A Buddhist in Gold Rush California

First Japanese Person to become a Citizen of the United States

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174. HECO, Joseph [Hikozō Hamada] (author) & James Murdoch (editor). 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.) [Vol. I, title verso] Printed by the Yokohama Printing & Publishing Co., Lt’d. [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]. Yokohama: Yokohama Printing & Publishing Co., Ltd., [ca. 1892-1895]. Vol. I: [4], [i] ii-iii [1, blank], [1] 2-346, [4, 2 blanks & 2 errata] pp., 1 plate, 1 map (Nagato), text illustrations (including street map of Yokohama) pp. (lacking plate Matsuri Procession, to face p. 150 in Vol. I); Vol. II: [2, title], [1] 2-254, [2, appendix], [i] ii-v [1, blank], [2, colophon] pp., errata slip at end, 12 plates, including 6 collotypes numbered I-II, IV-VII, text illustrations. Total: 13 plates (scenes, architecture, documents), 1 lithograph map (Nagato), numerous text illustrations (some full-page), half tones, lithographic, photographic, and line engravings (scenes, portraits, diagrams, maps, etc.). 2 vols., 8vo (22.4 x 15.5 cm), publisher’s original cloth lettered in gilt on upper covers and spines (Vol. I, red cloth, covers with blind-stamped ruled borders with decorative corner pieces; Vol. II, light brown cloth, covers with blind-stamped plain rule borders). Vol. I recased, spine darkened and repaired at extremities, covers lightly stained and wrinkled. Vol. II: gilt lettering on spine faded, spine extremities repaired. Interiors very fine. Vol. I with several purple ownership stamps of businessman E.H. Tuska of Yokohama, July 1, [18]93. Both volumes with printed bookseller's ticket Jiujiya ofYokohama. Interspersed are pencil annotations and a few corrections. "Of considerable rarity" (Forbes).

     First edition in English (the first edition was published in Japanese in 1863, Record of a Castaway), and the first autobiography in English written by a Japanese-American. Around 1950, the American-Japanese Publishing Association published a reprint of the present edition. The reprint may be distinguished by the lack of the Japanese colophon at the end of Vol. II, the presence of two new colophons in both volumes, and the lack of the errata slip in Vol. II, which has been printed as part of the Vol. II colophon. In the Japanese edition of 1863, Heco relates his early life in Japan, his American experience, and his return to Japan in 1860. In the present edition, variously dated between 1892 and 1895, Heco expands his narrative and carries his journal to 1891, including an eyewitness account of key events in the 1868 Boshin War and the Meiji Restoration. 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.” Zamorano Select 46. Not in Cordier, Bibliotheca Japonica. Heco (1830-1897), son of a farmer in the province of Harima, was also known as Hamada Hikozō. In 1864 Heco established the first Japanese newspaper, Kaigai Shimbun, printed at Yokohama from woodblocks (he is regarded as the father of Japanese journalism). 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 [1837-1897], 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.

     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.

     This unusual book has much to recommend it. The writer is intelligent and engaging. The rescue of the author and his shipmates by an American vessel contains interesting and insightful moments reflective of the drama of East-meets-West. One such incident occurred when the gracious American rescuers first gave Heco food, including soup containing meat. Thirteen-year-old Heco and the other sixteen survivors were Buddhists, and upon learning Heco had consumed meat, he relates:

Then one of our party asked me what was in the soup, and when I described it, he said that the flesh-life things in it were probably cattle-meat, and if that were so, I had committed a great sin in eating it and, in consequence, I should be obliged to abstain from praying to our gods or worshipping them, since we were taught that any one who ate the flesh of four-footed animals has to abstain from praying, visiting temples, or making any offering to the gods for at least seventy-five days from the time. [Vol. I, pp. 71-72]

After much contemplation, Heco resolved his moral dilemma by recalling an old Japanese saying: “Shira-nu-ga hoto-ke,” meaning “Bless the ignorant,” or “That which is done in ignorance has no harm.”

     In 1852 Commodore Matthew Perry sent Heco to help open diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan. While in Japan, he met an American interpreter who asked him to return to the United States with him and learn English in order to help open trade with Japan. Heco accepted the offer, and returned to San Francisco in 1853. He subsequently worked as a translator for the U.S. Government, and his communication and language skills assisted Perry’s ground breaking expedition to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Japan.

     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.”


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