JAPANESE INTEREST IN THE WEST
Japanese depiction of
Perry's Black Ship In 1612, a violent storm washed a British ship ashore in the Miyagi coast. Using the ship as a model, a local lord constructed Japan’s first open sea vessel and on it sent an envoy, Tsunenaga Hasekura, to Mexico to forge trade links with the Spanish. Hasekura landed in Acapulco, made his way across Mexico and traveled to Europe where he was received by Pope Paul V in Rome.
Haekura was baptized a Catholic and returned to Japan in 1620. He expected a hero’ welcome but instead was ignored. No one seemed particularly interested in what he learned about the outside world and he spent his last years living in seclusion.
The "opening" of China in the early 19th century generated interest in Japan in the West. Western merchants were particularly interested in making profits from trade with Japan and using Japanese ports. An article from the Edinburgh Review in 1852 stated: "The compulsory seclusion of the Japanese is wrong, not only to themselves but to the civilized world."
France and Japan had their first significant encounter in 1844 in the Ryukyu Islands and from 1855 through Hakadote and Nagasaki. Many of their early engagements revolved around the silk trade. Lyon, France was a major center of silk and textile production and Japan produced the best quality silks, better than those produced in China. For a while the purchase of silkworm eggs and raw silk from Japan by France accounted for more than half the world’s silk production.
Hermann Melville wrote in Moby Dick (1851), “If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due, for already she is on the threshold.”
Websites and Resources
Links in this Website: PERRY, BLACK SHIPS AND JAPAN OPENS UP Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MEIJI PERIOD Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN BEFORE WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EMPEROR HIROHITO Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources: Perry Visits Japan, a Visual History brown.edu/japan/images ;U.S. Navy Museum on Perry history.navy.mil ; Black Ships and Samurai MIT Visualizing Culture ; U.S. Navy Museum on Perry in Japan U.S. Navy Museum Making of Modern Japan, Google e-book books.google.com/books ; Books: The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics and the Opening of Old Japan by Christopher Benfey (Random House, 2003); Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 by Ian Buruma (Modern Library, 2003). Other books b Buruma include A Japanese Mirror and The missionary and the Libertine. Shimoda (near southern tip of the Izu Peninsula) is where Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships arrived in Japan Good Websites: Escape from Tokyo mikesblender.com ; Shimoda Tourist Association shimoda-city.info Map: Shimoda City PDF file shimoda-city.info
Good Japanese History Websites: History of Japan by William Gilmore-Lehne stockton.edu/~gilmorew ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Outline Chronology of Japanese Cultural History www4.ncsu.edu ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; Famous Personages in Japan kyoto-su.ac.jp ; Monumenta Nipponica, Respected Journal on Japanese History and Culture monumenta.cc.sophia.ac.jp Links and Sources Japanese History Documentation Project openhistory.org/jhdp ; Cambridge University Bibliography of Japanese History to 1912 ames.cam.ac.uk ; Sengoku Daimyo sengokudaimyo.co ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki ; WWW-VL: History: Japan (semi good but dated source ) vlib.iue.it/history/asia/Japan ;
History Links oceanindex.net/index ; Forums Delphi Forums, Good Discussion Group on Japanese History forums.delphiforums.com/samuraihistory ; Tousando tousando.proboards.com
Admiral Perry in Japan
U.S. President Millard Fillmore sent American Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858) and a forth of the U.S. Navy—three steam frigates and five other warships—to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Japan. The main purpose of Perry's mission was to establish a coal station in Japan so that steam ships could journey from the United States to China and Asia along the "great circle route" via Alaska. The United States government wanted to make sure they got to Japan first so it wouldn't fall into the hands of a European rival and disrupt American plans to control trade in the Pacific. [Source: James Fallows, Smithsonian magazine]
Perry arrived in Edo (present-day Tokyo) Bay in July, 1853 with two steamers and two sailing vessels and was greeted sword-wielding samurai in wooden rowboats. Perry’s steamships had steel-reinforced hulls and an array of weapons. His flagship was the largest and most modern steamship in the world at that time. They are know in Japan today as the "black ships.” To reach Japan, Perry 7½ months at seas and sailed across the Atlantic, around Africa and stopped in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Shanghai. One of the financiers of the expedition was the brokerage house Lehman Brothers.
Perry was 59 when he arrived in Tokyo Bay. He suffered from arthritis and a number of other maladies and was confined to his quartered for much of the voyage. Often compared with Douglas MacArthur, he was a proud and short-tempered man, who saw very little action is his naval career (during the early years of the American navy more officers were killed in duels than fighting and Perry himself did not see any combat action until he was in his 50s). Before arriving in Japan he pursued pirates in the Caribbean, fought in the Mexican War. His first important mission was to take freed slaves to the new country of Liberia in 1819.
