Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 1.]

Sir: I have to inform you that while on a visit to our consul at Kanagawa, to pass the New Year with him, I was aroused from sleep on the 2d day of January, at the hour of 3 o’clock a. m., and informed that two governors for foreign affairs had been despatched from Yedo to make an important communication to the foreign ministers. I rose and had an interview with Nili, the chief interpreter, who accompanied them, and agreed upon an hour for our meeting.

Two governors and an Ometske of equal rank called on me at the time appointed, and communicated the not very agreeable intelligence that the Goragio had reason to believe that an attempt was to be made by sronins (meaning men with pretensions to rank, but without means of support) to murder the foreign ministers. That they were scattered in bands of ten each, and would be watched by the government.

It is unfortunately a principle of Japanese law that arrests cannot be made for a crime threatened—only for one accomplished. The custom, therefore, is only to watch, and, if the vigilance of the guards is baffled, the offence may be committed.

I was asked, when visiting Yokohama, to proceed by boat across the bay instead of by the tokaido, (main road,) to which I readily assented, sayings, at the same time, that I would not have occasion to go on the tokaido, except to the ferry, until my return to Yedo, on the 5th of January.

I was then asked not to return to Yedo by the tokaido, and was informed that the government would send down a steamer to convey me to the city.

The previous week, at my Christmas visit, I had been asked, in returning, to take the country road instead of the tokaido, as a powerful daimio was on the latter road. Five applications to this effect were made, but as I had been deprived of sleep by a pain in my face the entire night before, and the country road was in bad order, and also much longer than the tokaido, I refused to go except in the usual way, which I accordingly did without meeting any daimio. But on this occasion the governors were so much excited, and the Goragio had felt it to be their duty to adopt such mutual precautions, that I did not feel at liberty to follow my own inclinations, though I was satisfied that no danger would be incurred in using the tokaido.

A large government steamer was accordingly sent down for me, in which I returned to Yedo. Until my departure, guards were sent each day to guard the route from the consulate to the ferry. Since then I have been repeatedly on the tokaido; and the government, I have been informed, are entirely satisfied that the rumors were without any foundation.

The custom-house authorities are exceedingly unpopular with the Japanese, and threatening placards were posted up to annoy and terrify them; this appears to have been the sole cause of the alarm. It had the effect, however, greatly to alarm the residents of Yokohama, which was guarded by a nightly patrol of the British and French guards and the volunteers of the town, while the consul and his family, and myself and son, were sleeping quietly at Kanagawa, under the protection of a Japanese guard, and without any feeling of insecurity.

These reports have thoroughly aroused the British and French ministers, who have made vigorous protests, and have declared to me that they regard them as worse than an attack, which might be accidental, while these constant [Page 1063] rumors of attacks are an evidence of the weakness and inefficiency of the government. I have thought the affair unworthy of any formal notice.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident at Japan.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.