Emperor Meiji meets General Grant, 1879.

Historic Events
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Emperor Meiji meets former US President Grant, 1879. The image is a reproduction of one in a series of paintings depicting the life, death and historic reign of Emperor Meiji, on display at the Meiji Shrine Memorial Picture Gallery.

Meiji Shrine Outer Garden & Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery under construction, c. 1925.

“I have listened with much interests [sic] to all that Genl. Grant has kindly said, and I will give deliberate consideration upon those subjects. Thanks to him.”
– Emperor Meiji

“One of the most important conversations in the history of the Meiji-Era occurred on Aug 10, 1879. For two hours, former U.S. president and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant talked with Emperor Meiji (personal name: Mutsuhito) via a translator about the future of Japan. At the Nakajima Tea House in the Hama Rikyu Gardens, Grant acted as a mentor, providing the Emperor with some sound advice for those turbulent times.

“From June 21 to Sept 3, Ulysses S Grant, along with his wife Julia and 29-year-old son Frederick, learned a great deal about a country taking its first cautious steps toward becoming a modern industrialized nation. It had only been a decade since Japan had completed its own boshin senso, or civil war, which began a turbulent transition toward an imperial-led government, replacing the centuries-old samurai-led shogunate.

“… The Japanese emperor was [still] in the middle of a series of conflicts, both domestic and international. Within Japan, the noble yet tragic Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 had been a fierce reminder of how much Japan was losing as it moved forward into modernity … Japan had [also] been pushed toward signing lopsided treaties; with a stroke of the pen, Japan lost its ability to control its own tariff rates and also punish outsiders who were economically breaking the law within its borders.

“The largest pain for the young Meiji, however, stemmed from his conflict with China regarding the Ryukyu Islands. Knowing Grant would be arriving in Japan, Emperor Meiji arranged to meet the general for the first time on July 4th, [coincidentally] Independence Day in the United States.

“… Ever since his presidency had ended two years previous, Grant and his wife had been traveling the world. It had been one of their lifelong dreams and Japan would be the last country they’d visit before returning home. When Grant’s USS Richmond sailed into Nagasaki on June 21, he was formally greeted by local officials and given a 21-gun salute. The governor of Nagasaki then directed Mr and Mrs Grant to a nearby park, where they planted two banyan trees. Said Grant at the time: ‘I hope that both trees may prosper, grow large, live long, and in their growth, prosperity and long life be emblematic of the future of Japan.’

“Grant’s demeanor was a breath of fresh air for the Japanese people. Humble, respectful and modest, Grant didn’t match the image of the common Western stereotype of arrogant, disrespectful and crude. One Japanese woman who saw him up close remarked: ‘He looked more like an Oriental man than an American gentleman. Because the General’s appearance fit our ideal, our sense of respect of him increased.'”

“American President Ulysses S. Grant talks peace in Meiji-Era Japan”, by Patrick Parr, Japan Today, September 21, 2018

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