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The Perry Expedition
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Visit to Shui
Commodore Perry Visits Shuri Castle
June 6, 1853


Commodore M.C. Perry

ca 1858

Commodore Perry's Signature ca 1856


Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry
Born: April 10, 1794
Died: March 4, 1858.
More Images of Commodore Perry


General Information Regarding the Perry Expedition

The illustration at the top of this page is from Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's visit to Shuri Castle in Lew Chew (Ryukyu Islands) in June of 1853. Commodore Matthew Perry, the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, was charged with negotiating diplomatic relations with Japan with the overall goal of opening the isolated country to American commerce.

Expansion and Discovery. The first half of the 19th Century was an era of growth and discovery for the United States. In the United States we saw the following important survey and reconnaissance expeditions.

  • The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804.

  • Zebulon Pike's expedition on the Mississippi in 1805-6 and the subsequent expedition to the Southwest in 1806-7.

  • Stephen Long's exploration of the Platte, the Arkansas, and Red rivers in 1819-20 and then the Peter's River in Minnesota in 1823.

  • General Henry Atchison's exploration of the Yellowstone River in 1825.

  • John Fremont's expeditions to the West and California in 1842 (Kit Carson).

  • Mexican Boundary Survey in 1848-1855 (recorded in a 3 volume set published by the government).

  • Railway exploration and reconnaissance surveys to set a route from the Mississippi to California in 1853-5 (recorded in a 12 Volumes - 13 books Government published set, 1855-60).

  • Northwest Boundary Survey in 1857-1861.

Great Naval exploring expeditions were also being conducted outside the United States. These included:

  • Charles Wilkes, Expedition to the Pacific (South Sea), 1838-42.

  • William Lewis Herndon, Expedition to the Dead Sea, 1847.

  • James Melville Gilliss, Astronomical Expedition to Chili, 1849-1852

  • William Lewis Herndon, Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, 1851-2.

  • Cadwallader Ringgold and later Captain John Rodgers, North Pacific Exploring Expedition, 1853-1856.

Important military naval and land expeditions in conjunction with the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

  • Daniel P. Whiting, Army Portfolio (5 tinted lithographs, published in 1847).

  • Henry Walke, Naval Portfolio (8 tinted lithographs, published in 1848).

Commodore Matthew C. Perry initially was second in command of the US Naval forces in the Mexican-American War. In September of 1847, he assumed command of the naval forces and, along with the Army forces commanded by General Winfield Scott, forced the surrender of the Mexican forces. The United States Expedition to Japan, commanded by Commodoere Perry, followed in 1852-4 and probably represented the zenith of this pattern of expeditions for scientific, political, economic and military purposes.


Historical Perspective - Pre-Expedition

Briefly Opened Door to the West. The first Westerners in modern Japan were the Portuguese. The Portuguese explorer Fernao Mendez Pinto is sometimes said to have "discovered" Japan but it appears that is incorrect. While he made that claim in his writings, Jesuit historians record the first Westerners to arrive as other Portuguese blown to Japan by a typhoon in 1542. In the years to follow their arrival, the Shogun allowed increased Portuguese trade. With that trade came the Jesuit missionaries. During the 16th century, annual letters from the Jesuits in Japan provided the primary source of information on Japan for the Western world. The Spanish Franciscans entered Japan in the early 1590s and trade relations with the Spanish soon followed. From the late 1590s thorough approximately 1624, the Japanese actively cultivated trade relations with New Spain (Mexico) through Spanish ships traveling between the Philippines and Mexico. In 1611 twenty-three Japanese merchants were sent to Mexico aboard a Spanish ship. They were returned in 1612 (actually booted out of Mexico) accompanied by an official embassy appointed by the Viceroy of New Spain. That embassy was reciprocated by a Japanese embassy to Mexico appointed by Masumane, Lord of Oxo. An account of the Japanese and Mexican political and trade relations during this time period can be found in an article by Zelia Nuttal published in 1906. In 1605 Dutch traders were allowed access to Japan. A factor that later worked very much to their advantage was the fact that the Dutch did not bring missionaries to Japan and showed no support for the Christian movement in Japan. The Dutch, and those under their employ, wrote extensively about Japan. During the 17th through the early 19th century works by Arnoldus Montanus, Engelbert Kämpfer (Kaempfer), Carl (Charles) Peter Thunberg, Isacc Titsingh, Hendrik Doeff and Philip Franz von Siebold provided the outside world glimpses into the closed and isolated Japanese empire. Additionally, later works by the English (William Adams, John Saris and publications by the Hakluyt Society of London) supplemented this body of knowledge. There can be no doubt that as the United States and European powers forged their plans to open Japan, these works provided key information. Information regarding books by these writers can be found here.

William Adams and the Dutch Trade Concession in Japan. Will Adams was a key figure in Western trade with Japan. Adams, an Englishman, was the "pilot-major/master pilot" of a ship ("de Liefde") in a small and ill fated Dutch fleet on an expedition to the East. Almost two years after leaving Rotterdam the de Liefde arrived off Japan in mid-April of 1600 with a crew of 24 starving and dying men. The ship was impounded and Adams and the crew were taken prisoner off the coast of Bungo (Oita) in Kyushu. The Portuguese Jesuits branded the men as pirates, not merchants, and sought their execution. Despite this hostile environment, Adams forged a personal relationship with the Shogun, Tokugawa Iyeyasu. Realizing that Adams had valuable maritime skills as a navigator and shipbuilder, he was not allowed to leave and he rose to become a trusted adviser to the Shogun. By 1609 he was able to obtain a trading concession for the Dutch (Dutch East India Company) and they chose Firando (Hirado), an island off the northwest Kyushu coast near Nagasaki, as the location for their trading activity.

Despite his association with the Dutch, Adams seemed to have more loyalty to the British and he established contact with Captain John Saris of the English East India Company in Bantam. By 1613 his influence had won the English an entry into Japan. The initial plan of the Shogun was to establish the British trading concession at Uraga. However, the British were not aware of that and first landed at Hirado, an island near Nagasaki, on June 11, 1612 where they were impressed with the location. The British (Saris) favored establishment of their trading activity in Hirado believing that its proximity to China was an advantage. Against Adams' advice, the British declined the much better location of Uraga which was only a short distance from Yedo and opted for Hirado. From 1613-1616 the British also maintained trading branches in Yedo and Osaka and small offices in Kyoto and Sakai. The Spanish and Portuguese trading settlements were located in Nagasaki. A detailed account of the English trading activity, often referred to as a factory or the "English House," in Firando (Hirado) is found in a diary kept by Richard Cocks, a "cape-merchant" (actually manager) at the factory. For more information on this diary, click here. Actual records chronicling the British factory activities are found in the History of Japan, Compiled from the Records of The English East India Company at the Instance of the Court of Directors. More information on this two volume set can be found here. The Saris log of what is sometimes referred to as the "First English Voyage to Japan" is reproduced in The First Voyage of the English to the Islands of Japan, Being the Eight Voyage of the East Indies Under the Command of Captame John Saris of London with The Ships the Cloue and the Hector and the Thomas. This book, published by the Toyo Bunko in Tokyo, has a facsimile of the Saris log which was later transcribed in a companion book. For information on this book and several other related books, click here. William Adams was employed by the British at the factory and, while he made several voyages out of Japan, he always returned. One voyage outside Japan found Adams spending over five months on Okinawa during an aborted voyage to Siam. As a result of this visit, Adams is said to be the first to introduce the sweet potato into Japan. Adams died at Hirado in 1620 and was buried there. In James Clavell's Shogun, the main character (John Blackthorne) and story are loosely based on William Adams in Japan. Letters and logs written by Adams, Cocks and Saris provided the Western world rare glimpses into a closed Japan. In 1927 a commemorative monument was erected by the British on the spot where the "English House" once stood. This monument and the British and Dutch presence in Hirado is discussed in A Glympse of The 'English House' and English Life at Hirado, 1613-1623 by M. Paske-Smith, H.B.M. Consul, Nagasaki. For information on this pamphlet, click here.

Closing the Door to Christianity and Western Access. Western trading activities brought with them Christian missionaries. The first organized mission was founded by the Portuguese in Kagoshima in 1549. By the early 1580s it is estimated there were 150,000 Christians in Japan and by 1617 this number had doubled. The proselytizing efforts of these early Christian missionaries were so successful that the Christian faith became viewed as a threat to political stability. As early as 1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered the Catholic priests to leave Japan. He repeated this order again in 1597 but it again went largely unenforced as of his death in 1598. However, anti-Christian efforts began in earnest in the early 17th century. In 1614 Tokugawa Iyeyasu issued a proclamation intended to suppress the activities of all foreign missionaries in Japan. Foreign priests were ordered expelled and Japanese Christians required to renounce the faith. The next 36 years saw increasingly more severe persecution of Christians and foreigners. During this period Christian churches were closed or destroyed, priests forced into exile and the real and personal property of Christians was often seized. Ever increasing sanctions were also imposed, to include imprisonment and death by beheading and crucifixion. An indication of things to come occurred on February 5, 1597. On that day twenty-six Christians, including 6 Franciscan missionaries and two children, were crucified at Nagasaki. The martyrdom of Christians in Japan grew more frequent after 1614. The year 1622 was particularly terrible for Christians with the government sanctioned killing of 128. These deaths were recounted for the Western world to know by Spanish fathers who were able to flee Japan for Manila. Their account of the events of that year is found in A Short Description of the Great and Terrible Martyrdoms Which Took Place in Japan in the Year 1622. More information on that book is here. At the end of 1623 the British closed their factory and voluntarily departed Japan. The Spaniards were expelled from Japan in early 1624. A detailed account of Christianity in Japan from the 11th century through the 19th century is found in Japanese Traditions of Christianity Being Some Old Translations from the Japanese, with British Consular Reports of the Persecutions of 1868-1872 by M. Paske-Smith. For information on that book, click here.

