Townsend Harris (1804 - 1878) was a successful New York City merchant and minor politician, and the first United States Consul General to Japan. He negotiated the "Harris Treaty" between the US and Japan and is credited as the diplomat who first opened the Empire of Japan to foreign trade and culture in the Edo-era.
President Franklin Pierce named Harris the first Consul General to the Empire of Japan in July, 1856, where he opened the first US Consulate at the Gyokusenji Temple in the city of Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, some time after Commodore Perry had first opened trade between the Japan and US in 1853. Townsend Harris had the US Legation relocate at the Zenpukuji Temple from 1859, following the Treaty of Amity and Commerce.
Harris demanded the courtesies due to an accredited envoy, and refused to deliver his president's letter to any one but the Shogun in Yedo, and to him personally. After prolonged negotiations lasting 18 months, Harris finally received a personal audience of the Shogun in the palace. After another four months, he successfully negotiated the "Treaty of Peace and Commerce," or the Harris Treaty, in 1858, securing trade between the Japan and US and paving the way for greater Western influence in Japan's economy and politics.
Harris returned to the US in 1861. Upon his departure, senior Japanese diplomat Moriyama wrote to him "You have been more than a friend. You have been our benefactor and teacher. Your spirit and memory will live forever in the history of Japan." Harris was favorably impressed by his experiences in Japan at the end of its self-imposed period of isolation. He wrote: "The people all appeared clean and well fed... well clad and happy looking. It is more like the golden age of simplicity and honesty than I have ever seen in any other country."
According to a persistent legend, Harris adopted a 17-year-old geisha named Okichi (お吉), who was heavily pressured into the relationship by Japanese authorities and then ostracized after Harris' departure, eventually committing suicide in 1892. However, it appears that Okichi was merely one of Harris' housekeepers, and the Kodansha Encyclopedia states that Harris fired her after just three days of work.