Matthew Petty and the Opening of Japan

United States - Scott #1021 (1953)
United States – Scott #1021 (1953)

On July 8, 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy, commanding a squadron of two steamers and two sailing vessels, sailed into Tôkyô harbor aboard the frigate Susquehanna. Under orders from American President Millard Fillmore. Perry’s primary goal was to force an end to Japan’s 220-year-old policy of isolation and to open Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. The Perry Expedition led directly to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the western “Great Powers”, and eventually to the collapse of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji Restoration. Following the expedition, Japan’s burgeoning trade routes with the world led to the cultural trend of Japonism, in which aspects of Japanese culture influenced art in Europe and America.

When Perry’s four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay, the shogunate was thrown into turmoil. Commodore Perry was fully prepared for hostilities if his negotiations with the Japanese failed, and threatened to open fire if the Japanese refused to negotiate. He gave them two white flags, telling them to hoist the flags when they wished a bombardment from his fleet to cease and to surrender. To demonstrate his weapons, Perry ordered his ships to attack several buildings around the harbor. The ships of Perry were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, capable of bringing destruction everywhere a shell landed.

Perry’s small squadron itself was not enough to force the massive changes that then took place in Japan, but the Japanese knew that his ships were just the beginning of Western interest in their islands. Russia, Britain, France, and Holland all followed Perry’s example and used their fleets to force Japan to sign treaties that promised regular relations and trade. They did not just threaten Japan — they combination their navies on several occasions to defeat and disarm the Japanese feudal domains that defied them.

Maps of Japan and Edo Bay published in 1858
Maps of Japan and Edo Bay published in 1858
Japanese woodblock map of the Izu Islands in Edo Bay, 1847
Japanese woodblock map of the Izu Islands in Edo Bay, 1847
Present-day Tokyo Bay, Japan
Present-day Tokyo Bay, Japan

The growing commerce between America and China, the presence of American whalers in waters off Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by the British and French in Asia were all contributing factors in the decision by President Fillmore to dispatch an expedition to Japan. The Americans were also driven by concepts of manifest destiny and the desire to impose the benefits of western civilization and the Christian religion on what they perceived as backward Asian nations.[1] By the early nineteenth century, the Japanese policy of isolation was increasingly under challenge. In 1844, King William II of the Netherlands sent a letter urging Japan to end the isolation policy on its own before change would be forced from the outside. Between 1790 and 1853, at least twenty-seven U.S. ships (including three warships) visited Japan, only to be turned away.

There were increasing sightings and incursions of foreign ships in Japanese waters, and this led to considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan’s economic and political sovereignty. In May 1851, American Secretary of State Daniel Webster authorized Commodore John H. Aulick, commander of the East India Squadron, to attempt to return seventeen shipwrecked Japanese then in San Francisco, which might provide the opportunity for opening commercial relations with Japan. On May 10, 1851, Webster drafted a letter addressed to the “Japanese Emperor” with assurances that the expedition had no religious purpose, but was only to request “friendship and commerce” and supplies of coal needed by ships en route to China. The letter also boasted of American expansion across the North American continent and its technical prowess, and was signed by President Fillmore. However, Aulick became involved in a diplomatic row with a Brazilian diplomat and quarrels with the captain of his flagship, and was relieved of his command before he could undertake the Japan expedition. His replacement, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794–1858) was a senior-ranking officer in the United States Navy, and had extensive diplomatic experience.

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, USN. Photograph by Matthew Brady, circa 1856-1858.
Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, USN. Photograph by Matthew Brady, circa 1856-1858.

Matthew Calbraith Perry was born on April 10, 1794, in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the son of Sarah Wallace (née Alexander) (1768–1830) and Navy Captain Christopher Raymond Perry (1761–1818). His siblings included Oliver Hazard Perry, Raymond Henry Jones Perry, Sarah Wallace Perry, Anna Marie Perry (mother of George Washington Rodgers), James Alexander Perry, Nathaniel Hazard Perry, and Jane Tweedy Perry (who married William Butler).

His mother was born in County Down, Ireland and was a descendant of an uncle of William Wallace, the Scottish knight and landowner who is known for leading a resistance during the Wars of Scottish Independence and is today remembered as a patriot and national hero. His paternal grandparents were James Freeman Perry, a surgeon, and Mercy Hazard, a descendant of Governor Thomas Prence, a co-founder of Eastham, Massachusetts, who was a political leader in both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies, and governor of Plymouth; and a descendant of Mayflower passengers, both of whom were signers of the Mayflower Compact, Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader and spiritual elder of the Plymouth Colony, and George Soule, through Susannah Barber Perry.

