4¢ U.S. Japan Treaty
Issue Date: September 28, 1960
City: Washington, D.C.
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Giori Press
Color: Blue and pink
U.S. #1158 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first treaty promoting mutual understanding and goodwill between the U.S. and Japan. The stamp pictures the Washington Monument and Japanese cherry blossoms.
U.S. Japan Treaty
On July 29, 1858, the US signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Japan, opening trade between the two nations.
Following continuing attempts by Europeans to convert the Japanese to Catholicism, Japan cut off nearly all outside contact in 1639. For more than 200 years, Japan permitted trade only with Dutch and Chinese ships bearing special charters.
On July 8, 1853, under the direction of President Millard Fillmore, Commodore Matthew Perry led four steamships into Tokyo Bay to open relations between Japan and the United States. The Japanese were impressed by the giant steamships, which they had never seen before and described as “giant dragons puffing smoke.”
Perry carried with him a letter for the Emperor from President Fillmore, requesting that Americans stranded in Japan be returned home and expressing interest in opening trade between the two nations. He also presented the emperor with a variety of gifts, including a working steam locomotive model, a telegraph, a telescope, and several wines and liquors, all intended to show the Japanese the superiority of American culture and benefits of trade.
The following year, Perry returned on February 13 with 10 ships and 1,600 men. Though the Japanese resisted at first, they allowed him to land at Kanagawa (near present-day Yokohama). The two sides negotiated for several weeks before signing the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854.
The 12-article treaty established peace between the two nations, opened the Japanese ports of Shimoda and Hakodate, permitted assistance to shipwrecked American sailors (and stated they wouldn’t be imprisoned or mistreated), allowed for a currency exchange, forbid America from using any other Japanese ports, and opened an American consulate in Shimoda. The governments of both nations ratified the treaty nearly a year later, on February 21, 1855. The treaty was significant in that it led to several similar agreements between Japan and other nations.
One thing that was missing from the Treaty of Kanagawa was trade. Perry left that issue to US envoy Townsend Harris. Harris spent two years convincing the Japanese to open trade with the US. When it became apparent that the British were planning to ask for the same privileges, the Japanese agreed to allow trade with the US.
The Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed in Shimoda on July 29, 1858, opening the ports of Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama to American trade. The treaty also granted US citizens the right to live and trade in those ports. It was officially ratified during the visit of the first Japanese Embassy to the US on April 12, 1860.
Cherry Trees Planted Along The Potomac
On March 27, 1912, US First Lady Helen Taft and wife of the Japanese ambassador Viscountess Chinda planted two Yoshina cherry trees on the northern bank of the Potomac River. The plantings were in celebration of the Japanese gift of 3,020 cherry trees to the US government.
The effort to bring cherry trees to the nation’s capital was headed by writer Eliza Scidmore (1856-1928). The flowering cherry tree, or “Sakura,” is a flowering plant symbolizing human life and transformation in Japanese culture. After returning from a trip to Japan in 1885, she imagined rows of trees along the shores of the Potomac River. Scidmore was raising money to buy trees to donate to the city when she wrote a letter to First Lady Helen Taft. Mrs. Taft was immediately in favor of the project.
Then in April 1909, Mrs. Taft discovered an area of swampland along the Potomac and was inspired to create a massive bandstand for the Marine Band to put on concerts twice a week. She tasked the Agriculture Department with bringing all available cherry blossom trees to the capital to be planted in a single row.
Working with the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds and the Japanese Embassy, Mrs. Taft arranged for the delivery of 2,000 trees from Japan. However, these trees were found to be infested with insects and burned. A new crop of over 3,000 trees was sent in 1912 and found to be in good condition.
On March 27, 1912, Mrs. Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador to the US planted the first two cherry trees. Those same trees continue to grow today. Over the years, Japan donated thousands of additional flowering cherry trees. In 1915, the US returned the favor, donating several flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.
These beautiful trees drew such a crowd over the years, an entire festival was conceived to celebrate them. The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in 1934. It has continued every year, except during World War II. The three-day event has expanded to five weeks of activities for every interest. These include parades, street fairs, and cultural events.