National Seclusion Strictly Enforced. In 1637-8 Christian converts in Shimabara revolted because of religious persecution. The revolt was put down with no mercy resulting in the massacre of thousands of Christians (generally put at 37,000 but other estimates are lower and higher). The official Government account of killed and wounded was 13,000. Deshima at Nagasaki The Dutch assisted in suppressing the rebellion through a naval bombardment. On the other hand, the Portuguese were suspected of encouraging the revolt. The Portuguese trade was forbidden in 1638 and all traders and missionaries were expelled in 1639. These actions were based upon a 1637 order of the Tokugawa Shogunate Bakufu (literally translated as "government behind a curtain") which instituted a policy of National Seclusion (Sakoku). The Dutch were moved in 1641 from Hirado to a newly constructed island at Nagasaki (Deshima/Desima) and with the exception of that trading concession Westerners were barred from entering Japan and Japanese were not allowed to leave the country. Even the Dutch on Deshima, a 3 acre manmade fan shaped island in Nagasaki harbor, were virtually held prisoner there and the number of trading vessels they could sponsor was subject to severe limitations. The order also prohibited the practice of the Christian religion. Chinese traders were still allowed very limited access to Japan. This policy of National Seclusion was just as much a measure of self-preservation for the Tokugawa government against internal threats as it was a national security measure against external threats. The Shogunate faced internal challenges from rival ruling families and the intervention of foreign power on behalf of a challenger posed a serious threat.

Portuguese and British Challenges to The Exclusionary Policy. In 1637 a British squadron commanded by Lord Weddel called in Nagasaki seeking to renew trade but they were turned away. In 1640 the Portuguese engaged in a disastrous effort to reopen Japan. They dispatched an embassy from Macao. The ship was seized and burned and sixty-one members (fifty-seven by some accounts) of the embassy and ship's crew were executed. The remaining twelve low ranking members (thirteen by some accounts) of the Portuguese party were spared in order to send them back to Macao to ensure the world knew what had happened. It is said that these survivors were given the following dark warning:

So long as the sun warms the earth, let no Christian be so bold as to come to Japan, and let all know that if King Philip himself, or even the very God of Christians, or the great Shaka contravene this prohibition, they shall pay for it with their heads.

Despite the disastrous mission of 1640, the King of Portugal dispatched another Embassy to Japan which arrived there in 1847. While not physically attacked, the Embassy was treated harshly and after approximately one month of official exchanges it was ordered to leave. This Embassy is discussed in A Portuguese Embassy to Japan (1644-1647). More information on this book is here.

The English returned again to Nagasaki in 1673 in an effort to re-establish trade relations severed some 49 years earlier. While they did not receive the same harsh treatment as the Portuguese in 1640 and 1647, they were denied access to the country and told not to return.

By the mid-1600s it was clear to the world that a foreigner entering Japan did so at the risk of his life. While exclusionary and anti-Christianity policies continued up to the time of Perry's expedition, it is interesting to note that a British missionary (Dr. Bernard Bettelheim) and French fathers had forced their way into Okinawa prior to Perry's arrival and engaged in proselytizing under the watchful, disapproving and openly hostile monitoring by the Ryukyuan authorities and their Japanese superiors. After the opening of Japan the Catholic and Protestant faiths began to reappear in the foreign Treaty Port communities. However, these activities were resisted by Japanese authorities and a second "Christian prosecution" aimed at Japanese Christians began in 1868. The formal anti-Christianity policy in Japan actually continued until 1873 when it was eased.

Probably the most comprehensive Western discussion of this critical period of foreign influence in Japan is found in A History of Japan During the Century of Early Foreign Intercourse (1542-1651) by James Murdoch and Iosh Yamagata. For more information on that book, click here.

Western Vessels in Japanese Waters, 1790-1853. During this period ships from a number of countries were found in Japanese waters. Often they were trying to conduct commercial activities. Occasionally, they were brought there by circumstance (storms, need for supplies, mapping, surveying, etc). Except for Dutch vessels, or those under charter to the Dutch, they were uniformly required to depart and not allowed to conduct trade. On rare occasions, crew members were actually taken prisoner. Only rarely were they allowed to land parties and then only briefly. A excellent resource on these activities is an article titled Japan and the United States 1790-1853 published in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan in 1939. For more information on that article, click here. The article discusses the major intrusions into Japanese waters during this period by American ships. In addition, it contains an appendix listing these (American) and other intrusions into Japanese waters by Western (including Russian) ships. The following paragraphs discuss some of these major entries in to Japanese waters in violation of the seclusion policy.

First American Commercial Voyage to Japan, 1791. Captain John Kendrick in the brig Lady Washington (Boston) and Captain William Douglas in the sloop Grace (New York) are generally cited as the first ships under American flag to enter Japanese waters. The two ships had been in China with a cargo of furs but decided to see if they could reap greater profits from the cargo in Japan. The ships arrived in early April of 1791 off Kushimoto. While Captain Kendrick told local authorities his reason for entering Japanese waters was adverse winds, he made inquiries about the possibility of trade in his cargo of furs. Realizing that trade would not be possible, the two ships departed after approximately one week. A few days after Kendrick left, a contingent of Japanese troops arrived to force the ships from Japanese waters. At least from the Americans' perspective, this trade effort failed because the Japanese had no interest in the cargo of furs rather than because of enforcement of the seclusion policy.

Subsequent American and British Trade Efforts. The British ship Argonaut also made a failed attempt in 1791. However, American ships later successfully entered the Japanese port of Nagasaki (Deshima) in the late 1790s to the early 1800s. They did so under charter with the Dutch and when in Japanese waters flew the Dutch flag. The Dutch followed this procedure as their ally, France, was at war with the British (Napoleonic Wars, 1797-1809) and transporting cargo to and from Japan in American and Danish ships provided a measure of protection from British intervention. Captain Stewart in the Eliza, believed to be out of New York (1797, 1798 & 1799) and the Franklyn out of Boston (1799) both peacefully entered Japanese waters in commerce with/for the Dutch. The actual country of origin of the Eliza is disputed. The captain, Captain Stewart, was not American and it is believed the actual ship was not American and perhaps just passing as an American vessel. The Eliza never returned to America. The Franklyn, under Captain James Devereaux, is said to be the first American vessel to return to America from Japan with cargo. It returned to Essex, Massachusetts. The Franklyn's voyage, as well as other ships sailing out of Essex, are recorded and chronicled in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. A excellent 1999 exhibition catalogue with information on these ships and artifacts from there voyages was created for an exhibit in Japan. For information on that catalogue, click here. Later the Massachusetts (Boston), the Margaret (Salem), the Samuel Smith, the Rebecca (Baltimore), the America and the Mount Vernon all served under Dutch charter in the Batavia to Deshima route during the period of 1797~1809. In 1800 Captain Stewart, in a different ship (the Emperor of Japan) but under a Dutch flag, entered Nagasaki harbor. This time his cargo was seized and sold to satisfy a debt to the Dutch. In addition, he was forbidden to take cargo out. Stewart's next effort was even bolder. In 1803 he arrived in a ship (the Nagasaki Maru) under an American flag and sought to engage in trade. His request was refused and he was ordered to depart. The Eclipse out of Boston, chartered by the Russian American Company, arrived off Nagasaki under a Russian flag in 1807 but was not allowed to engage in trade.

Russian Voyages to Japan. Beginning in the early 1700's the Russians began a series of voyages with the goal of opening Japan to trade. Most were unsuccessful but a few early voyages made it to the Kuril islands. In 1775 a Russian merchant vessel, the Nikolai, was shipwrecked on one of the outer Kuril islands. A Russian government ship, the Natalia, reached the stranded sailors in 1777 and at this time unofficial (private/non-government) contacts with Japanese were established and trade agreed upon. The first significant voyage was that of Lieutenant Adam Laxman in the brigantine Ekaterina. He arrived off Nemuro in October of 1792 under the pretext of returning a Japanese castaway. His actual mission was to determine if commerce with Japan was possible. While he was allowed to proceed to Hakodate and land, his request to proceed to Nagasaki was denied and he was required to depart Japan in August of 1793. The Russians were advised of Japanese law and warned that in the future such a visit would result in attack and capture of the crew and ship. The Russian ship Nadezhda under the command of Chamberlain Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov called in Nagasaki in early October of 1804 but, although negotiations continued for several months, he was also directed to leave and warned no other Russian vessels should come to Japan. The Russians departed Nagasaki on April 30, 1805. Having failed in peaceful attempts to establish trade relations, the Russians began a series of minor raids in the northern Japanese territories in the hope of coercing the authorization of trade.

