“Great White Fleet” being fêted in Yokohama, 1908.

1900sHistoric EventsYokohama
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American sailors from the “Great White Fleet” on shore leave, being fêted in Yokohama, 1908.

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The “Great White Fleet”, at Yokohama, 1908.

“The ‘Great White Fleet’ was the popular moniker used for the United States Navy flotilla that completed a circumnavigation of the globe between December 1907 and February 1909 by order of President Theodore Roosevelt.

“The hulls of these ships were painted for peacetime – a stark white – giving the armada its nickname, ‘Great White Fleet’. The fleet consisted of 16 battleships divided into two squadrons, along with various escorts.

“The around-the-world tour began at Hampton Roads, VA, in December, 1907. The fleet departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii at the beginning of July 1908 for the trans-Pacific segment of its voyage, making stops in New Zealand (Auckland), Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Albany), and the Philippines (Manila) before reaching Yokohama on October 18, 1908 for perhaps the most significant stop during its circumnavigational tour.”


Commander of the Great White Fleet, Admiral Sperry, being welcomed ashore, “on his way to Yokohama garden party”,” Yokohama, 1908.

“On Oct. 17, the day before the fleet’s arrival, the Yokohama newspaper, Boyaki Shimpo, came out with what it called a ‘Fleet Banzai Number,’ and showered praise upon the fleet. When the U.S. ships arrived the next day, they were escorted into the bay by three Japanese destroyers, while on shore, school children sang ‘Hail Columbia’ and the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’

Advertisement from Mikimoto Pearls welcoming the “Great White Fleet”, 1908.

“Japanese hospitality was indeed overflowing. All flag officers of the fleet were accommodated at the Emperor’s Palace, while the ships’ captains occupied suites at Tokyo’s elegant Imperial Hotel. Junior officers were presented with railroad passes, and selected enlisted men were given free trolley car privileges.

“For the entire week the fleet was in Japan, there was a constant round of celebrations, balls and parties. Adm. Togo of the Imperial Japanese Navy gave a garden party; Premier Katsura hosted a formal ball; and a 50,000-strong torchlight procession paraded through Tokyo in the Americans’ honor.

“… The fleet’s Japan visit had the desired result: it generated goodwill between both countries and eased tensions that might otherwise have led to open conflict. Much of the credit goes to [Rear Adm. Charles] Sperry, whose skill as a diplomat and professionalism as an officer were crucial.”

“The Cruise of the Great White Fleet”, by JO2 Mike McKinley, All Hands: Magazine of the U.S. Navy, April 1987

The Grand Hotel (left), Yokohama, c. 1908, decorated and a growing crowd of spectators gathers to welcome the arrival of the U.S. “Great White Fleet” on its cirumnavigation of the globe.

An outdoor geisha dance performance for visiting Great White Fleet officers, 1908.

[Remarks delivered by Foreign Minister Count Komura at a dinner given on the evening of October 19, 1908, by the American Ambassador to Japan, Thomas J. O’Brien, at the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, in honor of Rear-Admiral Sperry and the Officers of the Atlantic Fleet.]

“Mr. Ambassador, Your Excellencies and Gentlemen –

“I feel it my duty to say a few words in appreciation of the very Cordial remarks just made by our honored host [Ambassador O’Brien]. I have listened to his eloquent speech with mingled feelings of thankfulness and satisfaction; thankfulness that the worthy and respected President of the United States honored us by accepting our invitation for the Atlantic Fleet to visit our shores, and satisfaction that we are able, by our reception of Admiral Sperry and his gallant Command, to give additional evidence of the sentiments of respect and high esteem we entertain for America and Americans.

“Five and fifty years ago, Commodore Perry entered our portals an unbidden and I am compelled to admit, an unwelcome guest. His coming marked a new and great era in Japan’s national history and international intercourse.

“To-day Admiral Sperry comes to us an invited and welcome guest, and it is my belief that his advent will give a new impulse to our relations of peaceful Commerce and good neighborhood inaugurated by his predecessor, and it is my confident hope that his visit will tend to strengthen the traditional bonds of friendship and good understanding which happily unite Our two Countries.

“On behalf of myself and my country I desire to express a hope for the prosperity and welfare of Admiral Sperry and the officers of the great American fleet.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Komura

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