According to the Library of Congress: Japan had "turned down a demand from the United States, which was greatly expanding its own presence in the Asia-Pacific region, to establish diplomatic relations when Commodore James Biddle appeared in Edo Bay with two warships in July 1846. However, when Commodore Matthew C. Perry's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay in July 1853, the Shogunate was thrown into turmoil. The chairman of the senior councillors, Abe Masahiro (1819-57), was responsible for dealing with the Americans. Having no precedent to manage this threat to national security, Abe tried to balance the desires of the senior councillors to compromise with the foreigners, of the emperor who wanted to keep the foreigners out, and of the daimyo who wanted to go to war. Lacking consensus, Abe decided to compromise by accepting Perry's demands for opening Japan to foreign trade while also making military preparations. In March 1854, the Treaty of Peace and Amity (or Treaty of Kanagawa) opened two ports to American ships seeking provisions, guaranteed good treatment to shipwrecked American sailors, and allowed a United States consul to take up residence in Shimoda, a seaport on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Edo. A commercial treaty, opening still more areas to American trade, was forced on the Shogunate five years later. [Source: Library of Congress]
Face-Off Between Perry and the Japanese
of Perry None of the Japanese that encounter the American ships understood English and no one on Perry's ship could speak Japanese. The first word spoken by either party was French, which neither group understood very well either. A leader on Japanese boats shouted, "Départez!," "Depart Immediately!"
Perry's ships didn't leave. They blocked the shipping lanes of Edo (Tokyo) and despite the language barrier Perry made it clear he wouldn't move until a treaty was signed. He refused to talk to local officials and demanded to see the governor. Perry’s Black Ships were like nothing ever seen in Japan before. The USS Susquehanna, the 78-meter flagship, dwarfed the 24-meter sengokubane, the largest Japanese craft at that time.
For a while Perry and the Japanese played a cat and mouse game. The American sent surveying ships further and further into Tokyo Bay and on several occasions violencealmost erupted. In the meantime, Japanese citizens fearing a major attack by the Americans, headed into the countryside for safety.
Perry had orders to deliver a letter from U.S. President Fillmore requesting that Japan open itself to the world trade, provide protection shipwrecked seamen, allow ships to purchase coal and water and other demands.
In the end Perry was allowed to come ashore but he was not allowed to go to Edo or Kyoto to meet the emperor or shogun. Although some Japanese suggested an attack on the fleet, the militarily-weak shogun felt he no choice but to sign a treaty.
The Japanese had observed how mighty China Kingdom, whose emperor referred to the Japanese emperor as the "little king," had been carved up by the European powers. They didn't want the same thing to happen to them, plus they knew that if they attacked the American ships, the chances were a larger flotilla might return to exact retribution. The idea was for Japan to open up to the West for only a short time—just long enough to learn their technology and rebuild their army and navy—and then get rid of them.
Perry Sets Foot in Japan
One the morning he was scheduled to come ashore to meet a representative of the shogun, Perry feared an ambush and ordered his gunboats to come close enough to the shore where the could fire on the Japanese if anything went wrong. The Japanese in turn had ten sword-wielding samurai hiding under a trap door. If anything went wrong they were ordered to leap out and slay the foreigners.
At 10 o'clock in the morning in July 14, 1853, Perry walked ashore at Yokosuka (south of present-day Yokohama and Tokyo) between a double line of heavily armed soldiers. In front of him was a marine with a sword and at his side were two of the largest men from his ship, two black stewards, carrying all kinds of weapons and towering over everybody.
Once Perry was on shore, the tension eased a bit. Perry gave the Japanese representative a plow, a scythe, a grindstone, a quarter-size steam locomotive, the letter from President Fillmore, some whiskey and a white flag accompanied by instructions on how to use it to surrender. The Japanese treated the Americans to a demonstration of sumo wresting. Perry wrote that he poked the stomach of one of the wrestlers, who emitted “a self-satisfied grunt.”
Perry introduced the Japanese to milk and soap and had a cow slaughtered to promote the virtues of American beef. The Japanese introduced the Americans to seaweed, unique seafood dishes and men and women bathing nude together in public baths—a show of immodesty that drew of critical response from Perry.
Some Japanese boarded the ships. One Japanese man who saw the sailors lounging in hammocks thought they were being suspended from the ceiling as a form of punishment. A samurai who came aboard saw his images in a mirror for the first time and thought he was encountering a Western samurai. Some Japanese who got their hands on Western soap and thought it was food. They were surprised as it disappeared into bubbles when they cooked it. The artists who drew the American began the pictures with a large nose.
