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1860 Samurai


From an ornate balcony above a ballroom on the East Side of Manhattan, a nine-piece string ensemble played a sprightly number Wednesday evening for the benefit of several dozen people who stood below. None had heard the two-minute piece before. How could they have? “Tommy Polka,” as it was called, had not been played in public for 150 years.

Collection of Tom Burnett

Tateishi Onojiro, who was called Tommy. In 1860, at age 17, he was the youngest of a visiting group of samurai, and a sudden heartthrob.


But in 1860 New York it was at the top of the charts, or whatever passed for the charts back then.

Tommy was a visiting Japanese samurai, Tateishi Onojiro. The name was an awfully big mouthful for the locals. In short order, it morphed into Tommy. All of 17 years old, he was the youngest of 76 samurai who, swords and all, toured the United States in 1860 on Japan’s first diplomatic venture beyond its shores after more than two centuries of near-total isolation.

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June 18, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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