Perry's Expedition To Japan

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PERRY'S EXPEDITION TO JAPAN. America's interest in Japan was part of its larger interest in China and in opening ports and expanding trade in Northeast Asia. The Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan, by contrast, had tried for more than 200 years to isolate Japan and to limit contact with the outside world.

In 1852, Matthew Calbraith Perry, who commanded the U.S. East India Squadron, received orders from President Millard Fillmore to travel to Japan, meet with its leader, and open diplomatic and trading relations. This included obtaining permission for U.S. vessels to secure coal, provisions, and fresh water; arranging for the protection of shipwrecked American sailors and cargoes; and, most importantly, opening Japanese ports to U.S. trade.

Perry entered Edo (present-day Tokyo) Bay with four ships, two of which were coal-burning steamships, in July 1853. The black smoke from the steamers caused the Japanese to refer to the small fleet as "black ships." Perry sought to present a letter to the Emperor, but he was commanded to leave. He returned in February 1854 with eight shipsone-third of the U.S. Navyand on 31 March 1854, he signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, which opened Japan to trade and provided for care of shipwrecked Americans. Still, the Japanese conceded little. They did not grant full commercial relations or extraterritorial rights, which gave the imperialist powers control over their own citizens in Japan, and the ports they opened were far from the center of the country, thus isolating American sailors from the Japanese people.

Perry's and America's motives were obvious, the Japanese' were less so. Japanese leaders saw China being battered by the British and French and the spread of the so-called unequal treaty system granting the Western power extensive rights and privileges in China; there also were powers in Japan, rich daimyo, or feudal lords, in the southwest, who wanted to reform Japan to resist foreign encroachments. Perry and America seemed the lesser of evils, and so Perry met with limited success. His visit became part of a larger discussion in Japan about how to meet the threat of the modern West, which ultimately resulted in the Meiji Restoration in 1868.


Blumberg, Rhoda. Commodore Perry in the land of the Shogun. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1985.

Dulles, Foster Rhea. Yankees and Samurai; America's Role in the Emergence of Modern Japan. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Schroeder, John H. Matthew Calbraith Perry: Antebellum Sailor and Diplomat. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

Wiley, Peter Booth. Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan. New York: Viking Press, 1990.

Charles M. Dobbs

See also Japan, Relations with .

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Perry's Expedition To Japan

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