Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

Various Attempts to Trade with Japan

When the Hollanders received permission to remain in Japan for the purpose of trading, the English were granted the same privilege; but as they found no profit in it, they at length withdrew. When Charles II. was king, an effort was made to return, but when the Japanese heard that the king was married to a Portuguese princess, they haughtily refused their consent.

Years passed by, and Japan was left undisturbed. If a ship in distress came to their coast, the Japanese would relieve the wants of the crew, and dismiss them. They acted, indeed, in a very humane and kind manner, so long as they were satisfied that it was accident and not purpose, which had led the strangers to their shores. The government, however, was determined to carry out the policy of Iyeyasu and to keep the country in seclusion as long as possible.

The first ship to break through this barrier was the Eliza, Captain Stewart, of New York, near the end of the eighteenth century. Holland was at war with England, and, to avoid capture by British cruisers, engaged neutral vessels to carry merchandise. The Eliza, bearing the Dutch flag, arrived at Nagasaki, and great was the consternation of the officials when they found that no one of these supposed Hollanders understood Dutch. It took some time to make the governor understand that these seamen were not English, although they spoke that language. But even when he did realize the difference between an American and an Englishman, it was with much hesitation that he consented to consider the Americans even as carriers. But at last consent was given, since the war rendered this substitution unavoidable.

The Eliza  returned the next year, again engaged by the Dutch. When she was loaded with camphor and copper, she set sail in the evening, but struck upon a rock, filled, and sank. The crew succeeded in getting off in the boats and safely reached the shore, and the question now arose as to how to raise the ship and her valuable cargo.

At first it was decided to employ Japanese divers to bring up the copper; but the camphor had melted, and the gases caused the death of two men. Other attempts to raise the ship followed, but all proved fruitless. When all were at a loss what to do, a fisherman came forward and offered to raise the ship if his expenses were paid. At first he was laughed at; but when the Americans saw his confidence, they agreed to let him try.

He began his work by fastening to both sides of the vessel fifteen boats, connecting them by means of props and stays. When there happened to be unusually high water, he came himself in a junk which he fastened in the same manner to the stern of the sunken vessel. When the water was at the highest point, sail was set on all the boats. The heavily loaded vessel was lifted, she cleared the rocks, and was towed to a spot on the shore where she could easily be unloaded and repaired. The man's expenses were paid, and he was handsomely rewarded, while a neighboring daimio gave him the right to wear two swords, which was similar to knighting him.

It seems that, while this accident kept Captain Stewart at Nagasaki, he conceived the idea of entering into commercial relations with the Japanese, independent of the Dutch. When his vessel had been repaired and her cargo was again on board, he sailed, but encountered a storm which dismantled him, and once more he returned to Nagasaki. At last he departed, and returned the following year, but in another vessel. He stated that the Eliza  had been wrecked, so that he had not reached Batavia; that he had lost the cargo, but that a friend in Manilla had furnished him with the means to purchase and load the brig, and that he had come to pay his bill for repairs of the Eliza, for which purpose he offered his cargo for sale.

The general agent of the Dutch listened quietly to this story, and turned the goods in the usual manner over to the Japanese. Now Captain Stewart had stated that nothing had been saved of the cargo of the Eliza, and when several articles that had been shipped on her had been identified among the cargo of the brig, Captain Stewart was arrested and sent to Batavia to be tried for the loss of the Eliza's  cargo.

While the investigation was going on, the prisoner made his escape, but in 1803 he entered Nagasaki Bay in another vessel and under the American flag, and boldly requested permission to trade and to supply himself with fresh water and oil. The first request was at once denied, but he was given what he asked for without charge, and was then compelled to leave. The captain after this probably abandoned his purpose; at all events, he was not heard of again in Japanese waters.

Another attempt to open friendly intercourse with Japan was made by Russia. A Japanese vessel had been wrecked off the coast of Siberia, and Empress Catherine II sent home the members of the crew who had been saved. Laxman, captain of the Catherine, which had been chartered for this purpose, entered Hakodate (hah-koh-dah-tay), on the island of Hokkaido (huh-ki-doh), and told the authorities the object of his visit, at the same time requesting that arrangements might be made to establish trade. He was courteously received, but was warned in writing:—

1. That the Japanese law condemned to imprisonment for life every foreigner landing in any part of the empire, except Nagasaki. The government would, however, overlook the offense (on account of his ignorance of these laws, and because of the Russians' kindness to Japanese subjects), on condition that Laxman would promise that he and his countrymen would leave immediately, and would never again approach any part of the coast except the port of Nagasaki.

2. That the Japanese government thanked the Russians for the care taken of its subjects; but that they might leave them or take them back as they pleased, because the government considered all men to belong to the country where they were cast by their destiny and where their lives had been protected. Laxman and his crew had been treated with the greatest civility. Before his departure, he was provided, without charge, with everything he wanted, and finally dismissed with presents.

The troubles arising from the French Revolution caused a cessation of further efforts. But in 1803, Emperor Alexander sent his chamberlain Resanoff as ambassador to the emperor of Japan. Resanoff was not the man to engage in the difficult task before him. First he was insolent and overbearing, and then submitted tamely when the Japanese confined him in a narrow inclosure, resembling a bamboo cage, on the beach at Nagasaki. After some time he was informed that the Japanese government had no desire that Russian ships should enter any port of Japan, and was dismissed unceremoniously. Resanoff returned to Kamchatka, and applied to the captains of two small armed vessels, to procure him satisfaction. Had he sought this at Nagasaki, he might have impressed the Japanese; but instead of this he attacked some of the Kurile (koo-reel)  Islands, killed and captured the defenseless inhabitants, and burned their villages. Resanoff died on his way to St. Petersburg.

The Russians had begun to colonize some of the northern Kurile Islands, and in 1811 Captain Golownin (go-lof-neen)  was dispatched in the Diana  to make a survey of this group. Some of his crew were in danger of being captured when they landed on one of the islands, but Golownin explained that he had come only to take in wood and water; that the act of the two Russian captains had been one of piracy and that they had been punished by the government. This satisfied the Japanese officers, and the Russians received a letter to the commandant of another fortress on the same island, where there was more facility to procure what was needed.