Japanese Reprisal Against the Russians. It is against the backdrop of these raids into Japan that a Russian ship commanded by Captain Visilii M. Golownin (Golovnin) entered the waters around Hokkaido in the summer of 1811. In reprisal for the earlier Russian raids, Golownin and several crew members were taken prisoner and held for two years before they were released by the Japanese. The Japanese had clearly strengthened their resolve and the defenses necessary to exclude foreign vessels. The account of Golownin's captivity and release is related in his two volume book set, Narrative of My Captivity in Japan, During the Years 1811, 1812 & 1813: With Observations on the Country and the People, To which is added an Account of Voyages to the Coasts of Japan and of Negotiations with the Japanese, for the Release of the Author and his Companions, by Captain Rikord. For more information on this set, click here. Russian efforts to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Japan were basically halted until the mid-1800s and the American expedition under Commodore Perry. George Alexander Lensen's book, Report from Hokkaido: The Remains of Russian Culture in Northern Japan, deals extensively with this topic. For more information on that book, click here.

The British Frigate H.M.S. Phaeton Intrudes into Nagasaki Harbor in 1808. Japanese exclusion of foreign vessels was violated in September of 1808 by the British Naval Frigate, the H.M.S. Phaeton. When the ship arrived the local authorities believed it to be a Dutch trading vessel and sent out boats to confirm the identity. The boats contained two clerks from the Dutch factory in Deshima. The two Dutch clerks were taken captive by the British. The British then dispatched several small boats which toured the harbor to take soundings. All this was to the great consternation and embarrassment of the Japanese authorities who failed to prevent the activities of the British. The British ultimately offered to return the two Dutch captives in exchange for wood, water and provisions and this was quickly accomplished. The second day after she arrived, the Phaeton departed. This was a deliberate British action to probe and test the Dutch and Japanese. They knew the Dutch were weakened politically by the Napoleonic Wars and they had an eye on the trading concession they enjoyed at Deshima. This incident alerted the Japanese to their weak coastal defenses and laws were passed and military measures taken to ensure unwanted intrusions of this nature would be quickly repulsed, by force if necessary. An account of this event is found in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Volume VII, Part IV, 1879 (reprinted in 1889) where W.G. Aston translates a contemporary Japanese manuscript that gives an account of the incident.

American Presence in the China Seas. Beginning in the late 1780s through the early 1800s the China trade blossomed with numerous American ships making the voyage to China and the Dutch East Indies. American whaling ships also began their voyages to the Eastern seas during this time. By 1818, the need to protect American interests was significant enough to warrant the dispatch of the frigate Constitution for a two year cruise in the Eastern Seas. A Pacific Naval Station was established Valparaiso and Callao in 1821-4 and from that station US naval ships of the Pacific squadron sailed out to protect American interests in Chinese waters. The advent of these newly developed American trade ties in the Pacific region along with the rapid technological development of steamships added yet another American interest to the list. Coaling ports in Japan became viewed as necessary to support America's expanding commercial activities in the area.

Right Whale  Thar She Blows!  A key factor in the American drive to open Japan to trade was the whaling industry. Beginning in the 1820s American whaling vessels began working the seas around Japan. No doubt some of these vessels anchored in Japanese waters to seek shelter or supplies. However, the record indicates that actual commerce was forbidden and, as a matter of National policy, the visits were unwelcome. By 1846, together with Russian, British, Dutch and French ships, as well as the big American whaling fleet, there were seven hundred or more vessels hunting off Japan and killing right whales, humpback whales, grey whales and sperm whales in great numbers. T his was a severe blow to the Japanese whaling industry. These whalers were not welcome in Japan. Captains were reluctant to put to port in Japan and the American sailor shipwrecked in Japanese waters could expect imprisonment and cruel treatment. He was treated as a criminal rather than unfortunate sailor.

American Combat in the Orient. In February of 1831 the Salem ship Friendship was attacked by a band of "desperados" while in the port of Quallah Battoo in Sumatra. The first officer and two seamen were killed and three men wounded. In the summer of 1831 President Jackson dispatched the Potomac under the command of Captain Downes to Quallah Battoo to demand restitution for the plundering of the Friendship and punishment of those responsible for the killing and injury of American seamen. Captain Downes was authorized to use force if these actions were not accomplished by peaceful means. Thus the seeds were sewn for the first American combat action in the Orient. Rather than negotiating an outcome consistent with his charter, Captain Downes choose to go in with a "guns blazing" approach. The battle in February 1832 resulted in the death of 150 Battooan pirates and two Americans killed. This cruise and the battle with the Battooan pirates is discussed in the book Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac, Under the Command of Commodore John Downes, During the Circumnavigation of the Globe, in the Years 1831, 1832, 1833 & 1834 Including a Particular Account of the Engagement at Quallah-Battoo, on the Coast of Sumatra; With All the Official Documents Relating to the Same by J.N. Reynolds and published in 1835. The next 4 years saw American naval vessels active in the Orient with activity associated with treaties with Siam (Thailand) and Muscat.

Failed Government Missions/Embassies to Japan. In 1832 a "little squadron" (the Sloop-of-War Peacock and the Schooner Enterprise) under the command of Commodore E. P. Kennedy was dispatched to the Orient. This squadron has the distinction of being the first East India Squadron. One mission assigned to the squadron was to proceed to Japan and enter into a treaty with that country. Edmund Roberts was aboard this voyage under orders for the purpose of negotiating a treaty with Japan among other duties. However, that portion of the mission was aborted and Roberts never reached Japan. In 1835 Roberts was again dispatched to the Orient with one of his missions including negotiating a treaty with Japan. This mission was abandoned when Roberts died in 1836 in Macao. Following these two failed embassies to Japan, there was a failed exploring expedition/surveying cruise to Japan. Lieutenant Charles Wilkes embarked on a exploring expedition to the South Sea in 1838. His mission included directions to proceed to Japan and explore and survey sea routes in that area for American vessels going to China. Wilkes never completed this aspect of his mission and returned to America in 1842.

Early Private Efforts to Open the Door of Japan. In July of 1837 several American missionaries and an American firm (D. W. C. Olyphant and Company) in Canton, China dispatched an unarmed ship, the Morrison, to Yedo Bay. The mission, lead by a Charles W. King, an American merchant, was to return several Japanese castaway and through this humanitarian gesture hopefully cause the Japanese to open the country to Western trade and Christianity. The Dutch were aware of the Morrison mission and gave the Japanese advance notice of the impending visit. The Japanese promptly signaled the visit would not be allowed when the ship reached Japanese waters. The Morrison was fired on by Yedo bay shore batteries while sitting off Uraga and again in the Bay of Kagoshima. One shot hit the Morrison but caused no injury and only minor damage to the ship. The mission was abandoned. The Morrison was engaged under the harsh exclusionary policy known as "ni-nen-naku" (no second thought) which was instituted in 1825. This policy dictated that foreign ships in Japanese waters were to be destroyed and any surviving crew members arrested or killed. S. Wells Williams was aboard the Morrison on this voyage and later served the Chief Interpreter on the Perry Expedition to Japan. Two other noted missionaries from China were aboard also, Peter Parker and Charles Gutzlaff. In the short run the voyage was an expensive (cost of over $2, 000) failure. In the broader view, it represented the first American move in a long series that would ultimately succeed. The voyage of the Morrison was followed by a similar mission of the Himmaleh to the Malayan Archipelago starting in December of 1837. These voyages are chronicled by Charles King in a two volume set published in New York in 1839 titled The Claims of Japan and Malaysia upon Christendom, Exhibited in Notes of Voyages made in 1837, from Canton, in the ships Morrison and Brig Himmaleh, Under Direction of the Owners. The Japan portion is found in volume 1 of the set. This book is sometimes described as the first book published in the United States about Japan. For more information on this set, click here. A key member of this mission was Samuel Wells Williams who would later serve as Commodore Perry's official interpreter on the Japan expedition. The voyage of the Morrison awakened interest in the United States as well as within Japan in bringing that country out of isolation.

Seclusion Policy Shows Signs of Weakening. In April of 1845 the American whaler the Manhattan, under the command of Captain Mercator Cooper, was allowed to enter Yedo harbor to deliver 18 shipwrecked Japanese seamen. While the ship remained in Yedo Bay for 4 days, authorities forbid the crew to leave the ship and commanded that the ship never return to Japan. The success of the Manhattan was evidence that the harsh Japanese expulsion/seclusion policy was weakening. Further evidence of this weakening is found in the success of a British surveying mission under Captain Edward Belcher. Belcher made two calls in Okinawa and one in Nagasaki in mid-1845. Sea surveys were conducted around Okinawa and Nagasaki with no resistance. Belcher even landed a surveying party overnight on a remote island in the vicinity of Nagasaki. The Japanese did not respond with force to this brief incursion. In Okinawa, Belcher conducted rather extensive land surveys with no local opposition. Accounts of these activities are found in Narrative of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Samarang, During the Years 1843-1846; Employed Surveying the Islands of the Eastern Archipelago. For more information on this book set, click here.

China Trade. Commercial ties with China and Japan had long been of considerable importance to the United States. During the first Opium War (1839-1842) over the drug trade, the British were forced to retreat from mainland China to the island of Hong Kong which was ceded to them in 1841-1842. The first British colonial governor immediately declared its biggest city, Victoria, a free port. The United States was not to be outdone. The prominent politician, statesman and negotiator, Caleb Cushing, was dispatched to obtain a "most favored nation" type trading status with China for the United States. After six months of negotiations by Commissioner Cushing (which involved no use of military force), the Treaty of Wang Hiya (Wanghia) was negotiated and signed in July of 1844 and it provided the United States it's formal protected opening into the China trade. The treaty provided the United States the same concessions that the British had gained in the Treaty of Nanking. Five treaty ports were to be opened to United States trade and the principle of extra-territoriality, whereby United States citizens living in China would be tried by the United States consul in accordance with the laws of the United States, was established. Corresponding with the opening of trade with China was the advent of the era of the great steamships. It was now possible for a merchant steamship to make it from the US West coast to China in two to three weeks. However, coaling stations were needed along the route and Japan was thought to hold coal resources needed for these new steamship ocean trade routes to China. Now, the United States focused its efforts and national resources on the tightly closed Empire of Japan.