USS President fires on HMS Little Belt, May 16, 1811.
USS President fires on HMS Little Belt, May 16, 1811. “he Little Belt, Sloop of War, Captn. Bingham nobly supporting the Honor of the British Flag, against the President, United States Frigate, Commodore Rogers, May 15th, 1811”.: this art was engraved and published by Edward Orme in London, October 25, 1811.

In 1809, Perry received a midshipman’s warrant in the Navy, and was initially assigned to USS Revenge, under the command of his elder brother. His early career saw him assigned to several ships, including USS President, where he served as an aide to Commodore John Rodgers. President was in a victorious engagement over a British vessel, HMS Little Belt, shortly before the War of 1812 was officially declared. Perry continued aboard President during the War of 1812 and was present at the engagement with HMS Belvidera. Rodgers fired the first shot of the war at Belvidera. A later shot resulted in a cannon bursting, killing several men and wounding Rodgers, Perry and others. Perry transferred to USS United States, commanded by Stephen Decatur, and saw little fighting in the war afterwards, since the ship was trapped in port at New London, Connecticut.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war, Perry served on various vessels in the Mediterranean. Perry served under Commodore William Bainbridge during the Second Barbary War. He then served in African waters aboard USS Cyane during its patrol off Liberia from 1819–1820. After that cruise, Perry was sent to suppress piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies. Later during this period, while in port in Russia, Perry was offered a commission in the Imperial Russian Navy, which he declined.

Model of USS Shark at U.S. Navy Museum on the grounds of the Washington Naval Yard, Washington, D.C. Photo taken on December 27, 2011.
Model of USS Shark at U.S. Navy Museum on the grounds of the Washington Naval Yard, Washington, D.C. Photo taken on December 27, 2011.

Perry commanded USS Shark, a schooner with 12 guns, from 1821 to 1825. In 1763, when Britain possessed Florida, the Spanish contended that the Florida Keys were part of Cuba and North Havana. Certain elements within the United States felt that Key West (which was then named Cayo Hueso, meaning “Bone Key”) could potentially be the “Gibraltar of the West” because it guarded the northern edge of the 90 miles (140 km) wide Straits of Florida — the deep water route between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1815, the Spanish governor in Havana deeded the island of Key West to Juan Pablo Salas of Saint Augustine. After Florida was transferred to the United States, Salas sold Key West to American businessman John W. Simonton for $2,000 in 1821. Simonton lobbied the U.S. Government to establish a naval base on Key West both to take advantage of its strategic location and to bring law and order to the area.

On March 25, 1822, Perry sailed Shark to Key West and planted the U.S. flag, physically claiming the Keys as United States territory. Perry renamed Cayo Hueso “Thompson’s Island” for the Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson and the harbor “Port Rodgers” for the president of the Board of Navy Commissioners. Neither name stuck however.

From 1826 to 1827, Perry acted as fleet captain for Commodore Rodgers. Perry returned to Charleston, South Carolina for shore duty in 1828, and in 1830 took command of a sloop-of-war, USS Concord. He spent the years 1833–1837 as second officer of the New York Navy Yard (later the Brooklyn Navy Yard), gaining promotion to captain at the end of this tour.

Drawing of USS Fulton as originally built in 1837. Original held at the Smithsonian Institution, from the Skerritt Collection, Bethlehem Steel Corporation Archive.
Drawing of USS Fulton as originally built in 1837. Original held at the Smithsonian Institution, from the Skerritt Collection, Bethlehem Steel Corporation Archive.

Perry had an ardent interest and saw the need for the naval education, supporting an apprentice system to train new seamen, and helped establish the curriculum for the United States Naval Academy. He was a vocal proponent of modernizing the Navy. Once promoted to captain, he oversaw construction of the Navy’s second steam frigate USS Fulton, which he commanded after its completion. He was called “The Father of the Steam Navy”, and he organized America’s first corps of naval engineers, and conducted the first U.S. naval gunnery school while commanding Fulton in 1839–1841 off Sandy Hook on the coast of New Jersey.

Perry received the title of commodore in June 1840, when the Secretary of the Navy appointed him commandant of New York Navy Yard. The United States Navy did not have ranks higher than captain until 1857, so the title of commodore carried considerable importance. Officially, an officer would revert to his permanent rank after the squadron command assignment had ended, although in practice officers who received the title of commodore retained the title for life, and Perry was no exception.

During his tenure in Brooklyn, he lived in Quarters A in Vinegar Hill, a building which still stands today. In 1843, Perry took command of the African Squadron, whose duty was to interdict the slave trade under the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and continued in this endeavor through 1844.

