Wednesday, May 5, 2010

150th Anniversary of First Japanese Vessel to Visit San Francisco and First Japanese Embassy to America

A tall-masted Japanese sailing ship, the Kaiwo Maru, came into the bay today to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the visit of both the first official Japanese vessel to San Francisco and the first Japanese embassy to America. (pic by Chris)

In 1860, the Kanrin Maru escorted three ambassadors, who were aboard a US naval ship, arriving battered from severe storms on March 17. 

It was the beginning of a historic visit that sealed a new friendship and trade treaty between the two countries.

And it also gave the captain his first taste of ice-cream!

San Francisco today is home to a thriving Japanese culture and has the largest and oldest Japantown in the USA. 

This morning the Kaiwo Maru docked at Pier 27 and will be here until Sunday, with an open-day and exhibition for the public on Saturday.

'This is most important for us,' said Captain Makoto Inui, early this evening as he welcomed people on board for a reception.

Later, during a brief reception speech, he said that he hoped the visit would 'promote more and more friendship' between the USA and Japan.

And he was delighted, he said, pointing upwards, to be in San Francisco and to hold a party under such a 'sunny, beautiful blue sky!'

When the Kaiwo Maru docked this morning, the Captain and crew were officially welcomed on the dockside at 10 am by a city representative and leaders of the Japanese community. A commemorative plaque and photo of the city were presented on behalf of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the Cherry Blossom Queen gave a bouquet.

This evening among the guests were the Consul General of Japan, Yasumasa Nagamine, the Executive Committee of the 150th Anniversary of the First Japanese Vessel to San Francisco, and members of local Japanese associations.

Among the 171 people sailing with the ship are direct descendants of the original crew in 1860, including Mr Yoshiharu Masai who is sailing as a passenger.

Mr Masai said that he was very happy to be standing where his family had once stood.

A member of The Society of the Kanrin-Maru Crew Descendants, he said that they had found 400 families with historical connections to the 96 crew members, although only 12 had joined the society.

Tracing people through family trees had been difficult, he said, speaking mostly through Masashi Sugawara, Junior Third Officer, who acted as interpreter - pictured

During his stay he will be meeting some families in San Francisco.


The visit of the Kaiwo Maru has been something of a coup for the Japanese community, and marks the first of about 40 commemorative events being held around the Bay Area this year.

Mr Isao 'Steve' Matsuura, Co-Chair of the anniversary committee, said the ship had originally been due to end her voyage in Hawaii. The Consul General and others had negotiated to extend the voyage, which has been paid for from San Francisco.

'But we are successful. It is here today, it has met our goals. We are very happy!' he said.

The four-masted Kaiwo Maru is four times bigger than her historical counterpart, he said. The Kanrin Maru was 'wrecked' when she arrived in the city after her non-stop five-week voyage and spent two months in a shipyard for repairs.

She arrived three days ahead of the ambassadors in the USS Powhatan as that ship had to put in for repairs in Hawaii.

However, it gave the crew a chance to spend two months walking around the city. Captain Katsu Rintaro had made an entry in his diary that he had seen ice-cream for the first time - and he liked it very much! said Steve Matsuura.

On that visit, the ship had been formally welcomed with an opening ceremony and the presentation of a plaque on Pier 9.

A closing ceremony for the Kaiwo Maru will be held on Sunday at Pier 27, beginning with cultural events for an hour at 1.30 pm, before the ceremony takes place. Then the Kaiwo Maru, a training ship of the Institute of Maritime Training in Japan, will sail again out of the bay. However, the ship sailed in under engine power and will also depart that way, leaving her sails furled.

Among the other events this year are a joint Tea Ceremony of the three Japanese schools in the Bay Area, to be held in the Asian Art Museum on May 15; a three-day international visit of 200 Japanese people who will live in American homes, part of a grassroots celebration between August 24 - 30; and a Grand Finale of 1,000 world-renowned, Japanese drummers, though mostly from the Bay Area, and led by Kitaro who is writing new music for the occasion.

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