Tapping Lightly on the Closed Door.

Formal United States efforts to open the door to Japan started in 1844 when Caleb Cushing, then in China, was authorized to negotiate a treaty with Japan. The authorization was never acted upon. In 1845, reflecting the interests and concerns of the American whaling community, a House committee presented a report to the full House recommending prompt action be taken to send an embassy to Japan and Korea. The report was acted upon in 1846 and Commodore James Biddle was dispatched to Japan with an American Commissioner, Alexander Everett. Everett fell ill and did not make it to Japan but Biddle did. He arrived in Yedo Bay on July 20, 1846 with two ships, the Columbus and Vincennes. He announced to the Japanese that he would not leave without a treaty. He spent 10 days in Japanese waters in pursuit of his mission. While the accounts of the Japanese response vary, one fact is clear; Biddle's demand for a treaty was soundly rejected. One account has Biddle being shoved by a Japanese soldier when he went to receive the Japanese reply (Harper's Monthly). Another account has the Japanese towing both of his ships out to sea. By Biddle's account he weighed anchor and because of the light wind several hundred native boats assisted in towing the ships to sea. A lithograph depicting the Columbus and Vincennes in Yedo Bay can be viewed here on the Navy's historical web site. Biddle's unsuccessful mission was not just a failure; it was more on the order of an international disgrace for the United States. In Japan, the lack of a response by Biddle lowered the respect for American military power. In the words of the Secretary of the Navy at the time, because of the Biddle mission "...the Japanese entertained a very poor opinion of the American people as a consequence of the captain on that occasion." (Gleason's, June 10, 1854 at page 364). In America, Biddle's unchallenged humiliation was viewed as an affront to the dignity of the United States which required a response. Even as Commodore Biddle was negotiating in Japan, seven shipwrecked Americans from the Lawrence of Poughkeepsie were being held captive by the Japanese. In 1846 the French under Admiral Cecille sought to establish relations with Japan and, just as in the case with Biddle, the effort was rebuffed.

The Biddle mission was followed in 1849 by Commander James Glynn who took the US Sloop-of-War Preble into Nagasaki harbor. He made a three day stop in Okinawa in April, 1849 before proceeding to Japan and arriving on April 17 at Nagasaki. At first the Japanese had little concern with Glynn believing he could be dealt with in the same manner as Biddle. This was not to be the situation however. Glynn employed an aggressive approach and threatened the use of force to obtain the release of fifteen sailors (Americans/Sandwich Islanders) who had "jumped ship" from the whaling ship Lagoda and were being held as spies by the Japanese authorities. In addition to the crew of the Lagoda, an American seaman, Ranald MacDonald, was turned over to Biddle on April 26. In a very bold move, MacDonald had pretended to be shipwrecked from the American Whaler Plymouth (out of Sag Harbor) in late June of 1848 in order to explore Japan. He didn't do much exploring however. He was quickly taken prisoner in Hokkaido and subsequently transferred to Nagasaki but not held with the crew of the Lagoda. It appears that neither MacDonald or the Lagoda crew were aware of the other. During his captivity he taught Murayama (Moryamo) English. Murayama would later become the chief Japanese interpreter dealing with Commodore Perry. An early and primary account of the incident and rescue mission is contained in the Secretary of the Navy's report in August of 1850. More information of that report is here.

British Survey of Yedo Bay. In his plan to open Japan to American commerce, Aaron Haight Palmer reported that in May of 1849 the British Navy steamer Mariner, commanded by Commander Mathison, had surveyed the entrance to Yedo bay and while he was met by Japanese guard boats he was allowed to complete the survey from an anchorage near Uraga. On this voyage Yamamoto Otokichi (aka John Matthew Ottoson, b.1818), a Japanese seaman, who had been shipwrecked in 1832 accompanied the British as an interpreter. Otokichi was one of the Japanese castaways that Charles W. King sought to return to Japan in 1837. Otokichi later served as an interpreter for the British when they negotiated there treaty with Japan in 1854 in the wake of the American treaty. Otokichi never did return to his native land to live and died in Singapore in 1867 at the age of 49. Palmer attributed Commander Mathison's success to his refusal to accept the Japanese demands that he leave and the fact that he kept his guns armed and required the Japanese remain at a distance from his ship. Palmer concluded that a strong show of force would result in success noting:

Japan is vulnerable at every point, and, although a brave and warlike nation, they have no means of land defense adequate to resist a single frigate. Most of their forts are of painted canvass, their powder is very bad, and they are quite inexpert in the use of artillery. Their troops are chiefly armed with bows, spears and matchlocks. None of their junks exceed three hundred tons, and they do not possess a single vessel of war. (page 13, Documents and Facts Illustrating the Origin of the Mission to Japan, 1857, here).

Palmer urged a strong military show of force, just as that recently employed by Commander James Glynn and Commander Mathison.

The stage is set. The success of the Glynn mission planted the seed that would result in the Perry Expedition to Japan a few years later. An aggressive show of force combined with large portions of pomp and ceremony appeared to be the combination that would open the door to Japan. Another factor that probably contributed to the success of the mission was the United State's victory in the War with Mexico. Japanese authorities, through the Dutch, had followed the progress of the war and were keenly aware that Mexico had been defeated and parts of her territory taken by the United States.

Manjiro Returns to Japan in 1851. Nakahama Manjiro (John Mung), a Japanese sailor who was ship wrecked in 1841 and subsequently educated in the United States, returned to Japan via Okinawa in January of 1851. He arrived in Okinawa aboard the American ship Sarah Boyd. Manjiro was detained for several months on Okinawa where he was interrogated by the local and Japanese officials. Manjiro's knowledge of the United States was critical to the Japanese authorities who soon would be dealing with Commodore Perry.

Dutch Maneuver for Power. By 1852 the Dutch were aware of the American initiative to open Japan. They sought to consolidate their then favored position in Japan, the trading concession at Deshima, by sending Donker Curtius to Japan. He arrived in Japan in July of 1852. Curtis was appointed the chief merchant (Opperhoofd) for trading concession and carried additional authority to negotiate a treaty on behalf of the Dutch with Japan. The Dutch warned the Japanese of the impending American Expedition and formally sought to negotiate a treaty to protect their own interests. They even dangled the possibility before the Japanese that they could help in resolving the looming problems with the Americans. The Japanese did not officially accept the Dutch overtures but did unofficially seek more information as to what the they were proposing. A treaty was concluded with the Dutch only after the American treaty. The Japanese did urgently try to purchase Naval vessels from the Dutch but they would not supply them.


The Perry Expedition to Japan

Politics Behind the Decision to Open Japan to United State Trade. It is impossible to tie the American national policy decision to open Japan, by force of arms if necessary, to a specific cause or national need. This was a complex political decision forged over several decades from a myriad of influences.

  • Whaling. Whaling in the Japan area was at a high point and there was a documented need to protect our ships and sailors. A masters thesis on the role of whaling and it's influence on the American policy to open Japan is posted here.
  • Trade in the Orient. The China trade was rapidly expanding and Japan was viewed as an important part of that economic activity. Commercial ties with Japan were clearly recognized as important. Further, Japan was on the shipping routes to China and was considered a key to the efficient flow of maritime commerce in that area.
  • Manifest Destiny. Superimposed over these factors was the overarching American view of expansion and "Manifest Destiny." The United States was aggressively (including the use of military force when considered necessary) engaged in expanding her borders, foreign commerce, political influence and power. California had been annexed in 1848. As Perry sailed for Japan the purchase of large portions of what is now New Mexico and Arizona was being concluded with Mexico (the Gadsden Purchase) and exploration and surveys necessary for a continental railroad were underway. This transcontinental railroad was viewed by many as an integral segment of the trade route from China to the United States east coast with the west coast and Japan on that route.
  • National Pride. The fact that previous rather feeble official and private efforts to open the country had been soundly rebuffed grated on the national ego. In addition, the increasing public awareness of imprisonment and mistreatment of shipwrecked American sailors in Japanese hands was becoming viewed politically as a wrong that must be addressed.
  • Europe Preoccupied with War. During this period European powers were preoccupied with the political and military events that ultimately would break out in the Crimean War of 1854-56 and this clearly offered the effort some protection from foreign intervention.

Breaching the Closed Door. As early as 1815 Captain David Porter, USN, formally suggested a naval expedition to Japan but it was almost 35 years before the proposal received serious consideration. President Millard Fillmore, his Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, and his Secretaries of the Navy, William A. Graham and his successor, John Pendleton Kennedy, were the official driving forces supporting the expedition to open Japan. However, very often credit for the expedition is given to a private citizen, Aaron Haight Palmer. Palmer was a wealthy entrepreneur, lobbyist and expansionist and he repeatedly urged upon the President and Secretary of State the need to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with Japan. He had served as the director of a private organization, the Office of American and Foreign Agency, New York, for 17 years (1830-1847) and through that position was keenly aware of American commercial and trade interests in Japan and other countries in that area. Palmer's most public urging was in a letter to the Secretary of State dated April 14, 1849. This letter was subsequently published that same year with an appendix added. Palmer's letter reads like a blueprint of the events that were about to unfold. For more information on the letter and appendix, click here. In 1851 both Palmer and Commodore Glynn urged the Secretary of State to initiate a Japan expedition to establish diplomatic and trade relations. Palmer felt so strongly that his activities resulted in the successful opening of Japan that in 1855 he requested compensation from Congress for his efforts. In his request for compensation, called a memorial, he outlined his actions in this regard between 1842 and 1852. For more information on Palmer's request for compensation, click here.

