Townsend Harris

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The grave of Townsend Harris at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
  • Born: 5 Oct 1803, Sandy Hill, NY
  • Died: 25 Feb 1878, New York, NY

Townsend Harris was the first Consul General of the United States to Japan, and the founder of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is particularly known for the US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce, also known as the Harris Treaty.

Following Commodore Perry's 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, a US consulate was established at Shimoda. Harris arrived there in August 1856, and became the first US consul general resident in Japan. After roughly two years of negotiations and difficulties, on July 29, 1858, he was finally able to convince the Tokugawa shogunate to agree to a treaty, opening a number of ports to US trade, and granting Americans a degree of extraterritoriality, among other points.

His time in Japan and relationship with a geisha named Okichi has been fictionalized in numerous plays and films, including Madame Butterfly, and Berthold Brecht's "The Judith of Shimoda."


Other Reading

  • Statler, Oliver, Shimoda Story, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle, 1971.

By the author of Japanese Inn.  A blow-by-blow, non-flattering account of Harris's first year in Japan, in Shimoda. The book is particularly interesting because it uses a wealth of Japanese material, both national and local, to show how his presence affected national politics and also how the shogunate as well as the local the Shimoda village officials dealt with this nuisance.