Perry, Matthew 1794–1858

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Matthew Perry

The U.S. naval officer Matthew Perry is best known for his role in initiating contact with Japan between 1853 and 1854. Prior to this, Japan had had very limited international trade and diplomatic contact since the seventeenth century. Contact with the West was essentially limited to one Dutch station at Nagasaki. Contacts with Europeans (mostly Russians) largely consisted of dealing with shipwrecked foreign sailors (and some illegal trade). Contacts with Asians (including Chinese merchants in Yokohama) were broader but still quite restricted. Japanese officials were aware, however, of the advance of European empires in Asia, especially after the Opium War of 1839 to 1842, so Perry's arrival was not entirely unanticipated.

Perry arrived in Tokyo Bay in July 1853 requesting a treaty of commerce and friendship. He was refused and withdrew, but returned in February 1854 with seven ships and 1,600 men. Four of the ships were steamers, never before seen by the Japanese. By March 31 he had concluded a treaty that allowed U.S. ships to purchase fuel in Japan, guaranteed assistance to shipwrecked sailors, and opened up possibilities for trade. Other Westerners arrived soon after. Intense debates over proper policy towards "barbarians" roiled the Japanese elite, trade began to grow, and various foreign technologies, including new weapons, entered the country. All these factors contributed to the civil wars that eventually led to the Meiji Restoration (1868), usually considered to mark the onset of modernity in Japan.

SEE ALSO Alcock, Rutherford; Japan;Most-Favored-Nation Provisions;Nagasaki;Yokohama.


LaFeber, Walter. The Clash: A History of U.S.–Japan Relations. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Perry, John Curtis. Facing West: Americans and the Opening of the Pacific. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

Kenneth Pomeranz

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Perry, Matthew 1794–1858

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