Aborted Start and a New Beginning. Initially Commodore J. H. Aulick was selected to lead the expedition to Japan. Some have attributed the actual "idea" for the Japan expedition to Aulick. While this certainly is an overstatement of his role, Commodore Aulick did submit a proposal in May of 1851 that the return of recently arrived shipwrecked Japanese sailors in the United States be used in an effort to open trade with Japan. Aulick actually embarked on the mission in June of 1851 with three ships, the Susquehanna, Plymouth and Saratoga. Personal conflicts developed at high levels within his squadron as it proceeded to the East India Station. While in Hong Kong in November of 1851, Aulick was relieved of this command by the President.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry was immediately selected to succeed Aulick to lead the expedition. At the time he was serving as the General Superintendent of Ocean Mail Steamer Construction. In that role, he was responsible for overseeing the federally subsidized program for building mail steamers that could be converted to warships. While the selection to lead the Japan expedition was made in November of 1851, his formal appointment did not come until January of 1852. This time an impressive Naval/Marine force was committed to the undertaking. For the Expedition to Japan, Matthew C. Perry carried the title of Commodore and "Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, East India, China, and Japan Seas, and Special Envoy to Japan" in recognition of the important naval and diplomatic mission entrusted to him. At this time in the American Navy, a Commodore was generally a senior Captain (highest rank in the Navy at the time) temporarily commanding a squadron of ships dispatched for a special purpose. The grade of Admiral in the US Navy was not established by Congress until 1857.

While Perry was on a mission to conclude a treaty with Japan, no diplomatic officials were on the expedition. The use of senior Naval officers in a diplomatic capacity was not uncommon at this time. The military and diplomatic aspects of the expedition were entirely the Commodore's responsibility. Perry successfully employed several stratagem to achieve success. First, he assembled an impressive naval squadron with supporting Marine ground forces. The Expedition was carried on with much military show of force, both at sea and on shore. Because of his military strength, he never had to resort to the actual use of force although he threatened it on several occasions. Second, Perry refused to be diverted by dealing with low ranking government officials. He insisted on meeting only with representatives at the highest level. Finally, Perry was methodical, patient and persistent. He did not expect instant success and his approach was incremental and spanned well over a one year period. While many have viewed his actions as arrogant and unduly aggressive, these stratagems were the key to his success and produced the results the President expected of him.

Key Personnel on the Japan Expedition. Commodore Perry personally selected the key officers and specialists/scientists accompanying the expedition. Commanders Joel Abbot (Macedonian), Franklin Buchanan (Susquehanna) and Sidney S. Lee (Mississippi) filled key positions. Commander Henry A. Adams served as Perry's Chief of Staff and carried the title of Captain of the Fleet. Lieutenant Silas Bent served as the Flag Lieutenant and chief hydrographer. He had been on the Preble mission that called in Okinawa and Japan in 1849 and his firsthand experience in those waters proved to be an invaluable asset for the expedition. Chaplain George Jones served as the Chaplain and geologist. He also prepared all the star charts presented in volume 3 of the narrative. There was even a role for his son, Oliver Hazard Perry, II, who served as the Commodore's secretary. All these officers were well known by Commodore Perry. Perry had a strong and officially proclaimed bias against including non-military personnel in key positions on the expedition. His second general order, issued on December 23, 1853, dealt with this subject. It provided:

'Entertaining the opinion that the talents and acquirements of the officers of the squadron, if properly directed and brought into action, will be found equal to a plain and practical examination and elucidation of various objects pertaining to the arts and sciences that may come under their observation during the present cruise, and being aware of the limited accommodations of the vessels under my command, I have invariably objected to the employment of persons drawn from civilian life to conduct the departments more immediately connected with sciences.' (Narrative, Volume 1 at page 88)

Reflecting this general bias, only a small number of civilians were allowed to join the expedition to perform specific functions. Even then, most of them were required to actually join the Navy. An artist - Wilhelm Heine, a daguerreotypist/ photographer - Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. and a noted travel writer, Bayard Taylor, all served with Perry's approval. On the expedition these men actually occupied very junior officer positions (Acting Master's Mate) in the Navy and received pay of $25.00 per month. There was one technical position Perry did not approve and that resulted in considerable friction. The agriculturalist/ botanist for the Expedition was actually selected by the Department of State and basically forced upon Commodore Perry. This man was Dr. James Morrow, a physician as well as agricultural expert. There was one key position that Perry did fill with a civilian. This was the expedition's interpreter, Samuel Wells Williams, who joined the expedition in China. A Dutchman, Anton Portman, also accompanied the expedition as it was known that the Japanese could speak that language. One person Perry rejected stands out in an historical context. Townsend Harris, who later was appointed the first Consul General for Japan in 1855, actually met Perry when he arrived in Shanghai in May of 1853 and actively sought to be added to the expedition. Perry rejected his request although a few years later he supported his selection for the position of the first United States Consul for Japan. After the Expedition, some of these members sought additional compensation from Congress.

Mississippi in a TyphoonShips of the Perry Expedition. Commodore Perry assembled an impressive state of the art fleet befitting this historic expedition. The cornerstone ships of the squadron were the Steam Frigates Mississippi and Susquehanna. Perry actually assumed command of his flagship, the Mississippi, in May of 1852. Other ships included the Steam Frigate Powhatan, the Sails Sloops of War Vandalia, Plymouth, Saratoga & Macedonian and the Sails Storeships Southampton, Supply and Lexington. The Vermont had been committed to the expedition but was under construction and never joined the squadron. Commodore Perry rotated his flagship between the Mississippi and the Powhatan. In Japanese waters, the Powhatan seems to have been his preferred flagship. In total the squadron had a theoretical complement of approximately 1,800 personnel (not including a Marine Detachment of approximately 700), tonnage of 12,000+ and over 140+ guns. It appears that the actual military strength was less. According to Samuel Morision, author of "Old Bruin" in September of 1853 the strength of the squadron was approximately 700 sailors and marines. However, in his memoir, Wilhelm Heine assessed the strength of the squadron in December of 1853 at 2,600 men and 130 canons. In his journal, S. Wells Williams put the strength of the expedition at 1600 persons in an entry close to the end of the expedition. No doubt such a powerful array of men, ships and firepower was an awe inspiring sight to those viewing the American flag of the squadron in their waters. It is important to note that the ships did not travel together at all times. For example, Commodore Perry actually started the expedition with one ship, the Mississippi. At the time of his departure the Susquehanna, Plymouth, Saratoga (the then current East India Squadron) and Supply (left the US before the Mississippi) were already in China. The Macedonian under Captain Joel Abbot did not join the squadron until August of 1853. The exact composition of the squadron at any moment in time was fluid depending on the mission at hand. For detailed information on the ships, to include images of many of them, visit the ships page. During major movements the steam ships often towed the sails ships. The Mississippi generally towed the Saratoga while the Susquehanna would tow the Plymouth.

Perry departed Norfolk, Virginia, on November 24, 1852 taking the long traditional route to Asia. He sailed southeastward across the Atlantic toward Capetown, South Africa. Stops along the outbound journey included Madeira (Azores), St. Helena, Capetown, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Point de Galle, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, China and then Lew Chew (Okinawa). Perry planned to use Hong Kong as his marshaling point to begin the expedition. The Mississippi arrived there in early April, 1853. Waiting were the Plymouth and Saratoga. The Susquehanna, which he intended to use as his flag ship, was not in Hong Kong as Perry had expected. It had been sent to Shanghai by Comdr. John Kelly who was at the time the senior officer on station. The expedition was off to a bad and delayed start while this situation was corrected. At this time the situation in China was characterized by political unrest and civil conflict. However, Perry rejected pressure to engage his forces there and remained focused on the Japan expedition.

Lew Chew
Loo Choo Islands


Perry foresaw that the negotiations/mission with Japan would be protracted and strenuous. As a result he dedicated resources to establish a resupply base to work from as negotiations developed. The location he selected was an "island South of Japan" - Okinawa. Perry's choice of Okinawa as a base of operations to reach Japan was a wise strategic decision. Unlike Japan proper, foreign ships were able to move in and out of Okinawa relatively unimpeded. During the period from 1837 to his arrival in 1853, there was a long parade of Western Naval and commercial vessels (French, British and American) calling at Naha. This activity was so hectic that at one point in May of 1846, British and French ships were both anchored in Naha harbor disembarking missionaries. For a listing of a number of these visits by Western ships, click here. In view of this basically unchecked foreign activity, the Japanese government, represented by the Satsuma Clan, had secretly concluded in 1846 that it would probably have to relax the national seclusion policy in Okinawa and allow limited commerce with France. The defenses were already down around Okinawa and when Perry's squadron began to assemble in Naha harbor in 1853, it was clear to Okinawan and Japanese authorities that change was in the wind and they had more to fear from the Americans than the French. The American bear had his nose in the door and was soon to be in the pantry looking for the honey.

