Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō Had Arrived

Detail of “City Hall – Decorated for Visit by Admiral Togo,” 1911. (PhillyHistory.org)

“With Secret Service men and city detectives following in a motor car and mounted policemen galloping ahead and behind, the Japanese commander was whirled around the west side of City Hall and South on Broad street. Those who caught a fleeting look at his immobile face gave him a noisy welcome. From the windows of the Bellevue-Stratford fluttered the flags of the United States,” that of Japan and the admiral’s, which the resourceful hotel staff had finished stitching together only minutes before.

Yes, Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō had arrived.

Down in the bowels of the Bellevue-Stratford “the pantryman of the culinary department” had readied his creation: a three-and-a-half-foot model of Tōgō’s famous battleship, the Mikasa. The model looked exactly right, down to “the number of guns pointing from turrets,” the chocolate sailors manning the small-fire guns and the surrounding waves of “billowy green bonbons.”

Tōgō’s eyes “twinkled when he saw the midget ship.” He “gravely drew himself to attention and saluted.”

Philadelphians fell all over themselves in August 1911, celebrating their 48-hours with Admiral Tōgō.  The samurai who studied naval warfare under British tutelage had put all of his finely honed skills to work against the Chinese and the Russians. Only five years before, Tōgō won what is often referred to as “the most decisive sea battle in history, the Battle of Tsushima.”

Now, this “Conqueror of Russia’s Fleet” who represented the Japanese government at the coronation of King George V in England was headed back home. But not before an American Grand Tour. Tōgō left Liverpool on the Lusitania. President Taft hosted him at the White House. Tōgō visited Mount Vernon, laying a wreath at Washington’s tomb. He’d see the Naval Academy in Annapolis; witness drills by Army cadets at West Point. And he would dine at Oyster Bay with former President Theodore Roosevelt, who had presided over the negotiations between the Japanese and the Russians that resulted in the Portsmouth Treaty. For that, Roosevelt had earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

In his 48-hour, whirlwind tour of Philadelphia, Tōgō visited Independence Hall. He stood before the Liberty Bell and took a long, deep bow at the portrait of George Washington. Tōgō toured the Philadelphia Navy Yard and inspected a new style of “fighting mast” on the battleship Minnesota. He plied the Delaware port in a tugboat, and visited the yards of Camden’s New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which saluted Tōgō with large cannon booming a nineteen-gun salute. Back in Philadelphia, Tōgō visited Baldwin Locomotive Works (which he noted was “well known in our faraway country”). He marveled at the Mint and met the Mayor. But August heat crimped Tōgō stamina, and he passed on a scheduled visit to William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, where the Kasagi, his battleship and original flagship in the Japanese-Russian War, first took to water.

On his final evening in Philadelphia, having dined casually in his fourth-floor suite at the Bellevue-Stratford, Tōgō requested a “motor ride” to escape the city’s stifling humidity. His driver navigated into the cool recesses of Fairmount Park, presumably allowing a glimpse of the ancient Japanese Temple Gate, recently purchased, installed and landscaped at the expense of two Baldwin executives.

In all of his comings and goings, Tōgō hardly had a chance to study the two large electric signs mounted in his honor over the north and south portals of City Hall. But in the quiet of this dark, steamy August night, Tōgō’s car returned down Broad Street. Tōgō read the words aloud “as the car approached the big, electric ‘Welcome to Togo’” sign. “The Admiral instructed the chauffeur to stop and for a few minutes” and “he studied the design carefully. The blending in lights of the American and Japanese flags pleased him, but he was greatly mystified at the significance of the blue and yellow flag.”

Tōgō didn’t recognize that flag. Neither did his aide, nor did his secretary, or the Secret Service agent, or the chauffeur. The entourage hailed a policeman to learn it was “the insignia of Philadelphia.”

The Admiral “seemed amused” and delighted at this “real, official municipal welcome,” the likes of which he had never seen before—and probably wouldn’t again.

[Sources: Jonathan Clements, Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, (Haus Publishing, 2010); Encyclopedia of World Biography; “Togo here next month,” The New York Times, July 16 1911; and the Newspaper collection at the Special Collections Research Center, Paley Library, Temple University, including “Admiral Togo, Japan’s Hero, Arrives Here. Conqueror of Russia’s Fleet is Given Great Ovation,”August 10, 1911; “Togo Leaves City After Day Spent Seeing Its Sights,” August 11, 1911, both in The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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