Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hokkaido and the Black Ships

Clock starts May 17, 1854

The public histories of Hakodate start their historical clocks on May 17, 1854 when the United States squadron of five "Black Ships" rumbled in to Hakodate Bay.  Fresh from signing the Treaty of Kanagawa down south in Edo Bay, Commodore Mathew Calbraith Perry had sailed up to Hakodate to examine the second of the two ports opened by the treaty. (Shimoda was the other.)

Perry wrote in his diary that Hakodate's harbor had "no superior in the world."  Other Americans in the expedition compared it to Gibraltor or Hong Kong.

I've not seen most of the world's harbors, but of those I have, it reminds me of Hong Kong.

Hakodate Harbor as seen from Hakodate Mountain at dusk.  Viewing Hakodate Harbor from the mountain is considered to be one of the three most beautiful nighttime views in the world.  One can reach the top via a cable car (called "ropeway" in Japan), or on the public bus.  We took the public bus, and a wonderful swaying crowded compartment winding upward through the lush gardens of hillside homes.  Very reminiscent of going up Hong Kong's Victoria Peak. Unlike Victoria, there's no restaurant at the summit, but there are vending machines selling beer.
Foreigners and their ships were a puzzlement to the residents of Hakodate, so much so that they fled up into the mountains when the huge-to-them ships first steamed into the bay.  Even after finding that the Americans meant no harm, they had trouble figuring out how to portray these hairy apparitions.  

Commodore Mathew Calbraith Perry.

Perry (with beard) as seen by Japanese artist.

One finds references to Perry scattered all around Hakodate including a public square commemorating his 1854 visit with a statue overlooking the harbor.

Dedicated on the 150th anniversary of Perry's visit.
Perry was known as "Old Bruin"

Perry's flagship, the USS Powhatan was just as much of an enigma to the Japanese as the hairy Americans.  She was a coal-burning 253 foot steam frigate bristling with 16 cannons and belching black smoke when she steamed into Hakodate harbor.  The citizens of Hakodate had never seen a steam ship much less any ship that large, and Japanese artists had some difficulty depicting  the ship's detail.  

Perry's flagship during its commission
as Perry's flagship. 
The USS Powhatan drawn to resemble a Spanish galleon.  Spanish
galleons were the few ships that most Japanese had ever seen
either in real life or illustrations. The artist came close when drawing
the paddle wheels and smokestack, sails and flag, but did do well
with the ship's bow and stern. 

  The Benign Legacy of Perry's Visit and "Opening" of Japan -- When I was studying Japanese history over a half-century ago, most texts and professors portrayed Perry's arrival in Japan in 1853 and the subsequent "open door" treaties as a win-win. And, it never "counted" as an invasion of Japan.  It was, simply, an invitation to come out and play.  We didn't make Japan a colony like the Europeans did China.

The Japanese got to meet the 19th century after over two centuries of isolation, and United States whalers would be treated humanely when shipwrecked.  The internal whirlwind set loose by the visit and the treaties that followed swirled up through Japan, ending, ironically, here at Hakodate in 1869.  And then, so went the story, feudalism gave way to a constitutional government, restored emperor and Japan began an industrial surge that carried into, finally, a war with Russia that Japan won.  Pretty good for a half-century of work--from drawing pictures of ships they could not even imagine, to driving their own steam ships right through the heart of the Russian navy.  OK, but then the military took over and the whole thing went sideways....

Another Legacy -- There were many in Japan who never forgot Perry's visits, and the humiliation of having treaties jammed down their throats while facing those huge cannons.  And so, as with most historical figures, Perry's reputation in Japan is mixed.  When seeing "Old Bruin" looking out over Hakodate Bay, I got the uneasy feeling that there was much more to this story, particularly as seen through Japanese eyes.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is believed to
have been motivated, in part, by Perry's
1853-1854 visits to Japan. 
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Knew of Perry's visit -
Though Admiral Yamamoto's motives for his attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941, were extremely complex, several biographers remembered a cryptic statement he had made as a young naval officer.  When asked why he had joined the navy, he was quoted as saying, "I want to return Commodore Perry's visit."  Some 21st century historians suggest that the shame and memory of Perry's visit may have motivated others in the Japanese military besides Yamamoto. 

General Douglas MacArthur also knew of Perry's visit - Commodore Perry's visit also haunted the official surrender ceremony on board the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.  The official surrender ceremony by Japan on board the USS Missouri had several elements of Commodore Perry.
        1) The location - Uraga Bay - The surrender ceremony was held almost precisely on the spot where Perry's "Black Ships" had launched their diplomatic (some say "gunboat") effort in 1853.
        2) Perry's Flag - The flag that had flown over Perry's flagship in 1853-54 had been resting in a glass case at Annapolis.  It was removed, case and all, and flown out to Japan and placed on the bulkhead behind the assembled Allied dignitaries.  The symbolism was missed on the visiting Japanese surrender delegation, but they learned of it afterward.
       3) Mac Arthur's Sept 2 Radio address - General MacArthur directly invoked Commodore Perry in his radio address beamed out to the world:  "We stand in Tokyo today reminiscent of our countryman, Commodore Perry, ninety-two years ago. His purpose was to bring to Japan an era of enlightenment and progress, by lifting the veil of isolation to the friendship, trade and commerce of the world."  The United States military knew what an important symbol Perry's visit was to the Japanese, and let them know it.