"Kung-kwa at On-na, Lew Chew"
(A Government House)

Passing the RubiconThe expedition first arrived off Naha port on May 26, 1853. On this initial visit, the expedition squadron included the Mississippi, the Susquehanna, the Caprice and the Supply. The Saratoga remained behind in Shanghai to protect American interests but joined the other ships shortly after their arrival. In this initial stop Perry sought to conclude a treaty of commerce with the Ryukyu Kingdom. While his demands were refused, on June 6 he did succeed in overcoming the resistance to a visit to the royal court and he was able to gain admittance to the walled Shuri Castle with the help of a show of force of more than 200 armed Sailors and Marines, two field pieces, and the band from the Mississippi playing "Hail, Columbia." At this time visits by foreigners to Shuri castle were unprecedented and considered undesirable by the Ryukyuans. Although the visit to the Shuri Castle was unwelcome, Perry was admitted and met the Regent but not the royal family. He was told the Queen Mother was ill and the King too young to receive his visit. The illustration at the top of this page depicts Perry's visit/show of force at Shuri Castle. Perry's party also journeyed throughout Okinawa and the trips included a visit to the Nakagusuku castle site. The visit to Shuri Castle was clearly intended as a signal to the Japanese, much more than the Okinawans, that the American force was large, determined, disciplined, well equipped and worthy of respect. A significant portion of Volume 1 of the official narrative is devoted to this call in Okinawa. Additionally, Volume 2 of the narrative contains several reports and maps relating to Okinawa.

Despite the less than open arms reception, a coal supply base was established on Okinawa. This was a coaling station constructed in the current Tomari area. Perry's squadron visited Okinawa a total of five times to explore and replenish supplies during the course of the mission to Japan. No other place received such recurring attention during the expedition. Some in Okinawa feared that if Perry was not successful in negotiating a treaty with Japan, the United States intended to occupy the Ryukyu Kingdom to accomplish its objectives. In fact, Perry proposed just that to the Secretary of the Navy but the idea was rejected. In a listing of instances of the use of US force abroad, the Navy classified Commodore Perry's actions on Okinawa as a "...a naval demonstration, landing marines twice...." The fears of the Okinawans appear to have been well founded. Perry left a small force (some 17 men) on Okinawa when he departed for the second voyage to Japan. Apparently he planned to use this military presence to support a fallback position in the event Japan refused his demands. However, the plan was never acted upon by Perry because his negotiations with Japan were successful. It was not surprising that the US was considering the establishment of a presence in Okinawa. The British already had bases in Singapore, Hong Kong and North Borneo and the Russians were starting to exert military influence in the area. An American presence in Okinawa was a logical course to follow should the door to Japan remain closed. For Perry, Okinawa offered a very low risk stage for a dress rehearsals for the main event, the landings in Japan proper.

Commodore Perry was impressed with the Lew Chew islands. He wrote in the Narrative:

Of the Lew Chews I have little to say in this paper, other than to remark that, as places of resort for temporary equipment and supplies, these islands hold out every convenience to vessels passing in their route; fertile beyond measure, as some of them are, and peopled by an inoffensive, industrious race, they could, by the patience of kind and honorable measures towards them, be brought into the most friendly intercourse; but, as before remarked, the governments of the United States and Europe should protect these and other defenseless communities, in remote parts of the world, from the acts of injustice and outrage not unfrequently committed by the crews of ships navigating distant seas...." (p 187, Volume 2, Narrative)

Perry entered Japan proper at Tokyo (Edo Bay) harbor on July 8, 1853. Sailing in line­ahead formation were the Steam Frigate Susquehanna, Sails Sloops of War Saratoga and Plymouth and Steam Frigate Mississippi. What the Japanese witnessed was an impressive American armada consisting of two massive steam frigates and two sloops of war with a combined total of 66 guns and 977 men. This slow motion parade of sinister looking warships no doubt carried larger guns than the Japanese had ever seen and it maintained these weapons constantly trained against the coastal shore batteries as it proceeded into waters forbidden to foreign ships. Upon seeing Perry's fleet sailing into their waters, the Japanese dubbed them the "Kurofune" [black ships of evil appearance]. Perhaps this phrase was in recognition of the dark hulls and thick smoke bellowing from the powerful coal burning side-wheel steamships or, more likely, a realization that the modern warships represented a force that they could not overcome - the relentless push by world powers to open Japan to trade and commerce.

Initially Perry was met by a lower level official aboard ship who passed on the directive for him to depart and meet with Japanese officials in Nagasaki. At this time Nagasaki was the only port in Japan open to foreign vessels and the Dutch operated a very highly controlled trading concession there. This did not go over well (the lower level official greeting the US delegation and the directive to go elsewhere) and Perry replied that the US would be insulted if the Emperor did not delegate a suitable person to receive the documents in his possession. He also threatened to deliver them by force if necessary.

Perry and the "UFO." A History Channel program on Unidentified Flying Objects and the "Pacific Triangle" (aired December 3, 2006 and earlier) implied that while anchored in Uraga Bay on July 9, 1853, a UFO was seen by members of the squadron. While certainly not characterizing it as a UFO sighting, Roger Pineau in his book The Japan Expedition 1852-1854, The Personal Journal of Commodore Matthew C. Perry, presents a description of the incident as it was reported in Commodore Perry's journal. On the first visit to Japan, the American squadron anchored in Edo Bay off the city of Uraga on July 8. In his journal Perry recounted a report by Lieutenant Duer, the watch commander, in these terms:

In the later part of the night of Friday, the day of our casting anchor upon the coast of Japan, a most remarkable meteor was seen by Lieutenant Duer in command of the watch, who describes it as follows:

During the watch from midnight to 4 A.M. a very remarkable meteor was seen. It made its appearance in the south and west and illuminated the whole atmosphere. The spars, sails and hulls of the ships in company as well as our own reflected its glare as distinctly as though a blue light were burning from each at the same time. From the south and west about 15 degrees above the horizon it pursued a north-easterly course in a direct line for a long distance, when it fell gradually toward the sea and disappeared. Its shape was that of a large blue sphere with a red wedge-shaped tail, which it could be easily observed was formed of ignited particles, and resembled the sparks of a rocket as they appear upon its explosion. (Perry's Personal Journal at page 91)

In Volume 1 of the Government narrative an identical account of this "interesting meteorological phenomenon" is related at page 236.


"Passing the Rubicon"
Passing the Rubicon

On July 11, 1853 Perry had Lt. Silas Bent survey the harbor off the city of Uraga and down the Uraga channel. At this time the squadron sat at anchor off Uraga and outside a point the Americans called "Point Rubicon." To the Japanese "Point Rubicon" marked the outside edge of what was know as the Cape Kannon-Futtsu line. That geographical area was considered of major military defensive importance to the Japanese and Perry understood that. It marked a militarily important narrow point in the Uraga channel in Yedo Bay. In "Passing the Rubicon" with survey boats, the American squadron was making an uninvited entry into a highly restricted and protected area. The danger of this situation was clearly recognized by Perry and, while he was probing for the Japanese response, he did so with a small force intended to demonstrate no hostile intent. As anticipated, Lt. Bent's survey party was confronted by Japanese guard boats. Weapons were drawn by both the American and Japanese forces. While the Japanese guard boats did not interfere with the survey, this was the first armed military confrontation faced by Perry in Japan. The event was captured by the Expedition's artist, Wilhelm Heine, and commemorated in a high quality lithograph published by Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. in 1855. For more information on the event and the lithograph, click here.


"First Landing of the Americans in Japan" and the
Delivery of the President's Letter to the Emperor

First Landing of Americans in Japan

First Landing. On July 14, 1853, amid much formality (including a thirteen gun salute by the Susquehanna) and with the display of military force on both sides, Perry went ashore at the small village of Kurihama and presented his papers, including a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the "Emperor of Japan." The letter from President Fillmore requested protection for shipwrecked American seamen, the right to buy coal, and the opening of one or more ports to trade. The ceremony must have been quite an event. Over 500 US Sailors and Marines were on hand as well as over Japanese 5,000 well armed Japanese soldiers. Click here to read Commodore Perry's account of the events. The first landing was also captured by the expedition's artist, Wilhelm Heine, and commemorated in a high quality lithograph published by Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. in 1855. For more information on this folio of lithographs, click here. The letter was received by Prince Toda of Izu and Prince Ido of Iwami who were the dual governors of Uraga and representatives of Tokugawa Shogun rather than directly appointed representative of Emperor Komei. Perry had selected the anchorage off Uraga because he believed it was close to Yedo and therefore a convenient location from which to deal with the "Emperor." In reality, Yedo was the location of the Shogun, not the Emperor. Perry's misunderstanding is not surprising because the outside world really did not understand the power structure that existed in Japan. At this time the widely accepted Western belief was that Japan had a double/dual emperor system. The Tycoon/Shogun emperor living in Edo, was believed to be the secular emperor. The Mikado emperor was thought to be a sort of high priest living in great seclusion in Kyoto. In fact there was only one Emperor and the Shogun governed under the Emperor's authority/name. During the entire expedition, Perry believed he was dealing with the Emperor of Japan when, in fact, it was representatives of the Shogun he was dealing with. Even a report of the death of the Emperor (actually Shogun Ieyoshi who died 27 July 1853), did not seem to cause further critical inquiry or change his negotiating posture. Throughout the entire expedition he dealt with representatives of the Shogun believing he was dealing directly with representatives designated by the Emperor. In reality Perry was dealing with the correct governing authority in Japan and the apparent confusion (at least for us looking back) regarding who was the "Emperor of Japan" didn't impact on accomplishing the mission he was assigned.

