07 Dec 2015


Lost Capitol Hill: The Japanese Embassy at the Washington Navy Yard – Pt. 2

tn jadLast week, we looked at the first Japanese Embassy to the United States, and its arrival on the east coast of the country at the Navy Yard. In today’s installment, we will look at their return visit and what they saw there.

The two weeks following the Japanese Embassy’s arrival in Washington were spent in various visits, including one to the White House, where they were greeted by President Buchanan (no relation to the head of the Washington Navy Yard at the time) This followed a delivery of “numerous boxes and cases” filled with “fine specimens of Japanese art” to the White House, gifts that apparently impressed all who saw them, not least the President himself.

Another visit was with Commander John A. Dahlgren, who was at the time in charge of the ordnance office at the Navy Yard. As such, he brought a number of firearms for their inspection. He also brought two Marines, a private and a sergeant, the former of which performed “the drill peculiar to the sword-bayonet rifled musket,” as the May 24th Washington Evening Star reported.

One high-ranking member of the Embassy, one Oguri Bungo-no-kami Tadamasa mentioned that he had had military training in his youth, and inspected all the weapons closely, then had a Japanese-made rifle brought forth for inspection.

Members of the Japanese Embassy during their visit to the Washington Navy Yard (LOC)

Members of the Japanese Embassy during their visit to the Washington Navy Yard, along with some of their hosts (LOC)

The upshot of this visit was that the Embassy was invited back to the Navy Yard for a proper tour, which took place on May 24th. The following day, the Evening Star had a complete report on the tour, starting with a “happy and courteous” greeting by Commodore Buchanan, followed by another 17-gun salute. They then moved on to the actual purpose of their visit:

The company visited first the shops devoted to the forging of heavy work required by the naval service, where the ponderous trip hammers doing their huge work, the gleaming masses of red hot iron, the showers of liquid drops flying in all direction, and the clatter of the mighty steam engines and machinery, as well as the precision and order, and the apparent ease with which the massive blocks of heated ore were handled by the workmen, afforded the strangers the greatest astonishment, and led to many inquiries on their part, to which the officers replied fully. Shop after shop was visited in turn by the pleased visitors, who examined everything that fell under their observation with the utmost attention.

In short, “the afternoon passed pleasantly,” and the visitors left with compliments all around to Buchanan and his men.

The Embassy spent a total of three weeks in D.C. before continuing on to New York City via Baltimore and Philadelphia. Their reception in New York was similarly rapturous as that they had had in Washington; however, they spent only two weeks there before returning to Japan, a trip that was taken across the Atlantic and around Africa, and thus took over four months.

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