Education About Asia

Ambassadors of Exchange: The 1860 Japanese Mission to the US

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The 1860 expedition of the first Japanese ambassadorial delegation to the US presents instructional opportunities useful in a variety of courses. The 150th anniversary in 2010 of this official establishment of trade relations between the two countries supplemented the already-rich array of primary and secondary resources by adding a proliferation of new documents and websites. While the official purpose of the mission was to ratify the 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, the Japanese entourage became the rock stars of their day in the US, surrounded by the press, approached unabashedly by girls and women, and feted by a whirlwind round of parties and special events. The mission’s material bequest provides us with verbal, visual, and aural artifacts that may be used as sources for continued investigation and interpretation.

Students will be captivated by the first interactions of two societies so foreign to each other, allowing parallels to other first contacts. American popular culture icons such as the television Survivor series, in which hardy Americans are forced to encounter challenges in far-flung locations around the world with minimal cultural preparation, is one such example. One instructional approach that might be both entertaining and educational would be casting the Japanese delegation as contestants on a Survivor: Washington, 1860 episode using excerpts from the diaries of some of the Japanese visitors.