Controversy still swirls around Perry's presentation of the President's letter. It is known that in addition to the President's letter, Commodore Perry presented letters he had written. This is not disputed. However, in a recent junior high school textbook in Japan, it is asserted that Perry presented a letter and a white flag(s), threatening attack if the Japanese did not allow trade. Raising the white flag would be a signal to Perry that trade would be allowed. The historical support for this assertion is currently questioned and this has opened an academic debate know as the "White Flag" controversy. The support for this assertion appears to be founded only on a Japanese account of the letter (not the actual letter itself). Apparently the actual letter has not been produced nor is there a record of it in US historical records or documents. The "White Flag" letter is set forth in Meiji Japan through Contemporary Sources, 1844-1882, Volume 2, 1844-1882 (more information here), which was compiled and published by the Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies, The Toyo Bunko, Japan. The letter from Perry dated July 14, 1853 allegedly stated "If in such situation you seek for a reconciliation, you should put up the white flag that we have recently presented to you, and we would accordingly stop firing and conclude peace with you...." (Item No. II-C which is attributed to a 1910 publication). The same book presents a letter by Tokugawa Nariaki dated August 7, 1853. Nariaki was a staunch advocate of resisting, by military force if necessary, the American requests. In his letter Nariaki observed "The American barbarians who came this time were fully cognizant of our prohibitions, yet they arrived at Uranga, presented a white flag to signify the will to conclude peace, forcibly offered a request [for trade]...." (Item No II-E). Nariaki's account of the white flag is probably the most accurate. In his work titled "Passing the Rubicon," Wilhelm Heine depicts an American survey boat with a large white flag at the bow. This was during the period just prior to the first landing and presentation of the President's letter. Perhaps during the first landing a white flag was similarly shown (displayed) in order to demonstrate that the military forces landing did so with peaceful intentions. The letter dated July 7, 1853 from Commodore Perry is reproduced in the Narrative. However, this is not the "White Flag" letter. This letter is interesting because it is probably the genesis of the phrase "Pacific Overtures." In this letter Perry urged the Emperor to accede " once to the very reasonable and pacific overtures contained in the President's letter...." A musical play, Pacific Overtures, was produced based upon the Perry Expedition to Japan. A 1979 movie, Bushido Blade, also deals (very-very loosely) with the Perry Expedition to Japan. The Expedition's first interpreter, Dr. S. Wells Williams, does not mention a "White Flag" type letter although he does note that the Japanese were "clearly informed of the meaning of a white flag." In my opinion, the Williams journal (A Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan (1853-4)) does not support the existence of such a letter from Commodore Perry.

Oral and Written Diplomatic Negotiations. While one might expect that official oral and written communications between the Americans and the Japanese would be conducted in English and Japanese, that was not the case. Verbal communications were in the Dutch language and written exchanges were in Chinese. This pattern was adopted by Perry in preparing for the expedition. He declined to hire Philipp Franz von Siebold, who had extensive experience in Japan as a doctor at the Dutch factory at Deshima, as an interpreter. Instead he employed Samuel Wells Williams, a American living in China with extensive experience in the Chinese language, as his chief interpreter. Williams had very little knowledge of the Japanese language but was fluent in the spoken Mandarin Chinese dialect. Williams hired assistants for written Chinese. The first assistant was named Sieh. Sieh died in Okinawa before Perry even reached Japan. His replacement was Luo Sen. Lou Sen was very effective in the position and became indispensable to the Americans and was well respected and popular with the Japanese. Upon his return to China, Lou Sen published his journal from the expedition on September 11, 1854. This appears to be the first private journal of the expedition to be published. The journal was titled "Journal of a Visit to Japan" and published translated into English by Williams in the Overland Register and Price Current, a supplement to the Hong Kong Register and Government Gazette. The Journal was also published in the Chinese language. An English language version of the journal was published as a "Journal of a second visit of Commodore Perry to Japan, by a native of China" in Volume II of the official narrative of the Expedition (pages 395-406).

Fearing that the Japanese would try to stall negotiations, Perry advised them that he was immediately departing for China but would return the following spring, with more ships, for the Japanese reply. Before departing Japanese waters Perry sailed into Yedo Bay, not out. This caused great concern among the Japanese as did they not understand Perry's intentions because they believed he was going to immediately depart. The American squadron did not actually leave Japanese waters until July 17. Perry returned to Okinawa reaching Naha on July 25. Negotiations regarding short term stationing arrangements were successfully concluded and the Mississippi and the Susquehanna departed for China on August 1 and arrived in Hong Kong on August 7. The Plymouth was left in Okinawa until October and the Saratoga had been sent directly back to China from Japan. In China, Perry would reinforce his squadron with the addition of the Vandalia, Powhatan, Macedonian, Southampton and Lexington to make it an even more formidable naval force for the return to Japan.


Lord Ii Naosuke Urges Compromise
Lord Ii Naosuke Urges Comprise and Opeing of a Port The President's letter to the Emperor was passed to Lord Abe Masahiro who was the Prime Minister (Chief Lord of the Goyobeya) for Shogun Tokugawa Iesada. It was Abe who had the responsibility of formulating the Japanese response. Abe circulated the letter among the daimyo and key officials seeking their advice. Strong views were received ranging from total rejection of the American request including, if necessary, armed conflict to prevent the opening of ports to unconditional opening of Japanese ports and trade with the United States. The key anti-opening proponent ("Away with the foreigners") was the influential Lord Tokugawa Nariaki, the Lord of Mito. An important supporter of opening Japanese ports was Ii Naosuke (b. Nov 1815, d. Mar 1860), officially titled at that time "Ii Kamon-no-kami Naosuke, Lord of Hikone Castle." Naosuke was the head of the most important fudai (hereditary) fief in Japan, a member of the council of the Shogun's advisors and a crucial supporter of the Shogun. Additionally, it was the responsibility of his clan to defend Uraga which was adjacent to the waters that Perry had selected as his base of operations. Naosuke championed a peaceful resolution of the matter. To this end he urged a compromise position that called for the opening of a port to American ships for the limited purpose of resupply and outfitting but not actual commerce. On the other hand, he urged that Japan begin engaging in foreign trade and the revenues produced by that be used to build a Navy which could ultimately be used to protect the country from foreign encroachment. Nariaki characterized Naosuke's position as cowardly and this was indicative of the strong feelings that this issue was raising in all quarters in Japan. Regarding the limited opening of the ports, Abe followed Naosuke's counsel and this was reflected in the treaty of Treaty of Kanagawa with the United State which ultimately was signed by Commodore Perry and the Shogun's representatives on March 31, 1854. This treaty left open negotiations of a treaty of commerce and Naosuke was deeply involved with the several such trade treaties with the United States and other countries that followed starting in 1858. Naosuke paid the ultimate price for his work in opening Japan. On March 24, 1860 he was assassinated in Yedo by samurai from the Mito province. In 1909 a book written by Nakamura Katsumaro was published in Japan titled Ii Naosuke to Kaiko (or Ii Naosuke and the opening of the ports). This book was translated into English by Akimoto Shunkichi and that book published that same year. The translated book is titled Lord Ii Naosuke and New Japan and it provides great insight into the life of Naosuke, his role in the opening of Japan and the general political situation in Japan at this time. Information on the book can be found here.


Perry Meets with the Commissioners
Commodore Perry Meets with the Commissioners Second Landing. Perry returned in February, 1854 as promised with a larger complement of ships, more in the order of a fleet than a squadron. On the first visit he had four ships. He returned with nine ships (Powhatan, Mississippi, Susquehanna, Macedonian, Saratoga, Vandalia, Supply, Southampton and Lexington). For the formal "second landing" in Japan on March 8, 1854 the squadron consisted of eight ships. The Supply had not yet arrived in Yokohama Bay. On March 31, 1854 near Yokohama, Commodore Perry and the Japanese commissioners who represented the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan signed the "Convention Between the United States of America and Japan." The convention is commonly referred to as "United States - Japan, Treaty of Kanagawa" (1854). The convention opened the ports of Hakodate (Hakodadi) on the Northern Island of Yezo and Shimoda (Simoda) on the Idzu Peninsula to American ships. It authorized the establishment of an American consulate in Shimoda. It provided for the protection for shipwrecked American seamen and gave American ships the right to buy coal in Japan. The treaty did not, however, authorize commerce or trade as Perry had wanted. That would have to wait for four years when the "Treaty of Amity and Commerce" would be concluded under the guiding hand of Townsend Harris, the first United Stated Consul General for Japan. While the Treaty of Kanagawa was a major accomplishment, it was very limited. The Japanese had agreed to open only two ports and then only for activities relating to resupply of ships. In addition, the two ports opened were relatively unimportant and both were located on islands. The Japanese had limited the Dutch to Deshima and it appears they intended to follow the same course with the Americans.