Perry attacked and took San Juan Bautista (Villahermosa today) in the Second Battle of Tabasco. Disembarkation in San Juan Bautista, capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco, during the American intervention developed between 1846 and 1847. On October 25 and 26, 1846, the First Battle of Tabasco took place, in which the Tabasco forces were victorious. On June 16, 1847 the Second Battle of Tabasco was unleashed, with the Americans coming out victorious, occupying the state capital. Finally the invaders were expelled from the state on July 22, 1847.
Perry attacked and took San Juan Bautista (Villahermosa today) in the Second Battle of Tabasco. Disembarkation in San Juan Bautista, capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco, during the American intervention developed between 1846 and 1847. On October 25 and 26, 1846, the First Battle of Tabasco took place, in which the Tabasco forces were victorious. On June 16, 1847 the Second Battle of Tabasco was unleashed, with the Americans coming out victorious, occupying the state capital. Finally the invaders were expelled from the state on July 22, 1847.

n 1845, Commodore David Conner’s length of service in command of the Home Squadron had come to an end. However, the coming of the Mexican–American War persuaded the authorities not to change commanders in the face of the war. Perry, who would eventually succeed Conner, was made second-in-command and captained USS Mississippi. Perry captured the Mexican city of Frontera, demonstrated against Tabasco, being defeated in San Juan Bautista by Colonel Juan Bautista Traconis in the First Battle of Tabasco, and took part in the capture of Tampico on November 14, 1846.

Perry had to return to Norfolk, Virginia, to make repairs and was still there when the amphibious landings at Veracruz took place. His return to the U.S. gave his superiors the chance to finally give him orders to succeed Commodore Conner in command of the Home Squadron. Perry returned to the fleet during the siege of Veracruz and his ship supported the siege from the sea. After the fall of Veracruz, Winfield Scott moved inland and Perry moved against the remaining Mexican port cities. Perry assembled the Mosquito Fleet and captured Tuxpan in April 1847. In July 1847, he attacked Tabasco personally, leading a 1,173-man landing force ashore and attacking the city of San Juan Bautista (Villahermosa today) from land defeating the Mexican forces and taking the city.

In 1852, Perry was assigned a mission by American President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. The growing commerce between the United States and China, the presence of American whalers in waters offshore Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by the British and French in Asia were all contributing factors. The Americans were also driven by concepts of manifest destiny and the desire to expand western civilization to what they perceived as more backward Asian nations. The Japanese were forewarned by the Dutch of Perry’s voyage, but were unwilling to change their 250-year-old policy of national seclusion. There was considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan’s economic and political sovereignty.

Perry was well aware of the difficulties involving attempting to establish relations with Japan, and initially protested that he would prefer to command the Mediterranean Squadron of the US Navy instead of being assigned to yet another doomed attempt to “open” Japan.

Russians meeting Japanese in Akkeshi, 1779
Russians meeting Japanese in Akkeshi, 1779

Frictions with foreign shipping led Japan to take defensive actions from the beginning of the 19th century. Western ships were increasing their presence around Japan due to whaling activities and the China trade. They were hoping for Japan to become a base for supply or at least a place where shipwrecks could receive assistance. From 1797 to 1809, several American ships traded in Nagasaki under the Dutch flag, upon the request of the Dutch, who were not able to send their own ships because of their conflict against Britain during the Napoleonic Wars.

The violent demands made by the British frigate Phaeton in 1808 shocked many in Japan. In 1825, the Edict to expel foreigners at all cost (異国船無二念打払令 Ikokusen Muninen Uchiharairei, “Don’t think twice” policy) was issued by the shogunate, prohibiting any contacts with foreigners; it remained in place until 1842.

Meanwhile, Japan endeavored to learn about foreign sciences through rangaku (“Western studies”). To reinforce Japan’s capability to carry on the orders to repel Westerners, some such as the Nagasaki-based Takashima Shūhan managed to obtain weapons through the Dutch at Dejima, such as field guns, mortars and firearms. Domains sent students to learn from Takashima in Nagasaki, from Satsuma Domain after the intrusion of an American warship in 1837 in Kagoshima Bay, and from Saga Domain and Chōshū Domain, all southern domains mostly exposed to Western intrusions. These domains also studied the manufacture of Western weapons.

The Morrison of Charles W. King, was repelled from Edo Bay in 1837.
The Morrison of Charles W. King, was repelled from Edo Bay in 1837.

