Commodore Perry Opens Japan (1853)


Figure 1.-- After Commodore Perry's Black Ships entered Edo Bay, President Buchanan subsequently welcomed a samurai delegation to Washington, receiving them at the White House (1860). The samurai were not impressed, seeing no towers or moat. They did think that it was handsomely furnished inside. They were the first Japanese to visit the United States. This modern recreation entitled 'Visitors from the East' shows the samurai being received at the White House. They and their traditional dress were instant celebrities in Washington. They reported back to the Shogun that America was an inferior society and not likely to endure. Comodore Perry's squadron, however, would have a profound impact on Japanese thinking and in a decade undermine the Shogun and his traditional regime. And who could predict less than a century later America and Japan would fight the most titanic naval war in history. Artist: Peter Waddell.

The Shogun for two centuries closed Japan ports to all but a handfull of Dutch and Chinese traders. Japan was a country frozen time and in the mid-19th century was still essentially a feudal country. The United States had an expanding merchant fleet. Yankee clippers had by the mid-19th century become a force to be reconned with in the expanding international economy. America also had a Pacific whaling fleet of some commerical importance. American commercial interests asked the U.S. Government for assiatance in opening Japan. The Americans wanted to trade with Japan. They also wanted rights for whalers to obtain coal and supplies. American President Millard Fillmore ordered Commodore Matthew Perry to force the opening of Japanese ports to American shipping, hopefully by diplomacy but through gunboat force if necessary. Perry commanded a squadron of four ships which entered Edo/Tokyo Bay (July 8, 1853). His flagship was the USS Powhatan. The ships were painted black and Japanese paintings of the encounter emphasize the black ships. The modern vessels astonished the Japanese. The Japanese had never seen steam engines. Some thought them 'giant dragons puffing smoke'. They were impressed with the armament aboard the ships. Perry carried a letter from President Milard Filmore for the Emperor. Japanese officials realized that they had nothing to ressist the American ships. After protracted negotiatiuions, a treatty was signed opening Japan to American trade (March 31, 1854). The treaty provided for peace and friendship. The Japanese agreed to care for shipwrecked sailors and to offer provisions and coal to American whalers. The Japanese today celebrate the event with annual black ship festivals. By the time the Convention of Kanagawa was signed (March 31, 1854), the President was Franklin Pierce. President Buchanan subsequently jut before the Civil War welcomed a Japanese delegation to Washington. Three samurai ambassadors and their entourage of 74 sailed on a U.S. Navy frigate across the Pacific (February 1860). Neither the Panama Canal or the transcontinntal railway existed st the time. The President received them at the White House. The Japanese diplomats were not impressed, seeing no towers or moat. They did think that the President's mansion was handsomely furnished inside. They were the first Japanese to visit the United States. They and their traditional dress were instant celebrities. They reported back to the Shogun that America was an inferior society and not likely to endure. Comodore Perry's squadron, however, would have a profound impact on Japanese thinking and in a decade undermine the Shogun and his traditional regime. And who could predict less than a century later America and Japan would fight the most titanic naval war in history.

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Created: 4:00 AM 9/26/2016
Last updated: 4:00 AM 9/26/2016