Only Published Account of a Japanese in the Gold Rush—Exceptionally rare
76. HECO, Joseph. The Narrative of a Japanese; What He Has Seen and the People He Has Met in the Course of the Last Forty Years. By Joseph Heco. Edited by James Murdoch, M.A. Vol. I. [II] (From the Time of His Being Castaway in 1850 down to the Fight of Shimonoseki.) [Colophon Vol. II transliterated from Japanese]: Printed by the Japan Gazette Newspaper Company, Yokohama and sold by Maruzen Ltd. Co. Bookstore. Tanejiro Tanaka, Printer. Copyright holder and publisher, Yoshi Hamada, Tokyo City. Printed on 30 April 1895. Published 10 May 1895. Price 3 Yen. Vol. I: , iii [1, blank], 346 [4, blank & errata] pp., 1 map, 2 plates, text illustrations. Vol. II: , 254, v [3, blanks & colophon] pp., errata slip at end, 12 plates, text illustrations. Total: 1 map, 14 plates (half tones and engravings). 2 vols., publisher’s original cloth lettered in gilt on upper covers and spines (Vol. I, blue cloth, covers with blindstamped rule borders with decorative corner pieces; Vol. II, light brown cloth, covers with blindstamped plain rule borders). Except for minor shelf wear, a few faint spots, and some light wrinkling to upper cover of Vol. I, bindings fine and bright. In Vol. I are some light abrasions and stains to endpapers, Vol. II endpapers lightly browned. Interior and plates very fine. Vol. I front free endpaper with ink signature of Robert Harris dated 1899 and price $3.75. Vol. II upper pastedown with Harris’ ink rubberstamp. Small blue and white circular bookseller stamp (Rare Oriental Book Company, Aptos, California) on each pastedown. Exceptionally rare.
This copy contains four of the author’s autograph letters signed, in English, 7-1/2 pp., dated at Kobe in 1883 and 1886-1887, addressed to “Dear Doctor” and Mr. Harris. In the 1883 letter, signed Heco, the author discusses a proposed visit. In the later letters the author discusses his activities in the American Consulate at Kobe, with much gossip about social activities, such as parties and dances. In one letter he asks that his correspondent attempt to find a young man a job. The letters are all in very fine condition.
First edition of the first autobiography of a Japanese-American in English. International Christian University Library & International House of Japan Library, Books on Japan in English, p. 166 (#1991). Nipponalia, Vol. I:2030. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 94: “His experiences were unique. He saw the Gold Rush through wondering eyes. He became an American citizen, visited Washington and met the President, and thereafter returned to Japan to serve as an official interpreter of the American Mission.” Not in Cordier, Bibliotheca Japonica.Heco (1830-1897), son of a farmer in the province of Harima, was also known as Hamada Hikozo. In 1864 Heco established the first Japanese newspaper, Kaigai Shimbun, printed at Yokohama from woodblocks. He worked as import-export merchant in the Late Edo and Meiji period. See Seiichi Iwao, Biographical Dictionary of Japanese History, pp. 335-336.
Kurutz,The California Gold Rush 325a:
Heco, in these amazing reminiscences recorded the only published account of a Japanese in the Gold Rush. On a trading expedition in 1850, he set sail in his father’s junk, was caught in a storm, and drifted helplessly in the ocean. Eventually, an American ship picked up Heco and his shipmates and took them to San Francisco. Heco, after a year’s stay, went on another voyage and returned to San Francisco in June 1853. There he obtained employment in the Customs House and, in that capacity, met Senator Gwinn. The remainder of the narrative recorded the Japanese adventurer’s travels to the East Coast of the United States and return trips to San Francisco. Heco’s story has little to do with the Gold Rush but does offer a glimpse of San Francisco in the 1850s from an entirely different perspective.
According to the prospectus for the reprint edition [see next item], the volumes were published under the directorship of Professor James Murdoch, the famous historian of Japan. The prospectus went on to say “In view of the present diplomatic situation in which the United States and Japan stand, it is considered that this book will serve useful purposes, and it has been decided to issue a reprint. Price Vol. I $3.00; Vol. II $2.25. The book will be ready for distribution by October 10, 1950.”
The maps and illustrations do not pertain to California.
Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 4681:
The record of a “drift voyage” and the ensuing career and reminiscences of an enterprising Japanese.... [In the United States] Heco continued in the mercantile trade, and his acquired fluency in English and social skills made him a valued employee. When in later years he returned to Japan, he became a highly respected translator for the U.S. government.
Heco visited the Islands in a professional capacity on several occasions. He first made a brief stop at Hilo in April 1852. The captain of the ship he was on died soon after arrival and was buried at that port. Heco records that after the funeral he and his shipmates ‘rambled all over the hills and town of Hilo.’ They remained in port about a week. In 1858-1859 Heco made two additional stops in Honolulu. During his 1858 visit, he witnessed and recorded his impressions of the Hawaiian legislature in session.
The first edition is of considerable rarity. A more commonly found edition is the two-volume facsimile published circa 1950 by the American-Japanese Publishing Association of San Francisco. Curiously the two volumes of that edition are each bound in a different color of cloth.
This unusual book has so much to recommend it, and the writer is always intelligent and engaging. Heco describes his experiences and news in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore-Virginia area during the Civil War. Union detectives arrested him when they mistook him for Confederate General Beauregard, who had been reported seen near Washington reconnoitering preparatory to an attack on the Federal capital. Heco was quickly released and went on to his engagement with Seward, who laughed about the incident and said “that in times like those such mistakes had often taken place, and that it was very flattering to me to be taken for such a distinguished man” (Vol. I, p. 297). Most interesting of all in this segment of Heco’s saga is his flattering description of Lincoln and his personal meeting with him (Vol. I, pp. 300-302): “The President stretched out a huge hand, saying he was glad to meet one coming from such a far-off place as Japan. He shook hands with me very cordially, and then he made a great many inquiries about the position of affairs in our country.” (2 vols. + 4 ALs) ($12,000-18,000)
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