In 1837, an American businessman in Canton named Charles W. King saw an opportunity to open trade by trying to return to Japan three Japanese sailors (among them, Otokichi) who had been shipwrecked a few years before on the coast of Washington. He went to Uraga Channel with Morrison, an unarmed American merchant ship. The ship was attacked several times, and sailed back without completing its mission. Following the Morrison inciden, Egawa Hidetatsu was put in charge of establishing the defense of Tokyo Bay against Western intrusions in 1839.

After the victory of the British over the Chinese in the 1840 Opium War, many Japanese realized that traditional ways would not be sufficient to repel Western intrusions. To resist Western military forces, Western guns were studied and demonstrations made in 1841 by Takashima Shūhan to the Tokugawa shogunate. By 1852, Satsuma and Saga had reverberatory furnaces to produce the iron necessary for firearms.

A national debate was already taking place about how to better avoid foreign domination. Some such as Egawa claimed that it was necessary to use the foreigners’ techniques to repel them. Others, such as Torii Yōzō argued that only traditional Japanese methods should be employed and reinforced. Egawa argued that just as Confucianism and Buddhism had been introduced from abroad, it made sense to introduce useful Western techniques. A theoretical synthesis of “Western knowledge” and “Eastern morality” would later be accomplished by Sakuma Shōzan and Yokoi Shōnan, in view of “controlling the barbarians with their own methods”.

After 1839, however, traditionalists tended to prevail. Students of Western sciences were accused of treason (Bansha no goku), put under house arrest (Takashima Shūhan), forced to commit ritual suicide (Watanabe Kazan, Takano Chōei), or even assassinated as in the case of Sakuma Shōzan.

The USS Vincennes and USS Colombus in Tokyo Bay, Japan, in July 1846. John Eastley painting, 1848.
The USS Vincennes and USS Colombus in Tokyo Bay, Japan, in July 1846. John Eastley painting, 1848.

In 1846, Commander James Biddle, anchored in Edo Bay on an official mission with two ships, including one warship armed with 72 cannons, asking for ports to be opened for trade, but his requests for a trade agreement remained unsuccessful.

In 1849, Captain James Glynn sailed to Nagasaki, leading at last to the first successful negotiation by an American with Japan. James Glynn recommended to the United States Congress that negotiations to open Japan be backed up by a demonstration of force, thus paving the way for Perry’s expedition.

In advance of his voyage, Perry read widely amongst available books about Japan. His research also included consultation with the renowned Japanologist Philipp Franz von Siebold. Siebold spent eight years working, teaching, and studying at the isolated Dutch island-trading post of Dejima in Nagasaki harbor, before returning to Leiden in the Netherlands.

Perry also demanded greater latitude in his orders from Webster, a demand the Secretary of State granted just before his death in October 1852. Perry thus sailed for Japan with “full and discretionary powers”, including possible use of force if the Japanese tried to treat him as they had the unfortunate Commodore Biddle. Perry also refused to allow any professional diplomats to accompany the expedition. He asked the German painter William Heine and pioneer daguerreotype photographer Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. to join the expedition as official artists. Agricultural specialist Dr. James Morrow was assigned by the US State Department. Several Japanese castaways were also taken on as unofficial interpreters.

USS Mississippi, circa 1863
USS Mississippi, circa 1863

The expedition was assigned the steam warships Mississippi, Susquehanna, Powhatan, and Allegheny, and the sailing sloops Macedonian, Plymouth, and Saratoga, as well as the battleship Vermont.

To command his fleet, Perry chose officers with whom he had served in the Mexican–American War. Commander Franklin Buchanan was captain of Susquehanna and Joel Abbot was captain of Macedonian. Commander Henry A. Adams became the Commodore’s chief of staff with the title “Captain of the Fleet”. Major Jacob Zeilin (future commandant of the United States Marine Corps) was the ranking Marine officer, and was stationed on Mississippi.

Perry also received permission to take government stores as gifts for the natives, especially obsolete small arms. These included 40 M1819 Hall rifles (with 4,000 cartridges), 20 percussion pistols (with 2,000 cartridges), 20 artillery swords, 20 muskets with Maynard percussion locks and 40 light cavalry sabers, as well as 100 Colt revolvers.

Route taken by Commodore Matthew Perry and the East Asia Fleet from Norfolk, Virginia, to Edo Bay, Japan, November 1852 to July 1853.
Route taken by Commodore Matthew Perry and the East India Squadron from Norfolk, Virginia, to Edo Bay, Japan, November 1852 to July 1853.

