• SHARE

With respect to the March 4 article “John Manjiro’s U.S. home to become museum” and the claim that Manjiro (Manjiro Nakahama) may have been the first Japanese to visit North America, I would offer that he was perhaps more than 200 years late. The first encounters by Japanese with what would become U.S. territory is likely to have occurred in Florida. Japanese may have visited the peninsula long before setting foot in any other part of the United States, including California and Hawaii.

The earliest visitors to Florida were probably Hasekura Tsunenaga and the 180-member diplomatic mission that he led en route to Europe in 1614. Representing the feudal lord Date Masamune, Hasekura was Japan’s first official envoy to travel outside of East Asia. Escorted by Spanish missionaries, he traveled across the Pacific Ocean to Acapulco and across Mexico to Veracruz, then on to Havana, Cuba, and up the east coasts of Florida and Georgia before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

The fact that St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, provided the last opportunity for Spanish ships to take on supplies before heading to open sea made it a likely port of call for the Spanish galleons providing passage for the Japanese diplomats on the Atlantic leg of their journey.

Incidentally, in Florida the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens represent the only museum in the Americas devoted exclusively to Japanese culture.

thomas winant