The Arrival of the Black Ships (黒船来航)

In 1853, the East India Squadron of the United States Navy arrived in Japan at Uraga, near the entrance of Tokyo Bay (Uraga, Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture)--an incident that came to be known as the "Arrival of the Black Ships." Commodore Matthew C. Perry presented a message from the President of the United States to the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), which resulted in a treaty between the United States and the Empire of Japan. In Japan, the years between this incident and the Meiji Restoration are generally referred to as "the last days of Tokugawa Shogunate."

The Age of Imperialism, led by Europe and the United States, was a time of opening ports and securing footholds for colonization.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, countries in Western Europe sought the expansion of their markets to Southeast Asia, mainly India and Qing Dynasty China, for the export of mass-produced goods--later, these activities evolved into a fierce competition for acquiring colonies. While England had a competitive edge, France was also ahead of the game. The United States, however, with no foothold in Southeast Asia, was in need of a route to China through the Pacific in order to compete with Europe.

The true motive of the United States government was the need for ports to supply whaling ships.

European countries and the United States were actively engaged in "whaling with new techniques" in waters all over the world, including the seas off the coast of Japan--it was the Industrial Revolution that made these new techniques possible. In those days, factories and offices that kept late business hours used lamp oil made from sperm whales, and it was precisely for this reason that whaling was so vigorously carried on. The United States was already engaged in whaling in the Pacific, but needed a foothold in order to supply firewood, water, and food to its whalers.

John Manjiro

Manjiro NAKAHAMA, also known as John Mung, who was wrecked on the deserted island of Torishima (now Hachijo Sub-prefecture, belonging to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of General Affairs) with his friends when he was fishing off the coast of Kochi, were rescued by an American who had been whaling in the waters close to Japan--this serves as an actual example of American whaling. Manjiro, who was 15 at the time, became something of an adopted son to the American captain, ultimately becoming a sailor of new techniques himself after attending school in the United States. Eventually, unable to forget his homeland, he got a whaling ship with the money earned by working in a California gold mine and set sail for Japan with his fishermen friends from Nakahama Village, Tosashimizu.

When Manjiro arrived in Ryukyu, Satsuma Domain, he was 25 years old. After arriving in Ryukyu, though initially faced with a number of difficulties, Manjiro's understanding of American motivations, as well as those of the Japanese, allowed him to serve as an interpreter during the treaty talks between the United States and the Empire of Japan. The Shogunate valued Manjiro, not only for his English proficiency and experience in America, but also for his experience as a seaman on an American whaler, relating to America's intention that it would set up the base for whaling in Japan.

The Arrival in 1853
Perry's Departure

On November 24, 1852, the 58-year old Commodore Matthew Perry, who was also the Ambassador to Japan, led the East India Squadron from the flagship Mississippi and headed straight for Asia. Perry was told by the Whig Party's hawkish President Millard Fillmore that America had no alternative but to occupy Ryukyu if things went wrong.

The squadron crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Shanghai on May 4, 1853 after taking the following route:
Madeira Island (from December 11 to December 15, 1852),
Saint Helena Island (from January 10 to January 11, 1853),
Cape Town, South Africa (from January 24 to February 3),
Mauritius of the Indian Ocean (from February 18 to February 28),
Sri Lanka (from March 10 to March 15),
through the Strait of Malacca to Singapore (from March 25 to March 29),
Macao and Hong Kong (from April 7 to April 28),

By the time the squadron arrived in Shanghai, not only had the President of the United States changed to Franklin Pierce of the Democratic Party, but Dobbin, the new Secretary of the Navy under President Pierce, had prohibited the use of military force--a policy that Perry had not gotten word of.

The Arrival in Ryukyu

In Shanghai, Perry made the Susquehanna his flagship before embarking on May 17 and anchored off the coast of the Ryukyu Kingdom at Naha, which was under the influence of the Satsuma Domain on May 26. Perry made inquiries about a visit to Shuri-jo Caste, but the Kingdom refused. Ignoring the refusal, Perry landed with armed soldiers and marched through the city of Naha to Shuri-jo Castle. With no alternatives, the Kingdom allowed Perry to enter the castle in the company of several disarmed soldiers. While Perry and his officers were served tea and cakes, he delivered a letter from the President that urged Japan to open its ports. Afterwards, they moved to the king's outer palace, Ufumiudon (Omi Goten), where liquor and food were served. In return, Perry invited the high officials of the Kingdom to the Susquehanna to sample French cuisine prepared by the chef who was a member of his expedition.

