Saturday, April 30, 2016

Perry Expedition and the Opening of Japan (Part 5): First Arrival of Perry

Japanese Depiction of a Black Ship (from MIT Visualizing Culture)
After a long journey from the other side of the world, Perry finally arrived in Japan. Explore the initial contacts between the Japanese and the American squadron.

Arrival to Uraga Bay

In the afternoon of July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron arrived in Edo (Tokyo) Bay. As they lined up with broad side facing the shore and set there anchors in Uraga Bay, the picturesque beauty of Japan amazed the Americans. On the other side, the American ships coming in to the bay shocked and dumbfounded the Japanese. After initial impressions from both sides, talks between the American and Japanese began.

When the squadron came to Japan, Perry conducted what became known as gunboat diplomacy. Gunboat diplomacy utilized armed warships and sailing them near a strategic area to inflict fear and intimidation. It worked especially against weaker and underdeveloped countries, such as Japan. The weaker country, fearful and weary, would concede to the demands of a powerful country. Perry used this tactic with great efficiency.

He planned to intimidate the Japanese with modern steam-powered warships to force them to submit to his demands. He added another factor of strength and defiance by snubbing the traditional door of Japan for foreigners – Nagasaki – and sailed directly to the Edo Bay, near the capital of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate. In smaller talks, Perry was determined not to be ordered around by the Japanese. He made sure that they would obey his rules within the squadron and never back down into sailing to Nagasaki or hand over the letter to a lesser official. He was prepared to use force in order to achieve his objective of negotiating the opening of Japan.

And so, on July 8, 1853, the American Squadron sailed into Uraga Bay around twenty miles away from capital Edo. The Americans enjoyed the beauty of Japan’s scenery. And upon their entry of the bay, they had a magnificent view of the amazing peak of Mt. Fuji. They also observed Japanese reaction to their arrival.

The Japanese watched in amazement and in horror the arrival of the American squadron. Fishermen were curious of the weird appearance of the American vessels they dubbed as “black ships” for the color of the ships’ body. Most saw for the first time huge steam driven warship with its chimneys producing black smoke and a huge wheel that peddle the vessel. Guard boats followed the American ships to their destination but the Americans kept them in distance. They watched with alarm along those who guarded the forts around the bay. The unusual appearance of the ships added to Japanese fears of its armament’s capability. Many guards would have been dumbfounded as they saw the two steam ships (Susquehanna and Mississippi) towing the two sailing ships (Saratoga and the Plymouth). When the ships arrived in Uraga Bay, the people in the shore watched while numerous small boats came near the black ships.

Initial Meetings

As black ships anchored in Uraga Bay in the afternoon of July 8, 1853, local Japanese officials inquired on the business of the foreigners. Japanese guard boats attempted to board the ships but the Americans turned them down, notifying them only three local official were allowed in the flagship Susquehanna. Uraga Vice Governor Nagashima Saboroske with his Dutch interpreter Hori Tatsonoske asked permission to board the Susquehanna. The Vice Governor received approval to board and received welcome from the Americans.

Dutch became a widely used medium between the two parties. Because with Japan’s contact with the Dutch through Dejima, many Japanese intellectuals learned the European language. On the side of the Americans they both had Dutch and Chinese interpreters. From that point on, many discussions between the two civilizations were conducted in Dutch.

Saboroske firstly inquired if the foreigners came from the United States to which the Americans confirmed. For months, the Japanese already anticipated the arrival of an American squadron from an information given to them by the King of the Netherlands in a letter. When the Vice Governor and his interpreter came, they did not met the "Admiral" (as they called Perry due to the word Commodore had no equivalent in the Japanese language back then). Instead Lieutenant John Contee along with interpreters greeted and talked to them.

Perry wanted to be highly respected and valued by the Japanese. He only met with someone equal to his rank in Japan - diplomats appointed by the highest authority in the land. And so, much of the sideline discussion with Japanese officials, Perry sent deputies and his captains to deal with them. In this situation, he created an atmosphere of majesty on him.

Back in the meeting between Saboroske and the Americans, the Vice Governor was notified on the objectives of the American mission to deliver a Presidential letter to any diplomat appointed by the “Emperor” and to secure the request stated in it. Saboroske then informed the Americans that such letter of high diplomatic relevance must be delivered to Nagasaki, implying to them to leave Uraga and go south. However, the Vice Governor’s demands were rejected by Perry’s deputies as the Commodore desired.

Nightly Commotions

During the American squadron's first night in Uraga Bay, commotions and activities buzzed the shores. Lights illuminated the seaside filled with common folks who wanted to view the black ships along with government authorities watching for any signs of hostility. The Americans kept themselves in high alert with sentries and guns armed and ready. At about 9 pm, the Susquehanna fired a blank, probably to scare the Japanese, and led to instant extinguishing of lights in the shoreline.