General Douglas MacArthur aboard the USS Missouri, Sept 2, 1945.
Commodore Perry's flag, 31 stars, can bee seen in the upper left.   Mac
Arthur invoked Commodore Perry's visit in his comments during a
later radio address from the ship.

A Note to the eagle-eyed:  I was troubled by the way the flag was hanging on the bulkhead of the battleship.  It didn't look right, so I checked with the official US Flag Code, and sure enough, when hung on a wall, the flag should have the Union -- the stars --  in the upper left.  The photos not reversed, so that's not the problem So, Perry's flag seems to have been improperly hung on September 2, 1945.  Or, it might have been the case that it came in?  There is some suggestion that the flag arrived at the last minute.  Perhaps it was hung up in haste?  Ironic, no?  The flag they were using to impress the Japanese may have been hung improperly...I admit that I was impressed. 

Two of Perry's finest remain in Hakodate - Perry sailed away from Hakodate on June 7 taking with him a set of impressions and gifts and leaving behind as many as he received. But, he also left behind two crewmen who had died while the ships were in Hakodate Bay.  The Hakodate city officials donated a small plot for them, and on May 27, 1854, they were carried up to the cemetery overlooking the bay and buried with the full honors of an Episcopal burial.

Two American flags adorn the graves of two American seamen
from Commodore Perry's visit to Hakodate in 1854. They were two
of the first foreigners buried in Hakodate's "Foreigners Cemetery."  

They are still there, in a lovely, well-maintained "Foreigners Cemetery" overlooking the bay where they died. The concrete headstones are weathered, but as we walked up to them, we could decipher what the tombstones said.

Tombstone - left - for Seaman James G. Wolf from the ship USS Vandalia.  Seaman Wolf died on May 25, 1854, age 50.  Apparently he had been ill for some time.  His shipmates paid for his tombstone.

  Two days later, May 27, 1854 Seaman G.W. Remick, died of typhoid fever also aboard the USS Vandalia.  He was nineteen years old, and his tombstone was also paid for with contributions from his shipmates.

There is something very sad about graves of military personnel, or anyone for that matter, who dies so far from home.  The U.S. Navy remembered these two men in 1954 when they sent eight ships to Hakodate to commemorate Perry's 1854 visit and included a visit to these two fallen seamen.  

Two other cemeteries nearby:  

      A Chinese Cemetery - just to the east of the "Foreigner's Cemetery" there is a Chinese cemetery.  Not nearly as well kept up as the one containing the Americans, British, and other Europeans, the Chinese cemetery does show evidence of a recent Qing Ming celebration, though the grass has grown up since April 5.  There was a thriving Chinese commercial community in Hakodate that grew up after Perry's opening in 1854.

The Chinese Cemetery began in 1876 to bury a group of Chinese sea-drifters who had died here.  Enlarged in 1919, it now contains many Chinese who have died since, and shows evidence of being a relatively current and active cemetery.  There is a monument commemorating those who died unknown. 
Hakodate's Chinese Cemetery has a very distinctive and
well-maintained funerary oven.  These funerary ovens can be found in Chinese cemeteries all over the world, including Monterey, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Salinas. Their purpose is as a place to burn ceremonial offerings during funerals and commemorations.  

The Russian Cemetery - "The Russians were coming!" - In a move from the Northern Pacific southward toward Japan not unlike the Russian move southward along the Pacific Coast into Alta Calilfornia, the Russians inspired a fear in the Japanese that was even stronger than that of the Americans or other Europeans.  Eventually there was also a Russian community in Hakodate (after all, Russia's just a hop and a skip to the north and west) and with them came a Russian Orthodox Church.

Hakodate's lovely Russian Orthodox church.  Presently under renovations, the church was build in 1916, and they are preparing the church for their upcoming centennial in 2016.  

The Russian Cemetery in Hakodate.  The cemetery was first used in 1870 and contains just short of 50 graves, including 25 who were crewmen aboard Russian warships who had died in the region of Hokkaido.  The Russian relationship with Japan is complex, as on the one hand there is economic cooperation on many levels, while on the other there is a serious dispute over the two southern Kurile islands to Hokkaido's northeast.

The Sign of the Present and Future in Hokkaido - One would expect to see signs in Chinese, Korean and Japanese in the airport, but they are also in English and Russian, a testimony to the amount of human movement between Russia and Hokkaido.

Departure sign, Hakodate International Airport, reflecting the primary sources
of passengers including China, Japan, Korea, English-speakers, and Russians. 

  Feifer, George. Breaking Open Japan: Commodore Perry, Lord Abe, and American Imperialism in 1853.  Smithsonian Books, 2006.
  Irish, Ann B. Hokkaido: A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan's Northern Island, McFarland, 2009.