The hospitality the kingdom extended to Perry and his officers, however, amounted to nothing more than a very ordinary level of hospitality--the dishes prepared were inferior to those offered to the Qing Dynasty's Imperial Chinese missions, an implicit indication that the kingdom was returning a negative response to the letter from the United States. This response "technique" is still used by many countries today when treating guests. By appearing friendly, the Kingdom was able to avoid falling under military control, although Ryukyu was still used as a relay point during Perry's voyage to Japan.

An account of those days is described in detail in the Kingdom's own "Hyojosho Monjo (Written Record of Conference Chamber Proceedings) of the Ryukyu Kingdom."

The Ogasawara Exploration
Leaving a part of his squadron behind, Perry set out from Naha on June 9, 1853. From June 14 to June 18, he explored the Ogasawara Islands (Bonin Islands) where no territorial claim had yet been formally made. Perry thus declared possession of the Ogasawara Islands, but found his claim immediately opposed by British and Russian ships that moved down in protest and the declaration was left up in the air. Later, Japan would confirm its territorial right to the islands among the powerful countries of the world--the basis of the approval lay in the "Sangoku Tsuran Zusetsu" (Illustrated General Survey of Three Countries), written by Shihei HAYASHI after Japan forced the residents of Hachijo-jima Island to immigrate to the Ogasawara Islands.

On June 23, Perry returned to Naha, leaving yet another part of his squadron behind before setting sail for Japan on July 2, leading 3 ships.

The Arrival

On June 5, 1852, the curator of the Dutch trading house, Janus Henricus Donker Curtis, submitted "Special News" to the Magistrate of Nagasaki.
The content was as follows:

Seeking trade with Japan, Commodore Perry of the United States of America set sail with eight ships and they will come to Edo in March of next year. If Japan refuses, there will be a war. Japan should trade with America from the port of Nagasaki.
The Content of the Treaty of Commerce
Following is a summary of the monjo (written record) of Japan's intention to open its ports, as witnessed by the United States of America.

In October of the same year, Masahiro ABE asked the Coastal Defense Department its opinion regarding the "Special News." The following November, the Department answered that the content seemed dubious and referred ABE to the Magistrate of Nagasaki. The Magistrate declared that the Dutchman could not be trusted. Under that opinion, the Shogunate did not take the necessary measures to prepare for Perry's arrival, but only increased the number of soldiers in the Hikone Domain to strengthen the defenses of the Miura Peninsula. The Shogunate believed that the East India Squadron would simply turn back, as they had done once in the past like the British and Russian navy ships. Nariakira SHIMAZU, however, who had been observing the East India Squadron since its arrival in Ryukyu, reported a different opinion to Roju (Senior Councilor) Masahiro ABE. Although both men sensed the emergency of the situation, they were a minority within the Shogunate.

In March of 1853--the month in which Commodore Perry was supposed to arrive, according to Curtius's "Special News"--nothing happened. A group of warships appeared off the coast of Uraga on June 3 (July 8) and to the Japanese people who spotted them, the ships were vastly different from those of the Russian Navy and British Navy, which had visited Japan in the past. Apart from the sail, Perry's black-hulled side-wheel ships ran on steam engines that emitted clouds of smoke from their chimneys and came with sail ships in tow. Seeing that, the Japanese called them "kurofune" (black ships).

The squadron that anchored off the coast of Uraga consisted of the flagship Susquehanna and the USS Mississippi [1841] (both side-wheel steamers), as well as the USS Saratoga [1842] and the USS Plymouth [1844] (both sailing ships). With 100 cannons aboard the squadron, Perry and his soldiers began to survey Edo Bay while readying themselves for action. They fired several dozen blanks into the Bay, as both a salute to America's Independence Day and as a message. Naturally, the firing was an intentional threat that initially sent the residents of Edo, who were hearing cannon fire for the first time, into a panic, but once people realized the shots were blank, however, they seemed to enjoy the sounds.

Uraga filled with spectators, some of whom boarded small boats to get closer to the ships, while others even tried to climb aboard and make contact with the sailors, but once the Shogunate had issued an order to the samurai and merchant classes that expressed the need for caution, eventually a sense of fear spread, with the rumors of live artillery. The state of Edo's residents at the time is rendered in the following satirical poem, in which the four steam ships are symbolized by high-grade jokisen tea: "Taihei no nemuri o samasu jokisen, tatta yonhai de yoru mo nerarezu" ("The Jokisen tea that awakens one from a peaceful sleep/With only four cups, the night is sleepless"). (Because major sources of the poem are "Buko Nenpyo," or "Chronology of the Edo Period," published in 1878, as well as "Edo Jidai Rakusho Ruiju," or "Anonymous Documents of Social and Political Satire of the Edo Period," published in 1914.) and this satirical poem is not found in contemporary publications, while similar poems do appear, one explanation for this is that the poem was both written and circulated after the fact, as is suggested by its major historical sources being published after the Meiji era.
Further evidence is stated in the details above--namely that, out of the four black ships, only two were steamers.)

