The Hawaiian revolution took place on January 17, 1893. Within two days all the nations having local consuls in Honolulu gave letters of de facto recognition to President Sanford B. Dole of the Provisional Government. Those letters were published in the Honolulu newspapers, and can also be found in the Morgan Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in February 1894; see Diplomatic Recognition of the Provisional Government.
Mr. Suburo Fujii, Agent and Consul General of Japan, sent a letter of de facto recognition, in English language, to Hawaii President Dole, dated January 19, 1893. Apparently the Japanese consulate continued the same level of relations with the Provisional Government, and later the Republic, as it had maintained with the Kingdom. It is unclear whether the subsequent establishment of the Republic resulted in a formal letter of recognition de jure like the ones given by at least nineteen other nations. No such letter can be found in the archives of the State of Hawaii. But it would be surprising if Japan had failed to recognize the Republic, because there were tens of thousands of Japanese nationals working as contract laborers on Hawaii’s sugar plantations at the time of the revolution, and there was no break in further arrivals.
Ken Conklin contacted Ms. Harumi Katsumata, Consul, Consulate-General of Japan in Hawaii, inquiring whether there might be a record of diplomatic recognition of the Republic either in the files of the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu or in the foreign affairs archives in Tokyo. Following a period of several weeks for research, Consul Katsumata sent an e-mail stating that there is no information about Japan’s recognition of the Republic of Hawaii, either in Honolulu or in Tokyo. However, she did attach a photograph (shown below) of a notice published by the Republic of Hawaii Foreign Office on April 24, 1897. The notice announced that the Consulate of Japan was being upgraded to the status of Legation and that the Consul currently serving at that time would continue to represent Japan. The published notice included the full text of an “autograph letter of His Majesty the Emperor” to President Dole, announcing the upgrade of status, bearing the manual seal of the Empire and countersigned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Thus it is clear that until April 24, 1897 the Republic enjoyed the same level of diplomatic relations with Japan that the Kingdom had previously enjoyed; and after that date Japan granted even higher status to the Republic by upgrading its Consulate to a Legation. The wording of the Emperor’s letter to President Dole is very similar to the wording of the letters of recognition de jure that had been sent by other Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Presidents.
In March of 1881 King Kalakaua had visited the Meiji Emperor of Japan (Mutsuhito) on his trip around the world, and awarded to the Emperor the highest Royal Order of the Hawaiian Kingdom — the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Kamehameha with collar. Thus it is especially poignant when that same Emperor personally signs a letter to Hawaii President Sanford Dole raising the status of Japan’s diplomatic representation from consulate to legation. The Emperor was giving high status to the Republic — a revolutionary government which had overthrown a fellow monarchy which had previously awarded the Emperor its highest honor.