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Bryan and the Japanese

"Mr. [William Jennings] Bryan's name is better known in Japan than that of any other American," the Omaha Daily News was told on November 13, 1909, by Motosada Zumoto, editor and proprietor of the Japan Times. Zumoto had accompanied a Japanese trade commission to the United States. The commission's stop in Omaha was climaxed by a banquet attended by fifty Japanese guests and more than one hundred prominent Omahans. Bryan was the main speaker and took advantage of the occasion to promote his international diplomatic goals.

In 1905, Bryan had helped advance a peaceful resolution to the Russo-Japanese War by meeting with leaders and delivering a proposal for arbitration. Bryan's ideas were adopted by President Theodore Roosevelt, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful mediation of the war at the Portsmouth Conference later that year. "Mr. Bryan urged arbitration of disputes between nations," reported the Daily News in 1909. "Baron Shibusawa [head of the Japanese commission] replied that cultivation of trade relations between nations, on the basis of honesty and justice, would remove the need for international courts of arbitration.

"The remarks of both men were considered of such interest to the people of Japan that they were cabled to the Japanese newspapers. Mr. Bryan's is the first address by any American to the commission that has been cabled in full to Japan."

The banquet talk was not exclusively of politics or trade. Bryan told the guests about the Japanese student who had lived with his family a few years before while attending the University of Nebraska. The Japanese complimented their hosts on the tasteful display of the American and Japanese flags and the other banquet arrangements.

"At each place a small Japanese flag-a red sun on a white field-was laid as a souvenir. At the plate of each guest was placed a copy in Japanese of the address of Mr. Bryan, also a set of Omaha and Nebraska postcards. . . . On the proposal of a toast to the emperor, after grace had been said by Bishop Williams, hosts and guests drank the toast and the guests, still standing, sounded their college-like yell, Rah! Rah! Rah! America-a-a! Nippon, Omaha! Banzai! Rah!"

The Japanese delegation departed early the next morning by special train for Denver to continue their tour.

(August 2007)



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