The Shogunate dispatched Saburosuke NAKAJIMA, the yoriki (police sergeant) of Uraga Bugyosho (the magistrate's office in Uraga), to meet Perry on his ship, and from this dispatch understood that the purpose of Perry's visit was to deliver a letter from the President of the United States directly to the Shogun--Perry refused to give the letter to NAKAJIMA, claiming the man's rank was too low. The same was said when Eizaemon KAYAMA visited the ship: the letter could not be handed to anyone except an officer of the highest rank. When KAYAMA asked Perry to give him 4 days to talk with his superiors, Perry answered that he would wait three days, and further threatened that if the Shogunate did not dispatch a high ranking officer to whom he could hand the letter, he and his men would sail to the north of Edo Bay and hand the letter directly to the Shogun.

At that time, the 12th Shogun, Ieyoshi TOKUGAWA, was sick in bed and in no condition to be making important decisions for the nation. On June 6 (July 11 of 1853), Roju Shuza (Senior Councilor of the TOKUGAWA Shogunate) Masahiro ABE concluded that he had no alternative but to receive the letter himself and thus he permitted Perry's party to come ashore in Kurihama on June 9 (July 14, 1853), where The Uraga Bugyo, Ujiyoshi TODA and Hiromichi IDO presented themselves for an interview with Perry. Perry at last presented the letter from President Fillmore, together with his own letter of credence, a memorandum, and so forth, urging Japan to open its ports to the world. TODA and IDO explained, however, that the Shogun was ill and could not make a decision and requested one year of postponement for their answer, and in response, Perry agreed that he would return after one year. The squadron left Edo on June 12 (July 17 of the same year) and rejoined the ships that had been left in Ryukyu before returning to Hong Kong. On June 22 (July 27 of the same year), only 10 days after Perry's departure, Shogun Ieyoshi died and Iesada TOKUGAWA became the 13th Shogun but Iesada was, himself, in poor health, and was not able to take responsible control of the government.

The Roju (Senior Councilors) were equally unfit to deal with the situation. ABE who was head of the Roju, was especially worried that domestic support for excluding foreigners was on the rise. Therefore, he began to receive outside opinions on Japan's diplomatic policy from the daimyo (feudal lords), hatamoto (direct retainers of the Shogunate), and even the common people, who had never before participated in the Shogunate government. The group of tozama daimyo (non-Tokugawa daimyo), who had also been refused the right to express their opinions on national politics, applauded ABE's efforts, though they had no good ideas themselves. ABE's efforts, however, resulted only in the spreading popularity of a "parliamentary regime" that utilized a council system, inevitably weakening the Shogunate. Meanwhile, he had the daimyos (territorial lords) build forts to strengthen the security of Edo Bay, and on November 14, changed each daimyo's duty post.

Perry's Return in 1854

On January of 1854, Perry returned to Uraga via Ryukyu. In spite of his agreement to allow for one year of discussion, he returned after only half a year away and daringly pressed the Japanese government for a decision, which made the Shogunate understandably anxious. In Hong Kong, Perry had heard about the death of Shogun Ieyoshi, and was now trying to exploit the resulting confusion in the Shogunate. In this, he demonstrated his diplomatic skill.

On January 14 (February 11 of the same year), the transport ship Southampton (a sailing ship) arrived, as did six more cruisers by January 16 (February 13 of the same year), including 3 side-wheel steamers (the flagship Susquehanna, the Mississippi, and the USS Powhatan [1850]) and 3 sailing ships (the Macedonian, the Vandalia, and the Lexington). Once all seven ships had arrived in Edo Bay, the Powhatan became the flagship. With the February 6 arrival of the sailing ship Saratoga, and then the February 21 arrival of the sailing ship Supply, the total came to 9 ships, which sent Edo, once again, into a panic. (At the same time, many visitors still flocked to Uraga, so much that the place became something of a sightseeing spot. There also continued to be residents who approached the squadron by boat and attempted to make contact with the Americans without permission.
This is when Shoin YOSHIDA attempted to stow away on the Powhatan as a means to study abroad.)