Perry's Return to Japan
sumo exhibition for Perry The Japan gave Perry a letter that told the Americans they had broken Japanese law and warned them never to come back. Perry then told the Japanese he would leave soon but return the following year. After traveling all that time to get to Japan, Perry only spent four days there. At the time of Perry's visit, the Japanese government was almost bankrupt, it lacked a navy and it coastal defenses were unable to withstand an assault by the black ships. While Perry was away, the Japanese repealed their laws that prohibited the construction of sea-going vessels and opened negotiations with the Dutch to buy some steamships.
Perry returned on March 13, 1854, with a much larger force (ten ships and 1,500 men). He brought large supplies of champagne, good wine and fresh livestock for meat to entertain his Japanese hosts with an elaborate banquet. After being sufficiently wined and dined aboard Perry’s ship, the Powhatan, the Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United States and Japan was signed on March 31, 1854.
Describing this visit Perry wrote, "During our stay in Edo Bay, all the officers and members of the crews had frequent opportunities of mingling freely with the people, both ashore and on board, as many of the natives visited the ships."
The commercial treaty between Japan and the United States was worked out by Townsend Harris, a New York businessman who lived and worked almost entirely alone in Japan. One of the major goals of the expedition was to secure an agreement allowing U.S. whaling ships to call on Japanese ports and take on supplies. According to the agreement made with Japan, the whale ships could only take on supplies as “gifts” with any payment offered seen as a reciprocal “gift.” Harris’s stay in Japan was plagued by troubles. The parent’s of a woman servant assigned to him demand compensation because her association with foreigners made her tainted and unmarriagable. His Dutch assistant was murdered on the street by disgruntled samurai unhappy about the presence of foreigners in Japan.
Perry correctly predicted that even though Japan was behind the West in many respects at that time it would catch up fast and become a theological leader, “[Japan’s] craftsmen are as expert as any in the world, and with freer development of the inventive powers of the people, the Japanese would not remain long behind he most successful manufacturing nations...the Japanese would enter as powerful competitors in the race for mechanical success in the future.”
Impact of Perry's Visit to Japan
Perry’s first visit to Japan in 1853 caused social upheaval in the closing days of the Tokugawa shogunate and led to the Meiji Restoration. With the opening of the nation, prices of major exports such as raw silk quadrupled at once. As the gold-silver exchange rates in Japan and abroad differed, an exodus of Japanese gold occurred. The reminting of koban—a Japanese gold coin of the Edo period (1603-1867)—spurred hyperinflation. Riding the tide of trade liberalization, newly emerging merchants came to the fore, while long-established wholesalers in Tokyo and Osaka lost their monopoly on the distribution of goods. These developments can be likened to the implementation of trade liberalization, currency devaluation, distribution system reform and regulatory reform all at once. Although the country's economy became chaotic, these major changes did lay the foundations for the rapid modernization of Japan's economy.
The resulting damage to the Shogunate was significant. Debate over government policy was unusual and had engendered public criticism of the Shogunate. In the hope of enlisting the support of new allies, Abe, to the consternation of the fudai, had consulted with the shinpan and tozama daimyo, further undermining the already weakened Shogunate. In the Ansei Reform (1854-56), Abe then tried to strengthen the regime by ordering Dutch warships and armaments from the Netherlands and building new port defenses. In 1855 a naval training school with Dutch instructors was set up at Nagasaki, and a Western-style military school was established at Edo; by the next year, the government was translating Western books. Opposition to Abe increased within fudai circles, which opposed opening Shogunate councils to tozama daimyo, and he was replaced in 1855 as chairman of the senior councillors by Hotta Masayoshi (1810-64). [Source: Library of Congress]
“At the head of the dissident faction was Tokugawa Nariaki, who had long embraced a militant loyalty to the emperor along with antiforeign sentiments, and who had been put in charge of national defense in 1854. The Mito school--based on neo-Confucian and Shinto principles--had as its goal the restoration of the imperial institution, the turning back of the West, and the founding of a world empire under the divine Yamato Dynasty. [Ibid]
“In the final years of the Tokugawa, foreign contacts increased as more concessions were granted. The new treaty with the United States in 1859 allowed more ports to be opened to diplomatic representatives, unsupervised trade at four additional ports, and foreign residences in Osaka and Edo. It also embodied the concept of extraterritoriality (foreigners were subject to the laws of their own countries but not to Japanese law). Hotta lost the support of key daimyo, and when Tokugawa Nariaki opposed the new treaty, Hotta sought imperial sanction. The court officials, perceiving the weakness of the Shogunate, rejected Hotta's request and thus suddenly embroiled Kyoto and the emperor in Japan's internal politics for the first time in many centuries. When the shogun died without an heir, Nariaki appealed to the court for support of his own son, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (or Keiki), for shogun, a candidate favored by the shinpan and tozama daimyo. The fudai won the power struggle, however, installing Tokugawa Yoshitomi, arresting Nariaki and Keiki, executing Yoshida Shoin (1830-59, a leading sonno-joi intellectual who had opposed the American treaty and plotted a revolution against the Shogunate), and signing treaties with the United States and five other nations, thus ending more than 200 years of exclusion. [Ibid]
