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Joseph Heco Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: -
Date: 1984

Biographical History

Joseph Heco (1837-1897) was a Japanese-American journalist and newspaperman.

Hikozo Hamada, the farmer's son who would become Joseph Heco, was born in 1837, toward the end of the Tokugawa Era, a time of the closing of Japan to foreign influence. A few years after his father's death, his mother remarried. Fortunately the fatherless boy had been accepted to a temple school for training and education, an unusual occurrence for someone of his social class. His stepfather, a seaman on a freighter often away from home, loved and continued to care for the boy when the mother subsequently died during his twelfth year.

At thirteen years of age, Heco's stepfather took him on a sightseeing tour of Edo. On their way home, a severe storm in the Pacific wrecked the ship. Seventeen survivors, Heco among them, were rescued by the American freighter "Auckland." According to Payson Jackson Treat's book Japan and America, these seventeen were the first Japanese to reach California.

In 1852 the United States Government sent the group to Macao to join Commodore Perry, a gesture they hoped would help open diplomatic relations with Japan. Afterwards Heco went to Baltimore where he studied at a Catholic school and was baptized "Joseph" in 1854. In 1858 he became a naturalized citizen. He was the only Japanese to have shaken hands with Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

In 1859, Heco entered Japan as an interpreter for American merchant and diplomat Townsend Harris and for the first U.S. Consul at Kanagawa, E.M. Dorr; these were his first steps on his native soil since the rescue nine years before. After the Civil War broke out in the United States, Heco returned briefly to his adopted country, becoming the only Japanese to shake the hand of President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1863, Heco established a trading firm in Japan and also began his publishing career. His knowledge of English and of foreign customs and his belief in the value of newspapers proved helpful in the growing diplomatic community.

Heco died in 1897. He is regarded in Japan as the father of Japanese journalism, and the Joseph Heco Memorial Society continues to honor his accomplishments and contributions.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Joseph Heco Collection consists of Joseph Heco's papers and of printed material about him. Heco's Papers include letters, manuscripts, speeches, copies of various official documents, memoranda, and maps. Printed material includes Joseph Heco Memorial Society newsletters, Yokohama Historical Archives issues and reprints, and several books on Heco and on Japan generally. All printed material is in Japanese.

Arrangement of the Collection

The original papers are in no particular order. Printed material is in alphabetical order by title, as far as possible.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Hamada, Hikozo, 1837-1897
Heco, Joseph, 1837-1897


Japanese American authors
Japanese Americans, Archives
Journalism, Japan
Journalists, Japan


Japan, history, 19th century

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Journals (periodicals)
Letters (correspondence)
Manuscripts (document genre)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Joseph Heco Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Portions purchased; portions gift of Haruyoshi Chikamori; portions gift of Hisako Ito.

Table of Contents


Printed material