Perry chose the black-hulled paddle-wheeled Mississippi as his flagship, and cleared Hampton Roads, Virginia on November 24, 1852, in command of the East India Squadron in pursuit of a Japanese trade treaty. Perry made port calls at Madeira (December 11–15), St Helena (January 10–11, 1853), Cape Town (January 24 – February 3), Mauritius (February 18–28), Ceylon (March 10–15), Singapore (March 25–29) and Macao and Hong Kong (April 7–28), where he rendezvoused with Plymouth and Saratoga. In Singapore, Perry met with American-born Sinologist Samuel Wells Williams, who provided Chinese language translations of his official letters. He continued to Shanghai (May 4–17), where he rendezvoused with Susquehanna and met with the Dutch-born American diplomat, Anton L. C. Portman, who translated his official letters into the Dutch language.

Perry then switched his flag to Susquehanna and called at Naha on Great Lewchew Island (now Okinawa) in the Ryukyu Islands from May 17–26. Ignoring the claims of Satsuma Domain to the islands, as well as his own orders, he threatened and bluffed local authorities by threatening to attack with 200 troops unless he were allowed trading rights and land for a coaling station. Perry landed his Marines, whom he drilled on the beach for hours at a time. He demanded an audience with the Ryukyu King Shō Tai at Shuri Castle. Knowing that his every action would be reported to Japanese authorities in Edo, Perry was careful to avoid meeting with low-ranked officials and made much use of military ceremony and shipboard hospitality to demonstrate both American military power and the peaceful intent of his expedition. Perry left with promises that the islands would be completely open to trade with the United States. Continuing on the Ogasawara islands in mid-June, Perry met with the local inhabitants and even purchased a plot of land.

Article about Perry's first expedition to Japan published in the Illustrated London News, May 7, 1853.
Article about Perry’s first expedition to Japan published in the Illustrated London News, May 7, 1853.
Japanese depiction of one of Perry's black ships.
Japanese depiction of one of Perry’s black ships.

Perry finally reached Uraga at the entrance to Edo Bay in Japan on July 8, 1853. Upon seeing Perry’s fleet sailing into their harbor, the Japanese called them the “black ships of evil mien (appearance).” His actions at this crucial juncture were informed by a careful study of Japan’s previous contacts with Western ships and what he knew about the Japanese hierarchical culture. As he arrived, Perry ordered his ships to steam past Japanese lines towards the capital of Edo, and turn their guns towards the town of Uraga. Perry refused Japanese demands to leave, or to proceed to Nagasaki, the only Japanese port open to foreigners.

Perry attempted to intimidate the Japanese by presenting them a white flag and a letter which told them that in case they chose to fight, the Americans would destroy them. He also fired blank shots from his 73 cannons, which he claimed was in celebration of the American Independence Day. Perry’s ships were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, cannons capable of wreaking great explosive destruction with every shell.

The American ships were almost surrounded by Japanese guard boats; however, Perry ordered that any attempt at boarding was to be repelled. One boat carried a large sign in French ordering the American fleet to depart immediately.

Japanese print relating Perry's visit, 1854. The paddlewheel steamer depicted would be either the USS Mississippi (Commodore Perry's flagship), or the USS Susquehanna- the only two paddlewheels on Perry's first visit to Japan.
Japanese print relating Perry’s visit, 1854. The paddlewheel steamer depicted would be either the USS Mississippi (Commodore Perry’s flagship), or the USS Susquehanna- the only two paddlewheels on Perry’s first visit to Japan.

On July 9, a yoriki (a “helper” or “assistant”) from the Uraga bugyō, Nakajima Saburosuke, accompanied interpreter Hori Tatsunosuke, rowed out to Susquehanna, but were at first refused permission to come on board. After some negotiation, they were permitted to board, where they displayed the order that no foreign ships were allowed into Japanese ports. Perry remained in his cabin and refused to meet them, sending word through his officers that as he carried a letter from the President of the United States, he would only deal with officials of sufficient stature and authority.

On July 10, yoriki Kayama Eizaemon, pretending to be the Uraga bugyō (a port official), called on Susquehanna and was allowed to meet Captain Franklin, whom he advised to travel to Nagasaki, as this was the designated port for all foreign contact. Kayama was told that unless a suitable official came to receive the document, Perry would land troops and march on Edo, to deliver the letter in person. Kayama asked for three days in order to respond. The actual Uraga bugyō, Ido Hiromichi, sent a report to the shōgun and advised that his defenses were totally inadequate to repel the Americans by force.

In the meantime, Perry began a campaign of intimidation, by sending boats to survey the surrounding area, and threatened to use force if the Japanese guard boats around the American squadron did not disperse. He also presented the Japanese with a white flag and a letter which told them that in case they chose to combat, the Americans would necessarily vanquish them.

