do so; eventually, however, they attempted a counter-stratagem, by declaring that they could only exchange a small proportion of the amount demanded by each individual; and to meet this, the astute and persistent foreigners asked for the most fabulous and incalculable sums, whereupon they again resorted to the original rule of allowing only a certain amount to each person, and this was afterward adhered to rigidly. There were English merchants in Yokuhama, however, who contrived to procure the exchange of itzibus for large sums in dollars, and I am quite confident that they could only have done so, through the custom-house, by the official and peremptory interference of their consular representatives, instance of which were reported to have occurred. Meanwhile, the Japanese merchants who had exchanged their gold cobangs for silver itzibus so advantageously, came to the foreigners to sell these in turn for Mexican dollars, charging them, of course, a "living profit" on the exchange, and relying upon their influence at the custom-house to replace the much-coveted coin. This artful dodge was revealed, by some means, to the Governor; and one of the wealthiest silk merchants in the place being detected in its practice, was imprisoned immediately, and had all his property confiscated -- at least, so we were informed by reliable native authority. The business had evidently been overdone too, because when we were last at Yokuhama, Mexican dollars were being sold by the Japanese at two itzibus, or six-six and two-third cents each.
With this explanation of the vexatious obstacles thrown in the way of foreign trade at Yokuhama by the Japanese, (principally, as I sincerely believe, for the reasons indicated in the foregoing statement, but partly owing, no doubt to their natural apprehensions concerning the possible political results of so sudden and so considerable an acquisition of wealth by a class of people held in such low estimation as merchants are among the governing classes), I will proceed with my narrative.
Lieut. Habersham, of the Powhatan, having offered his resignation to the Flag-officer on the 1st of February, with the design of turning his attention to commercial pursuits in Yokuhama, it was accepted, subject to the approval of the President of the United States; and Lieut. Thorburn, recently attached to the Fenimore Cooper, was ordered to the Powhatan, to supply the deficiency in the complement of lieutenants on board.
There was evidently a good deal of jealous feeling excited among the English residents of Yokuhama, by the successful issue of the patient and sagacious efforts made by our accomplished Minister at Yedo, to induce the Japanese Government to send their first foreign Embassy to the United States, in preference to all other countries, and I have good authority for stating that the most tempting offers, in the way of transportation, were made by the diplomatic agents of England resident int he country, to prevail upon the Imperial Government to change the destination of the Embassy, even after it had been organized and prepared to embark for the United States. Indeed, the opinion was prevalent among the officers of the Powhatan, that the communication addressed to Mr. Harris by the English Consul-General at Yedo, only two days previous to that appointed for the departure of the Powhatan with the Embassy on board, was simply a diplomatic ruse concocted by Dr. Adcock, in pursuance of this small aim for patriotic ambition, as this formidable document contained expressions evidently intended to excite apprehensions of England's displeasure with Japan, unless the first consideration was shown by her officials to British merchants residing in the country; and an imaginary departure from this course in the distribution of itzibus at the Yokuhama Custom-house, was made the subject of grave complaint to the Imperial Government, accompanied by the announcement that the conduct of the partial officials should be reported to the British lion -- a threat which Dr. Adcock appeared to think would bring the Japanese very speedily to terms.
In support of the assertions that efforts were made to secure the first Embassy from this long-secluded country to England, and to change the destination of that designed for the United States, I have the voluntary assurance of Namoora, the principal Interpreter of the Embassy, given only a few days after sailing from Yedo, to the effect that a large and comfortable steamer had been placed at the disposal of the Government to convey the Embassadors as far as Aden, on the overland route to England, with suitable arrangements for the continuance of the journey, and that, as an additional and rare inducement, the Great Eastern was to have been employed for the return trip around the Cape of Good Hope. This sort of chicanery may be all right in diplomacy, but to the uninitiated it has rather a contemptible appearance.
The Flag-officer having instituted an official investigation into the facts connected with the frivolous allegations of partiality on the part of the Custom-house officials at Yokuhama, which charged them with dispensing an undue amount of itzibus to the officers of the Powhatan, was enabled to afford a complete refutation of the invidious aspersions which the English Consul-General had attempted to cast upon both the Japanese and American officers; as it was clearly proved that no distinction had been made in this particular between English and Americans, except in the case of the officer who had the disbursement of all the funds of the ship, and whose expenditures were necessarily greater than those of any individual on shore. The Governor of Kanagawa was waited on and interrogated as to whether any of the officers of the ship had made use of their official position to extort a larger amount of change from the Custom-house than was allowed to foreigners generally, on shore, and replied unhesitatingly in the negative; adding that the Japanese Government reserved to itself the right of granting personal favors to whomsoever it thought proper, and if the officers of the Powhatan had solicited a favor of the kind in question, it would most certainly have been granted, as they were regarded in an entirely different light from the other foreigners, on account of the particular service upon which they were employed.
With this satisfactory adjustment of the ill-conceived and badly executed device of the British Consul-General to detain the ship, originating in the now forlorn hope of changing the destination of the Embassy, the necessity for our longer stay in the Bay of Yedo was removed. Accordingly, on the morning of the 13th of February, we got under way, with the Japanese Imperial ensign flying at the fore, and proceeded to sea; after we passed the town of Uraga, a native war-steamer was seen beating up the bay under sail, in as gallant and seaman-like style as if the officers and crew had been accustomed to managing vessels of her class for years. She was too distant to make any sign of recognition, which the sight of the flag at our masthead would otherwise have prompted, and we steamed quietly round Cape Sirofama into the rolling swell of the broad Pacific.
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