In the early morning of July 9, 1853, the Americans observed an astronomical spectacle, which the Commodore viewed as a good omen. A meteor passed northwards, which the American crew and officers, including Commodore Perry, witnessed as its crimson colored tail of the heavenly body passed by. Perry said to have remarked, “The ancients would have construed this remarkable appearance of the heavens as a favorable omen for any enterprise they had undertaken, it may be so construed by use, as we pray God that our present attempt to bring a singular and isolated people into the family of civilized nations may succeed without resort to bloodshed.” The event and his remarked revealed the determination of Commodore Perry.

“Governor” Kayaman Yezaiman Arrived

On July 9, 1853, Kayaman Yezaiman, played as the governor of Uraga and met with American officials in the Susquehanna. Yezaiman was not the true governor of Uraga, Ido Hiromichi was. Governor might have feared for his safety by going to the Americans or perhaps an emulation of Perry's exclusivity. Nevertheless, the Americans believed Yezaiman was the governor and even wrote it in the official narrative of the expedition.

Yezaiman met with Commander Franklin Buchanan, Commander Henry Adams, and Lieutenant Contee who served as Commodore Perry’s representatives. Yezaiman received a warm welcome from the officers and impressed them with his manners. He then reiterated the demand to the Americans to go to Nagasaki. It failed. He then informed them that any letter to be handed over outside Nagasaki must first be referred to Edo for permission, which would take four days. But Perry’s deputies, refused and only gave a three day deadline. After the meeting, Yezaiman received refreshments from the Americans. He fell in love with their wine, which in the end of the first arrival the Americans gave him a case as a gift.

Ido Hiromichi, the true governor of Uraga, then sent a letter to Edo asking for instruction on how to deal with the Americans. While they waited, American boats surveyed Uraga Bay to the discomfort of the Japanese. The Japanese made their frustration known to the Americans but once again ignored and continued to survey as they deemed it as peaceful in nature.

Edo’s Reaction

Meanwhile in Edo, the government was in disarray. Abe Masahiro the Chief Minister of the Shogunate faced a dilemma. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi laid dying in his bed giving Abe much of the authority. Abe needed to choose whether to concede to the wishes of the Americans to give a letter in Uraga or to maintain their position of sending them to Nagasaki. Both, Abe knew, had dire consequences. Concede to the foreign “barbarians,” the Shogunate’s policy of isolation would be broken and would cause disgrace to the government, which might cause a rebellion from nationalistic daimyos. Not to mention, fears of becoming like the bullied China went to his mind too. But resist meant confrontation with the American whom he knew their weapon's strength.  Alas, he realized Japan was not fit and strong enough to risk conflict and decided to concede to the wishes of the Americans to receive the letter in Uraga Bay.

On July 12, 1853, as set by the Americans, instructions from Edo arrived. Yezaiman informed the Americans that the letter would be received in the bay by commissioners appointed by the “Emperor.” However, Yezaiman did not reveal when the commissioners would arrive to receive the letter; nevertheless, preparations in the coast for the venue for the delivery of the letter began. He then discussed with the Americans other matters concerning the meeting such as the presentation of the credentials of the commissioners to prove their legitimacy. Other than that, Perry’s deputies made also clear the intentions of the Commodore not to wait for the reply of Edo to the letter and instead, would just return around spring of 1854.

Explore also:

Beasley, W.G. The Modern History of Japan. New York, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1963.

___________. The Meiji Restoration. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Bolitho, Harold. “Abe Masahiro and the New Japan.” In The Bakufu in Japanese History, edited by Jeffrey Mass and William Hauser. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Craig, Fairbank, and Edwin Reischauer. East Asia: The Modern Transformation. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.

Davis, Geo. Lynn-Lachlan. A Paper Upon the Origin of the Japan Expedition. Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co., 1860.

Franz, Edgar. Philipp Franz von Siebold and Russian Policy and Action on Opening Japan to the West in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century. Munich: IUDICIUM Verlag, 2005.

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Translated by Eiichi Kiyooka. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hawks, Francis. Narrative of the Expedition of An American Squadron to The China Seas and Japan, Performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy by Order of the Government of the United States, Volume I. Washington D.C.: A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1856. 

Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Jansen, Marius. The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Murray, David. Japan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896.

Nitobe Inazo. The Intercourse Between the United States and Japan: An Historical Sketch. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins Press, 1891.

Williams, S. Well. A Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan (1853 – 1854) , Edited by F.W. Williams. n.p.: n.p., 1910.

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