Matthew C. Perry Memorial at the Perry Park in Yokosuka, Japan. The Perry monument was located in Kurihama at the spot where the Americans first landed on July 14, 1853. While the location has not been changed since it was dedicated in 1901, it appears that the Village of Kurihama has been incorporated into the City of Yokosuka. The focal point of the park is the monument. The park also hosts a museum dedicated to Commodore M.C. Perry and the first landing of the Americans. Photos taken by Rob Oechsle in December2008. For more information, please see <a href="http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/meiji/perry-memorial_2008.shtml">this page</a>.
Matthew C. Perry Memorial at the Perry Park in Yokosuka, Japan. The Perry monument was located in Kurihama at the spot where the Americans first landed on July 14, 1853. While the location has not been changed since it was dedicated in 1901, it appears that the Village of Kurihama has been incorporated into the City of Yokosuka. The focal point of the park is the monument. The park also hosts a museum dedicated to Commodore M.C. Perry and the first landing of the Americans. Photos taken by Rob Oechsle in December2008. For more information, please see this page.
Original caption: Illustration depiting Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858) meeting the royal commissioner at Yokahama, 1853. Undated painting. 1853 Yokahama, Japan
Original caption: Illustration depiting Commodore Matthew Perry (1794-1858) meeting the royal commissioner at Yokahama, 1853. Undated painting. 1853 Yokahama, Japan
Gasshukoku suishi teitoku kōjōgaki (Oral statement by the American Navy admiral). A Japanese print showing three men, believed to be Commander Anan, age 54; Perry, age 49; and Captain Henry Adams, age 59, who opened up Japan to the West.
Japanese woodblock print of Perry (center) and other high-ranking American seamen: Gasshukoku suishi teitoku kōjōgaki (Oral statement by the American Navy admiral). A Japanese print showing three men, believed to be Commander Anan, age 54; Perry, age 49; and Captain Henry Adams, age 59, who opened up Japan to the West.

In the meantime, the Japanese government was paralyzed due to the incapacitation by illness of Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and by political indecision on how to handle the unprecedented threat to the nation’s capital. On July 11, senior rōjū Abe Masahiro temporized, deciding that simply accepting a letter from the Americans would not constitute a violation of Japanese sovereignty. The decision was conveyed to Uraga, and Perry was asked to move his fleet slightly southwest to the beach at Kurihama (in modern-day Yokosuka), where he was allowed to land on July 14. Perry went ashore with considerable pomp, landing with 250 sailors and Marines in 15 ship’s boats after a 13-gun salute from Susquehanna. Major Zuilin’s Marines presented arms, and a band played “Hail Columbia”. President Fillmore’s letter was formally received by hatamoto Toda “Izu-no-kami” Ujiyoshi and by Ido “Iwami-no-kami” Hiromichi. Perry’s squadron eventually departed on July 17 for Hong Kong, promising to return for a reply.

After Perry’s departure, an extensive debate ensued within the Shogunal court on how to respond to the American’s implied threats. Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyoshi died days after Perry’s departure, and was succeeded by his sickly young son, Tokugawa Iesada, leaving effective administration in the hands of the Council of Elders (rōjū) led by Abe Masahiro. Abe felt that it was currently impossible for Japan to resist the American demands by military force, and yet was reluctant to take any action on his own authority for such an unprecedented situation. Attempting to legitimize any decision taken, Abe polled all of the daimyōs for their opinions.

This was the first time that the Tokugawa shogunate had allowed its decision-making to be a matter of public debate, and had the unforeseen consequence of portraying the Shogunate as weak and indecisive. The results of the poll also failed to provide Abe with an answer, as of the 61 known responses, 19 were in favor of accepting the American demands, and 19 were equally opposed. Of the remainder, 14 gave vague responses expressing concern of possible war, 7 suggested making temporary concessions and two advised that they would simply go along with whatever was decided.

Odaiba battery at the entrance of Tokyo, built in 1853–54 to prevent an American intrusion. View of 6th Daiba (6th battery site of Edo) from the Rainbow Bridge, with the Fuji TV studio in the background. 日本語: 第六台場 Photo taken on December 19, 2004.
Odaiba battery at the entrance of Tokyo, built in 1853–54 to prevent an American intrusion. View of 6th Daiba (6th battery site of Edo) from the Rainbow Bridge, with the Fuji TV studio in the background. 日本語: 第六台場 Photo taken on December 19, 2004.

