Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe

Matthew Fraleigh writes:

On 16 December 1872, six days before Parisians read in Le Temps of Phileas Fogg’s triumphant dash homeward, a group of Japanese travellers arrived in the city, halfway through their much more stately but no less adventurous tour around the world. Led by Iwakura Tomomi, the Iwakura Mission’s tour of the United States and 11 European nations was carefully documented by the group’s secretary, Kume Kunitake:

Each day we were fully occupied and had scant time for rest … When we arrived at a destination, we would hasten to a hotel to unpack and immediately set out on a tour of observation. We spent days on trains with screaming wheels and screeching whistles, careering through billowing clouds of smoke amid belching flames and the smell of iron. Soot and smoke caked our bodies and flew into our eyes. When darkness fell and we reached our hotel rooms, we scarcely had time to wipe off the dirt before it was time for the next banquet … No sooner did we go to bed at night than it was time to wake up, with representatives from the next factory awaiting us.

(LRB 14 April 2011)