The Americans treated the shogunate officials to French cuisine on board. Knowing that sea bream was popular among the Japanese, the Americans incorporated the fish into the menu, reflecting their awareness of Japanese taste. Meanwhile, it is said that the Japanese who were invited to dine with the American rehearsed the situation using a jitte (short, one-hook truncheon) and a backscratcher as substitutes for a knife and fork. According to a recorded account by one of the Americans, the Japanese guests wrapped their food in kaishi (paper carried inside one's kimono) and returned home with it--a practice that surprised the Americans.
(In honzen ryori [a highly ritualized form of serving Japanese cuisine], there is fried cake called "suzuributa" that is meant to be taken with guests when they leave.)
After the first Japan-US conference was held, the Japanese served a honzen ryori lunch to the Americans. Momokawa, the restaurant that undertook the preparations for this lunch, was located in ukiyo koji in Edo and prepared dishes for 300 people at the cost of 2000 ryo (gold currency used in the Edo period). Today, 2000 ryo amounts to 150,000,000 yen, or 500,000 yen per person. Only the best ingredients were used for a lunch that consisted of over a hundred dishes, including liquor and liquor side dishes, clear soup, honzen (main servings), ninozen (side servings), and dessert. However, the lack of the meat dish made the Americans have prejudice toward Japan as the country inhabited by uncivilized people; also in general, it seems that there were many raw food dishes and that there were great many dishes with light seasoning and that the volume for each dish was not enough for the Americans; according to Perry, "Japan should have something better and that Japanese people should have hidden that which something better." However, there were those who responded more positively, saying, "Japan has done the best that it could." It is said that, afterwards, the Japanese officials frequently returned to dine with the Americans.

After about a month of discussions, the Shogunate at last accepted America's demand for the opening of Japan to the world. On March 3 (March 31), Perry landed in Yokohama Village of Musashi Province in Kanagawa (present-day Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture), where a 12-article treaty between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan was signed (the Treaty of Kanagawa), that is, the agreement between Japan and the United States became official, and Japan's 200 years of national isolation that stretched back to the regime of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA came to an end. Afterwards, the negotiations were moved to Ryosen-ji Temple in Izu Province, Shimoda (present Shimoda City, Shizuoka Prefecture). On May 25, 13 articles of regulations for the United States-Japan relationship were laid down in the Treaty of Shimoda.

Perry's squadron left Shimoda on June 1 and stopped to sign a treaty of commerce with the Ryukyu Kingdom before returning home. After his return, Perry submitted his "Narratives of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan" to Congress, which remains a first-class, detailed account of the voyage of the squadron. He died in 1858 at the age of 64, only four years after the signing of the treaty. Soon after, the United States entered into a fierce Civil War and lost much of its influence over both Japan and the Qing Dynasty, which allowed Britain, France, and Russia to expand their power in Asia. Incidentally, on September 2, 1945, the signing of Japan's Instrument of Surrender was held on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay--the flag that stood in the background had once flown on Perry's flagship Powhatan, and was brought from the United States for the occasion.

The Story of the White Flag
Perry gave the Shogunate two flags when he arrived at Uraga, although both the types of the flag and their purpose are unknown. According to a written account by Tamaki KOMA (a low ranking official of the Shogunate), Perry handed the two flags to the Shogunate, along with a document instructing Japan to "open the country or surrender." It is said that the document also explained that one of the flags was a white flag, to be used if the country should surrender. However, as the document includes many descriptions that contradict the situation of those days, most specialists consider it to be unauthentic.

Gun Battle
According to Perry's "Narratives of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan," over 100 blanks were fired during the squadron's two visits for the purposes of celebration, appreciation, and signaling, while Japanese sources write that these gun shots created great confusion, but there was no damage, and it is unlikely that actual fighting occurred. However, according to an ancient Japanese text, among the seven ships, including the Powhatan, that gathered on January 16, two steamers and three sailing ships bombarded Susaki in Awa Province (present-day Chiba Prefecture).

The incident is said to have occurred at 2:30 a.m. on February 21, 1854, with the bombardment of an encampment in the Okayama Domain, Bizen Province that guarded Susaki. Cannon fire from the ships fell into the sea, about 10 meters short of the encampment. The Bizen Domain did an emergency call and sent five shots back, hitting the three sailing ships, although the two steamboats escaped. The defense corps of the Bizen Domain pursued the sailing ships by boat and, despite 300 casualties in the counterattack, managed to capture three ships. However, all record of this incident ends after February 1 (February 27). Because there is no other account of the incident, the reliability of the existing record is doubted.

[Original Japanese]