Graves of Japanese Sailors of Historic San Francisco Voyage

The Japanese warship Kanrin Maru, under Captain Katsu Rintaro (aka Katsu Kaishu), landed in San Francisco on March 17, 1860 (St. Patrick’s Day), as the first Japanese ship to reach North America. On March 23 a local San Francisco newspaper reported: “A few of the Japanese are riding about town to-day, looking in at the shops. At Keith’s apothecary establishment they tarried long”—perhaps because on the previous day one of the crew had died of illness. Kaishu’s detailed description of the Marine Hospital in the city, where “eight of our sailors stayed,” denotes his profound interest in modern American medicine.

The eight Japanese sailors were treated for illnesses they had contracted amid harsh conditions at sea. Kaishu wrote that they shared one large south-facing sunny room, where they were well taken care of by the nurses. Three of them, Gennosuke, Tomizo, and Minekichi, from the seafaring province of Sanuki on Shikoku, died at the hospital. They were young men, in their mid-twenties. Kaishu and US Navy Lieutenant John M. Brooke, who with ten other US Navy sailors had accompanied the Japanese on their transpacific voyage, went to the marble yard on Pine Street to order gravestones, and inscribe epitaphs in Japanese and English, respectively, including “the name of our ship, the names of the deceased, and the dates of their deaths,” for the burials that took place in the grounds of the Marine Hospital.

The three graves are still intact, relocated to a cemetery in Colma, just south of San Francisco. The other five ill sailors were nursed back to health, and in August, several months after the Kanrin Maru would set sail on her return journey, made it back to Japan via a ship bound for Hakodate in the far north of Japan.

Omino & me, Colma

(In the above photo at the gravesite I am with my good friend Kiyoharu Omino, a distinguished writer of Meiji Restoration history.)

Read about Katsu Kaishu, “the shogun’s last samurai” and his San Francisco experience, in my book Samurai Revolution.



“Revere Heaven, love mankind” (敬天愛人): Saigo Takamori’s Words of Wisdom for Politicians In the 21st Century


Saigo Takamori’s cherished slogan: “Revere Heaven, love mankind.” In Samurai Revolution (p. 301) I wrote the following:

“Revere Heaven, love mankind” represents a Confucian ethic that dictates the relationship between the people, the government, and the Emperor—in a universe ruled by Heaven. But Heaven cannot feasibly watch over each and every person, assuring peace and harmony in human society. That role, then, is allotted to the Emperor, the Son of Heaven. Assisting the Emperor in his holy obligation are the feudal lords. Assisting each feudal lord in assuring peace and harmony for the people in his domain are the government officials, selected from among the lord’s samurai vassals.

Heavy is the responsibility of the officials who oversee the everyday affairs of the feudal domains. Since they directly control the fate of the people, one blunder by just one official can mean catastrophe for a great number. As a leader of the people, a government official must win the hearts and minds of the people. To do so, he must put aside self-interest for the benefit of the people, who have no choice but to obey him. If he shows any sign of selfishness, he will incur the enmity of the people and no longer be able to lead them. The people’s suffering must be his suffering, and their pleasures his pleasure. [end excerpt]

Saigo Takamori

Saigo’s philosophy, I think, is timeless. It demands attention even today – and it is of particular importance now, during the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States of America.

[The image of Saigo’s calligraphy is from the website of Kagoshima Prefectural Library (鹿児島県立図書館). The image of Saigo is used in Samurai Revolution, courtesy of Japan’s National Diet Library.]

Read more about Saigo Takamori in Samurai Revolution.