Perry in Japan Explained

Perry in Japan Explained

Hi guys!

The time has come for my first collaboration with a fellow podcaster. Please welcome Garret McCorkle from the “No Country for History” podcast. And we have a great topic to discuss.

In 1853 Commodore Perry came to the shores of Japan and “opened” it to the world. Or did he?

Let’s see what actually happened when four black ships appeared one summer day near the shore of Uraga. Why didn’t Japanese officials just send it away like all the others? And why did Americans decide to come in the first place?

Part 1 – The Kurofune incident

  • Before the Black Ships: Japan
  • Before the Black Ships: The USA
  • Perry leaves America
  • The four Black Ships in Uraga: The fateful day of the 8th of July
  • Songs and portraits: first Japanese impressions of Americans
  • Te never ending dialogue: – Please go to Nagasaki. – No, we won’t.
  • Chaos, rumours and the inevitable
  • Japan meets the US: the meeting at Kurihama
  • But we’ll be back!

Part 2 – Second visit and the Treaty of Kanagawa


  • Analysing the first visit.
  • John Manjiro and pro-American Propaganda
  • Abe Masahiro and unconventional problem solving
  • Vice-admiral Putyatin in Nagasaki or Perry in panic mode
  • The return of Black Ships
  • Threats and cannons or are all means good to get attention?
  • The second meeting
  • The present display: toy train and telegraph
  • The present display: rice, silk, lacqer and sumo matches
  • The Treaty of Kanagawa
  • Exploring Shimoda and Hakodate. The apealing and the appalling Japan
  • The aftermath

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Things to read

While usually, I have to rely on historians to do their job and write about something so I can read it and later tell you about that, this time we are presented with multiple first-hand records of the events. The benefits of literate 19th century.

So here they are. I found the difference of opinions and views on the same events quite enjoyable.

  • Francis Hawks “Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to China & Japan” (a.k.a. the official report of the expedition)
  • Matthew C. Perry “The Japan Expedition, 1852—1854, The Personal Journal of Commodore Matthew C. Perry” (a.k.a. Perry’s careful notes in preparation for the report)
  • Samuel Wells Williams “Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan” (a.k.a. the truthful notes)
  • George Henry Preble “The Opening of Japan: A Diary of Discovery in the Far East, 1853—1856” (a.k.a. the “party pooper’s notes”)
  • Edward McCauley “With Perry in Japan: The Diary of Edward York McCauley”
  • Bayard Taylor “Visit to India, China, Japan in the year 1853” (chapters 33-35) (a.k.a. the notes of admiration)

I was not as lucky with books this time.

  • Rhoda Blumberg “Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun”
While the book is dedicated to two Perry’s visits to Japan and probably is a good starting point for somebody completely unfamiliar with the topic, it is very short and tends to oversimplify. But I’m fine with that, as it’s a short work with many pictures. Again, a great introduction to the topic.
What I didn’t like about the book though, is an exaggeration for the sole purpose of making the read more entertaining and constant attention to the weirdness of the Japanese.
  • George Feifer “Breaking open Japan”
This book is informative yet very difficult to read. The only way I managed to read it is via word search (did I tell you how much I love e-books already?)
  • De-min Tao “Negotiating Language in the Opening of Japan”
Translation and interpretation was a big part of negotiations. Especially because none of the countries used their native tongue.
This witty and well-written article discovers how the need for constant interpretation affected the communication between America and Japan and looks at curious moments related to it.

See you soon! Bye!

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