The only universal recommendation was that steps be taken immediately to bolster Japan’s coastal defenses. Fortifications were hurriedly built close to current day Odaiba in Tokyo Bay in order to protect Edo from a subsequent American naval incursion. Industrial developments were also soon started in order to build modern cannons. A reverberatory furnace was established by Egawa Hidetatsu in Nirayama to cast cannons. Attempts were made at building Western-style warships such as the Shōhei Maru by using Dutch textbooks.

Although having told the Japanese that he would return the following year, Perry soon learned that Russian admiral Vice-Admiral Yevfimiy Putyatin had called in at Nagasaki shortly after he departed from Edo Bay, and had spent a month attempting to force the Japanese to sign a treaty before his return. He also was told by both the British and French that they intended to accompany him to Japan in the spring to ensure that the Americans did not obtain any exclusive privileges.

On his way back to Japan, Perry anchored off of Keelung in Formosa, known today as Taiwan, for ten days. Perry and crewmembers landed on Formosa and investigated the potential of mining the coal deposits in that area. He emphasized in his reports that Formosa provided a convenient, mid-way trade location. Perry’s reports noted that the island was very defensible and it could serve as a base for exploration in a similar way that Cuba had done for the Spanish in the Americas. Occupying Formosa could help the United States counter European monopolization of the major trade routes. The United States government failed to respond to Perry’s proposal to claim sovereignty over Formosa.

Perry returned to Japan on February 13, 1854, with a total of ten vessels and 1600 men. The fleet now also included Lexington, Macedonian, Powhatan, Vandalia, Southampton, and Supply.

By the time of Perry’s return, the Tokugawa shogunate had decided to accept virtually all the demands in Fillmore’s letter. However, negotiators procrastinated for weeks over the site for negotiations, with Perry insisting on Edo, and the Japanese offering various other locations. Perry eventually lost his temper and threatened to bring 100 ships (more than the actual size of the U.S. Navy at the time) within 20 days to war on Japan. Both sides eventually compromised on the tiny village of Yokohama, where a purpose-built hall was erected.

Perry's return to Japan on March 8, 1854. Lithography. New York: E. Brown, Jr., circa 1855-1856.
Perry’s return to Japan on March 8, 1854. Lithography. New York: E. Brown, Jr., circa 1855-1856.

After initial resistance, Perry was permitted to land at Kanagawa, near the site of present-day Yokohama on March 8, 1854, with 500 sailors and Marines in 27 ship’s boats, with three bands playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” (with all sailors standing). After three weeks of negotiations, on March 31, Perry signed the Convention of Kanagawa which opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American ships, provided for care of shipwrecked sailors, and the establishment of an American consulate in Shimoda. Perry signed as American plenipotentiary, and Hayashi Akira, also known by his title of Daigaku-no-kami signed for the Japanese side.

After the signing of the treaty, the Americans presented the Japanese with a miniature steam locomotive, a telegraph apparatus, various agricultural tools, and small arms, as well as one hundred gallons of whiskey, clocks, stoves, and books about the United States. The Japanese responded with gold-lacquered furniture and boxes, bronze ornaments, porcelain goblets and upon learning of Perry’s personal hobby, a collection of seashells.

Perry departed, mistakenly believing the agreement had been made with imperial representatives, not understanding the true position of the shōgun, the de facto ruler of Japan. He dispatched the Saratoga home with the signed treaty, while the rest of the squadron went to survey Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido and Shimoda, the two ports which the treaty stipulated would be opened to visits by American ships, the latter being the site of the future consulate. After departing from Shimoda, the fleet returned to the Ryukyu Islands, where Perry swiftly drafted the “Compact between the United States and the Ryukyu Kingdom”, which was formally signed on July 11, 1854.

Bust of Commodore Matthew Perry, Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Photo taken on September 24, 2011.
Bust of Commodore Matthew Perry, Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Photo taken by Elliot Ford on September 24, 2011. See more at Japan And What Not.

After Perry returned to the United States in 1855, Congress voted to grant him a reward of $20,000 (US $525,000 in 2018) in appreciation of his work in Japan. Perry used part of this money to prepare and publish a report of the expedition in three volumes, titled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. He was also promoted to the rank of rear-admiral on the retired list (when his health began to fail) as a reward for his services. Perry was known to have suffered severe arthritis that left him in frequent pain, that on occasion prevented him from fulfilling his duties.

Perry spent his last years preparing for publication his account of the Japan expedition, announcing its completion on December 28, 1857. Two days later, he was detached from his last post, an assignment to the Naval Efficiency Board. Living in his adopted home of New York City, Perry’s health began to fail as he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy drinking. Perry was known to have struggled with alcoholism, He died awaiting further orders on March 4, 1858, in New York City, of “rheumatism” that had spread to the heart, compounded by complications of gout and alcoholism.

