This collection contains four handwritten Japanese manuscripts documenting important encounters between Japanese and Western cultures in the 19th century.
The first manuscript, Bankoku ichiyō, is a popular publication from the late Edo period (1600-1868) that depicts people from around the world in native costumes. Of the 67 pages of watercolor illustrations, over half bear a strong resemblance to the figures accompanying the Shōhō Map or one of its subsequent copies. The poses and broad outlines of the costumes are recognizably the same, although details of dress and features have been altered. The popularity of such publications during the Tokugawa seclusion period reflects the Japanese populace's curiosity about foreign cultures at that time. The brightly colored illustrations show figures with the clothing and weapons of their cultures, including Asian, European, American, and African peoples. Also included are the mythical giants of South America and pygmies of Northern Europe.
Hyokyaku danki, the second manuscript of the collection, contains an account of Manjiro and his companions, who were shipwrecked in 1841. Their testimony upon returning to Japan in 1851 was widely copied and circulated because of great public interest. Especially after Commodore Perry's arrival in 1853 and the signing of the first treaty with the United States, people were eager to learn more about America, and Manjiro's account greatly shaped their perceptions. This handwritten manuscript appears to be an abridged version of the official account, reproduced for popular consumption. It is complete with watercolor illustrations including a map of Manjiro's travels, a train, a steam boat, a sailing ship, furniture, and American clothing. Another section provides a basic dictionary, with kanji accompanied by approximate English pronunciations rendered in katakana. On one page, the English alphabet and numerals are reproduced in stylized cursive, probably based upon Manjiro's handwriting.
The third manuscript, Amerika kokusho jisan no ken no ofuredome, was written by Matsumae-Ke, a Japanese nobleman, and provides a series of instructions regarding the first reception of the American ambassador Townsend Harris by the shogun. This historic meeting was an important encounter between Japan and a representative of the United States, without precedent in Japanese history. To ensure that all would go smoothly and that protocol would be observed, these instructions were sent out to various officials to prepare the way. For example, superintendent officers were directed to clean the roads and keep spectators orderly as the mission traveled to Edo. A detailed program for the ceremony itself includes the seating order and exact series of events that were to occur. This manuscript is accompanied by a partial English translation. From the resemblance of this translation to another publication, it appears that these or similar documents were also translated in 1879 and published in the Congressional Serial Set as "Visit of the American Ambassador to the Castle of Yedo in the 10th month of the 4th year of Ansei (1857)," U.S. Congress, Foreign Relations, 1878 (46-2, H. Exdoc. 1/2; Serial Set 1902), pp. 20-636.
Kōbei Nichiroku, the fourth manuscript, is a seven-volume diary kept by a member of the first Japanese mission to the United States. Approximately 40 such travelogues were written by members of the embassy. This appears to be a copy of a diary kept by Tamamushi Sadayū Yasushige, the chief ambassador’s manservant. Volumes 1 and 2 describe the voyage from Japan, including Hawaii and California. Volumes 3, 4, and 5 describe the trip from San Francisco and events in Washington and New York. Volumes 6 and 7 describe the return voyage. Tamamushi, a gifted scholar born to a low-ranking samurai family, was known for the honesty and insight revealed in his diary. During the course of his journey to America, he kept an open mind to new experiences and underwent a reexamination of his beliefs as he encountered foreign ideas. Upon his return to Japan, his diary was widely copied and distributed.