- 英学史研究 (ISSN:03869490)
- vol.1986, no.18, pp.59-74, 1986
Eugene Van Reed was born in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1835 (the date and month are as yet unknown) and in 1851 moved to San Francisco with his family where the heady days of the 1849 gold-rush were disappearing fast. In San Francisco he met a Japanese castaway, Hikozo Hamada who was later baptized and became known as Joseph Heco and under his guidance studied Japanese. Van Reed's motives are not clear but possibly as a result of his studies and the influence of Heco he formed a liking for Japan and Japanese civilization.<BR>Van Reed's first visit to Japan was in 1859 when the country was opened to the West, after a long period of isolation, forced by the Matthew C. Perry expedition of 1853. He spent the next 13 years in Yokohama apart from two brief visits to America. He contracted tuberculosis and in 1873 left Japan for the last time dying at sea on February 2nd of the same year. A prophecy he had made in his earlier writings was fulfilled. “Is not the broad, boundless sea our open grave?” (“California to Japan, ” Berks & Schuylkill Journal, June 25, 1859).<BR>During his time in Yokohama he worked as a clerk with the American Consul at Kanagawa, a salaried salesman with Augustine Heard & Co., an independent merchant and as an auctioneer of imported rice. He also authored Japanese-English lexicons, the world topography and so forth, wrote some articles for newspapers in his hometown, Reading, published a newspaper in Japanese, the“Moshihogusa”and at the peak of his career served as the Consul-General for the Kingdom of Hawaii. Van Reed has been condemned by some as an unscrupulous merchant but praised by others as a pillar of good standing.<BR>The latter opinion was held by some newspapers in his hometown. “His present residence is at Yedo, where he takes a prominent part in all the Court proceedings and pageantries of the extroadinary young Prince the Mikado who seems to be the instrument for the advance of civilization and christianity in the oriental world, ” (“Late news from Japan, ” Berks & Schuylkill Journal, December 28, 1872). The former opinion was voiced by Mr. Hideo Ono in 1934 who later became a professor in Tokyo University. He wrote as follows, “Van Reed was one of those foreigners who made money as a broker dealing in (emigrant) labor and like many other foreign merchants at the time, he also trafficked in arms and imported rice. He sold the (emigrant) labor into slavery and apparently was ostracized by the foreign community. Whatever the case may be, he did not move in the company of such excellent Americans as Hepburn and Ballagh (two scholarly missionaries in Japan in the mid-19th century-A. A.) and did not possess a particularly fine character. ” (The translation quoted from Albert Altman's thesis, “Eugene Van Reed, a Reading Man in Japan 1859-872, ” Historical Review of Berks County, winter, 1964-65).<BR>These two opinions lack factual basis and do not reflect the real Van Reed. Both were dependent to some extent on sources which were, to say the least, far from reliable and indicate that the writers wrote what they wanted to believe rather than what actually happened. To assert that Van Reed played an active role in the court of the Mikado is far from the truth. In reality Van Reed as the Consul-General for the Kingdom of Hawaii attended the Japanese New Year Celebrations (10th February, 1872) when his Majesty the Tenno received the foreign representatives in a body. (Letter of Charles O. Olipand to Charles C. Harris, Hawaiian Minister for Foreign Affairs, February 27, 1872). With respect to the charges flung at him as a wicked trader selling humans into bondage the “Japan Times' Overland Mail”, October 7, 1868 writes of Mr. Van Reed's philanthropic attempt to improve the position of the serfs of this country.