Initially interred in a vault on the grounds of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, in New York City, his remains were moved to the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island on March 21, 1866, along with those of his daughter, Anna, who died in 1839. In 1873, an elaborate monument was placed by his widow over his grave in Newport.

was flown from Annapolis to Tokyo for display at the surrender ceremonies which officially ended World War II
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, reading his speech to open the surrender ceremonies, on board USS Missouri (BB-63). The representatives of the Allied Powers are behind him, including (from left to right): Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, RN, United Kingdom; Lieutenant General Kuzma Derevyanko, Soviet Union; General Sir Thomas Blamey, Australia; Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, Canada; General Jacques LeClerc, France; Admiral Conrad E.L. Helfrich, The Netherlands and Air Vice Marshall Leonard M. Isitt, New Zealand. Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland, U.S. Army, is just to the right of Air Vice Marshall Isitt. Off camera, to left, are the representative of China, General Hsu Yung-chang, and the U.S. representative, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN. Framed flag in upper left is that flown by Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s flagship when she entered Tokyo Bay in 1853. The flag was flown from Annapolis to Tokyo for the ceremonies. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

A replica of Perry’s US flag is on display on board the USS Missouri memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, attached to the bulkhead just inboard of the Japanese surrender signing site on the starboard side of the ship. The original flag was brought from the U.S. Naval Academy Museum to Japan for the Japan surrender ceremony and was displayed on that occasion at the request of Douglas MacArthur, who was himself a blood-relative of Perry. Photographs of the signing ceremony show that this flag was displayed properly as all flags on vessels (known as ensigns) on the starboard side are, with the stars in the upper right corner. The cloth of the historic flag was so fragile that the conservator at the Museum directed that a protective backing be sewn on it. Today, the flag is preserved and on display at the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland.

The pattern for the Union canton on this flag is different from the standard 31-star flag then in use. Perry’s flag had columns of five stars save the last column which had six stars. Perry’s U.S. flag was unique when it was first flown in Tokyo Bay in 1853–1854. The replica of this historic flag on board the USS Missouri memorial is also placed in the same location on the bulkhead of the veranda deck where it had been initially mounted on the morning of September 2, 1945, by Chief Carpenter Fred Miletich.

United States - Scott #1021 (1953) first day cover with hand-painted cachet by Trahan.
United States – Scott #1021 (1953) first day cover with hand-painted cachet by Trahan.

Scott #1021 commemorates the 100th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry’s negotiations with Japan that opened the nation to trade after more than 200 years of isolation. The 5-cent green stamp was first placed on sale at the Washington, D.C., post office, on July 14, 1953.

The stamp’s overall design depicts a night scene of the first anchorage of Perry’s squadron in Tokyo Bay with Mount Fuji in the distant background. Arranged vertically on the left of the stamp appears the wording US POSTAGE and 5c in modern French alphabet, with a Japanese stenciled effect. In the upper right corner appears a likeness of Commodore Perry, and directly beneath the portrait appears the descriptive title, COMMODORE MATTHEW C. PRRY US NAVY, arranged in three lines in whiteface Gothic. Placed in a dark panel which forms the bottom of the stamp is the wording 1853 and CENTENNIAL OF OPENING OF JAPAN 1953 in whiteface Gothic.

The stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing using rotary process, electric-eye perforated in a gauge of 11 x 10½, and issued in panes of fifty stamps each. An initial printing of 85 million stamps was authorized with a final quantity of 89,289,600 registered.

Japanese print showing head-and-shoulders portrait of Commodore w:Matthew C. Perry. 1 print on hōsho paper : woodcut, color ; 37.2 x 25 cm (block), 37.4 x 25.4 cm (sheet). The characters located across the top read from right to left, “A North American Figure” and “Portrait of Perry.
Japanese print showing head-and-shoulders portrait of Commodore w:Matthew C. Perry. 1 print on hōsho paper : woodcut, color ; 37.2 x 25 cm (block), 37.4 x 25.4 cm (sheet). The characters located across the top read from right to left, “A North American Figure” and “Portrait of Perry.” According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of Westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).
Commodore Matthew Perry's then-unique version of the 31-star U.S. flag, carried aboard his fleets during his two visits to Japan, 1853-1854.
Commodore Matthew Perry’s then-unique version of the 31-star U.S. flag, carried aboard his fleets during his two visits to Japan, 1853-1854.

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