In a time when interracial relationships were prohibited in much of the United States, seventeen-year-old samurai Tateishi Onojirō, nicknamed “Tommy,” and his rising count of love letters made headlines across America. The 1860 Japanese Embassy to the United States and the interactions of these samurai with women and children—transnational actors traditionally on the periphery of diplomatic narratives—opened America to a process of renegotiating concepts of “civilization,” masculinity, and race at a time when these concepts were central to American definitions of personhood. The Japanese brought to the forefront of American consciousness those human beings normally kept separate from workings of state, as well as issues of race and gender arising from the unexpected role of women in diplomacy prompted by the arrival of the Japanese. This paper demonstrates the evolution of concepts of race, gender, and “civilization” using representations of the Japanese in thousands of American newspapers. Newspapers first commodified the female reception of the samurai, then later rejected the Japanese “princes” as colonizing seductors who debased and threatened American civilization. Southern newspapers used reports of the female embrace of the Japanese to assert the South’s moral superiority to a debauched North that had enabled these illicit interracial encounters to occur. This paper argues that, decades before Meiji hierarchies of “civilization and enlightenment, as “civilized” America sought to instruct a newly “opened” Japan, the Japanese ambassadors “opened” America to new understandings of “civilization,” masculinity, power, and race.