“The strong measures the Shogunate took to reassert its dominance were not enough. Revering the emperor as a symbol of unity, extremists wrought violence and death against the Shogunate and han authorities and foreigners. Foreign naval retaliation led to still another concessionary commercial treaty in 1865, but Yoshitomi was unable to enforce the Western treaties. A Shogunate army was defeated when it was sent to crush dissent in Satsuma and Choshu han in 1866. Finally, in 1867, the emperor died and was succeeded by his minor son Mutsuhito; Keiki reluctantly became head of the Tokugawa house and shogun. He tried to reorganize the government under the emperor while preserving the shogun's leadership role. Fearing the growing power of the Satsuma and Choshu daimyo, other daimyo called for returning the shogun's political power to the emperor and a council of daimyo chaired by the former Tokugawa shogun. Keiki accepted the plan in late 1867 and resigned, announcing an "imperial restoration." The Satsuma, Choshu, and other han leaders and radical courtiers, however, rebelled, seized the imperial palace, and announced their own restoration on January 3, 1868. The Shogunate was abolished, Keiki was reduced to the ranks of the common daimyo, and the Tokugawa army gave up without a fight (although other Tokugawa forces fought until November 1868, and Shogunate naval forces continued to hold out for another six months). [Ibid]
Western Technology Introduced to Japan
"For the first few days after our arrival at Yokohama, "Perry wrote, "the requisite number of mechanics, was employed in unpacking and putting in working order the locomotive engine" and "were equally busy in preparing to erect the telegraphic posts for the extension of magnetic lines" and "agricultural implements, all intended for presentation to the Emperor, after first being exhibited and explained. “
"A flat piece of ground was assigned to the engineers for laying down the track of the locomotive. Posts were brought and erected as directed...and telegraph wires of nearly a mile in a direct line were soon extended...The beautiful little engine with its tiny car set in motion...exciting the utmost wonder in the minds of the Japanese.
"Although this perfect piece of machinery was...much smaller than I had expected it would have been, the car was incapable of admitting with any comfort even a child of six years. The Japanese therefore who rode upon it were seated upon the roof, whilst the engineer places himself upon the tender."
Some ancient bells taken from Okinawa by Commander Perry now ring the score at Army-Navy football games.
Japan Opens to the West
The treaty resulting from Perry’s visit—the Kanagawa Treaty—allowed whalers safe passage from Japanese shores, gave the Americans permission to take coal from Japan, established diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States, stipulated low import duties and opened up two Japanese ports to foreign trade. Perry still wasn't allowed to visit Edo but he was given permission to view it from the deck of his ship.
Perry's visit forced Japan to end its isolation. New treaties were signed with Russia, Britain and the Netherlands, and social and political changes took place that undermined the foundations of the feudal structure, created great turmoil and unrest that eventually led to the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate.
The visit also resulted in anti government feelings. Japanese felt the Tokugawa shogunate had failed to halt an invasion by foreigners and allowed Japan to stagnate to such a degree that it was vulnerable to foreign domination.
Samurai in Washington and New York
In 1860, six years after Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay, more than 70 samurai visited the United States. They were the first known group to officially leave Japan in more than 200 years. They were sent to deliver a treaty of amity and commerce to President James Buchanan and ordered to avoid fraternizing with their American hosts. “But good old aggressive American hospitality took over,” Martha Schwendener wrote in the New York Times, “There were parades and parties, and Walt Whitman even wrote a poem, which was printed on Page 2 of The New York Times.” [Source: Martha Schwendener, New York Times, August 26, 2010
In Washington, the samurai mission exchanged documents ratifying the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The mission, all sporting top knots and carrying swords, met with U.S. President James Buchanan in Washington. According to one of the mission members Buchanan had “gentle looks and smiles” as he greeted the mission. “Ever since our arrival at the American capital,” Norimasa Muragaki, an ambassador, wrote in his diary on June 4, 1860, in Washington, “we have frequently been asked by photographers to allow our photographs to be taken, but we have hitherto refused, as it is not the custom in our country. Today, however, we had to submit, in deference to the President’s wishes...We therefore, for the first time, faced the photograph machine.”
During the visit Americans also introduced the Japanese American-style shopping. A week before their departure in June 1860 an article appeared in The New York Times, describing the delegates’ activities. “Their baggage already increases to such huge proportions,” it said, “that even the capacious ‘Niagara’ bids fair to be well filled, and still they shop.”
Image Sources: Visualizing Culture, MIT Education
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated November 2012