You can hardly traipse a San Francisco block without falling over a sushi restaurant. You can send your child to a public Japanese immersion school or spend the afternoon in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
The origins of San Francisco’s heavy dose of Japanese influence traces back to the spring of 1860, when San Francisco became the first city in the nation to receive a Japanese envoy.
The Japanese government had agreed, as a first approach to the growing power that America was becoming, to send a group of ambassadors across the Pacific Ocean. The envoy itself came to the United States on an American Navy boat, but as an escort, it sent a tall-masted Japanese ship, with a crew of Japanese sailors. When the U.S. naval ship needed repairs en route, it stopped in Hawaii, but the Japanese ship, the Kanrin Maru, sailed on to San Francisco, arriving March 17, 1860, after a five-week journey.
In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of that historic meeting of cultures, another tall-masted ship will sail through the Golden Gate after a similarly long voyage. Among the 171 crew members of that ship, the Kaiwo Maru, are direct descendants of the men who arrived in The City 150 years ago.
This time, instead of being met by a wild town that hardly knew a kimono from unagi, the Japanese crew will be met with taiko drums, a formal reception and a city deeply influenced by their culture.
The Kaiwo Maru will dock at Pier 27 and stay in port until Sunday, when it sets sail for Hawaii, said Greg Porter of the Japanese Consul General’s Office. Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine will host a reception for the crew of the Kaiwo Maru on Friday and the public will have access to the ship Saturday.