In 1848 a half-British, half-Chinook Indian called Ranald MacDonald decided he wanted to be the first American to breach the hermit kingdom of Japan. The only Westerners allowed into Japan at the time were Dutch traders. He jumped ship off Hokkaido, the northern main island, set himself adrift and, when a Japanese coastal boat passed, overturned his barque, assuming that the Japanese would rescue him and take him to Japan. Unfortunately they didn’t see him. When he eventually washed up on Japanese soil, he was arrested immediately. He was shipped back to America, dispirited, after seven months in Japanese prisons, and his account of his experiences was only published posthumously, in 1923.
From the start, despite MacDonald’s inauspicious experience, Japan and America have enjoyed a mutual fascination. In Pacific Cosmopolitans, Michael Auslin, Director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, tells the story of this love–hate relationship.
It was an American, Commodore Matthew Perry,