Benten Temple in Shimoda Harbor
Benten Temple, Shimoda Survey Voyages and Reconnaissance of Shimoda and Hakodate. After concluding the treaty the squadron began to fragment. A copy of the treaty was dispatched on the Saratoga under the command of Commander H. A. Adams on April 4, 1854. The Saratoga returned via Hawaii. The Macedonian, Southampton and Supply were sent to survey Peel Island (via Shimoda) during March 11-14. The Vandalia and Lexington were dispatched to Shimoda on March 16 to begin the survey/reconnaissance of that port. On April 18, Perry - aboard the Powhatan and accompanied by the Mississippi - departed for Shimoda. It is unclear to me where the Susquehanna, the 9th ship, went but it drops out of the Narrative at this point. The main body of the squadron remained in Shimoda from April 18 through May 9. During this period a 21 year old marine from the Powhatan died from an accident and was buried in what came to be know as the "American Grave" on May 5. The next step on the voyage was Hakodate. On the 4th of May the Lexington was dispatched to Okinawa and on the 6th of May the Macedonian (having returned from Peel Island), Vandalia and Southampton were sent as an advance party to Hakodate. As before, Perry followed with the Powhatan and Mississippi and arrived off Hakodate on May 15. As in Shimoda, surveys were conducted and meetings held with local officials and implementing agreements reached. At this point the squadron began to completely fragment with ships going off in several directions. On the 3rd of June, Perry with the Powhatan and Mississippi began the final key portion of the voyage - back to the Ryukyu Kingdom - with a stop en route at Shimoda.

On July 11, 1854, Commodore Perry concluded (by some accounts forced) the "Compact with Lew Chew," in Napa (Naha) with Royal Government of Lew Chew. The compact provided numerous rights to US ships and crews from those ships. It provided for supplying American ships which included piloting services, fuel, supplies and water. It also contained provisions regarding the rescue and protection of shipwrecked sailors and property from United States ships. The treaty also specifically provided that American sailors would be free to "ramble" where they pleased without hindrance but if they were found to "trifle with women" they were to be arrested and reported to the ship's captain for appropriate punishment. I guess "rambling" sailors "trifling with the women" was as serious a concern 150 years on Okinawa as it is to this day. The Lew Chew Compact was ratified by the United States Senate on March 3, 1855 and published by President Franklin Pierce by proclamation on March 9, 1855. To see the proclamation which includes the Compact, click here. A French expeditionary force under Admiral Nicholas-Francois Guerin landed at Naha and concluded a similar treaty in November of 1855. The Dutch concluded a treaty with the Loo Choo Kingdom in July of 1859.

North Pacific Surveying Expedition (1853-6). During the later part of the Perry Expedition, another American naval expedition was dispatched to the region. The expedition of five ships (sloop-of-war Vincennes, tender John Hancock, store ship John P. Kennedy, brig Porpoise and schooner Fenimore Cooper) was initially under the command of Commander Ringgold. The primary purpose of this expedition was to survey the waters in and around Japan. A secondary mission was to show the American flag and test Japanese commitment to honor the treaties concluded by Perry with Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom. In March of 1854 the squadron began assembling in Hong Kong. While the squadron was in Hong Kong, Commodore Perry declared Commander Ringgold unfit for service for medical reasons and the command of the squadron passed to Lieutenant (Commanding) John Rogers. The ships of the squadron began conducting surveying actions in Japanese waters. In May of 1854 Rogers encountered Japanese resistance to American merchant ships that were already in the waters off Shimoda and seeking to engage in commerce. While Rogers was able to obtain commercial cargo for one American ship, it should be noted that Perry did not conclude a treaty authorizing commerce and this action at that time required more of the Japanese than they had agreed to. Regardless of the reality, popular accounts in the U.S. characterized the Japanese as "repudiating" the Kanagawa treaty and urged military action. Rogers arrived in Naha in November of 1854 where Ryukyuan authorities refused to honor the treaty negotiated by Perry and declined to support his requests for supplies of his ships. In response, Rogers landed a force of 100 men (including a Dahlgreen field piece) and marched on Shuri castle just as Perry did the previous year. Only then did authorities provide the supplies requested. In a technical sense, they were probably justified in not complying with the treaty prior to its formal US ratification by the Senate.

Tomari Foreigner Cemetery In addition, Perry formally established a cemetery for foreigners on Okinawa in the Tomari area. The cemetery contains gravestones with the following inscriptions indicating they were members of the Perry Expedition:

    Perry Expedition:

  • Barnes, John, d. Dec 31, 1853, "Seaman US Navy USS Vandalia".
    To see the gravemarker for Seaman Barnes, as it appeared ca 1950, click here.
  • Carter, Jesse L., d. Jan 10, 1854, "US Navy USS Macedonia"
  • Crosby, Eli, d. Jan 24, 1854, "Asst Engr US Army USS Susquehanna"
  • Ellis, Hugh, d. Jul 24, 1853, "LDS, US Navy, USS Mississippi"

    Rogers Survey Voyage following The Perry Expedition:

  • Miller, John, d. Nov 18, 1854, "Capt AFT G US Navy USS Vincennes"
  • Williams, John, d. Nov 20, 1854, "SC US Navy USS Vincennes"
While some accounts claim that Perry was buried in this cemetery, his family would probably take exception to this assertion. A monument has been erected in the cemetery in Perry's honor and perhaps that has been confused as a grave marker. The cemetery was destroyed during WWII but rebuilt in 1955. For a listing of foreigners buried in the cemetery, click here. One individual on the list who is well know and revered by Ryukyu philatelists is Minoru Sera. Mr. Sera is the author of the Ryukyu Handbook, Philatelic and Historic, 1962, which is the cornerstone of a Ryukyu philatelic reference library. The international cemetery actually had it's origin long before the Perry Expedition. The oldest documented foreign grave is that of a Chinese individual with a tombstone indicating death in 1718. A British sailor (William Hares) from Basil Hall's ship the Alceste was buried in the cemetery in 1816.

Two Step Process. The diplomatic process followed by the American government in the opening of Japan established the pattern followed by the other powers seeking to gain entry into Japan.

  • First, a basic treaty establishing diplomatic relations and setting base line agreements would be concluded. These treaties are characterized as treaties of "Peace, Amity and Commerce." The treaty that Commodore Perry signed on March 31, 1854 is often referred to as the Kanagawa Treaty. The treaty established diplomatic relations and opened ports (Shimoda and Hokkaido) to American ships. While the ports were open to American ships, that did not include commerce. That would be the subject of future agreements. Shortly after Perry concluded the American/Japan treaty, Lord Admiral Stirling concluded a similar treaty for the British. Similar treaties were concluded by the Dutch (Donker Curtius), the Russians (Count Poutiatine) and the French.
  • Second, specific treaties regarding trade and commerce would be concluded. These treaties are characterized as treaties of "Amity and Commerce." The United States treaty was signed by Townsend Harris on July 29, 1858. This treaty opened five ports to American commerce (1. Kanagawa (ultimately migrated a few miles to Yokohama), 2. Hyogo (Kobe), 3. Nagasaki, 4. Niigata and 5. Hakodadi). This was effective July 1, 1859. The port at Shimoda was closed under the treaty.

With the opening of the Port of Yokohama in 1859, that city quickly became the major hub of foreign commerce and experienced unprecedented growth.

The Gokoku-ji Bell.
Gokoku-ji Bell
Naval Academy attendees have a very special place in their hearts for Commodore Perry and his expedition to Japan. On one of Perry's visits he was presented the Gokoku-ji bell (originally from the Daianzen-ji) by the Ryukyuan Government. The bell's dimensions are recorded as 76 cm (30 in) tall by 62 cm (24 1/2 in) in diameter with a weigh of approximately 100 kg. It is said that Perry reciprocated by giving his hosts a cotton gin and butter churn. Commodore Perry wanted to hang the bell at the top of the Washington Monument but this plan never was implemented. In 1859 Commodore Perry's wife presented the bell to the Naval Academy where it was traditionally rung when Navy won the annual Army-Navy football game. The bell received very little use for this purpose (roughly 20 times in the 90 or so years the bell was used for this purpose - if my calculations are correct). The circumstances surrounding this "gift" of such a significant cultural asset were a matter of friction between the US and Ryukyuans for many years. This bell remained at the entrance to Bancroft Hall at the Academy until it was returned to Okinawa in July of 1987. It now is in the Prefectural Museum in Naha. I guess the original was replaced with a replica as Navy still rings "Army's Bell" on very rare occasions.

Another Bell Returns to Okinawa from the United States. It appears that the American military has a special interest in large bells from Okinawa. After hostilities ceased on Okinawa in 1945 two bells were removed from the ruins of Shuri Castle and taken for safekeeping by the U.S. Forces. One was a large bell (500 pounds - standing 5 feet high). The other was smaller (370 pounds - standing 4 feet high). The large bell was soon returned to Okinawan authorities. The small bell "migrated" to the United States. In 1987 sitting in the back yard of a residence in Arlington, Virginia, the cultural significance of the bell was recognized by a retired Army colonel. Through his efforts, it was returned to Okinawa. In May of 1989, accompanied by a U.S. Army Special Forces honor guard, the bell was presented to the Governor of Okinawa, Junji Nishime, at the Shuri Museum. Perhaps more than these two significant bells were taken under the protection of the US military. A semi-official Navy publication of ca 1948 notes that "Three large bronze bells formerly located in Shuri and Naha and of very considerable historic and artistic interest have been recovered by the Military Government." Information on this publication is located here. The article, with a photographs showing two bells, can be seen here.

Perry Collection in the Smithsonian Institution. Commodore Perry was very concerned with obtaining representative items from Japan and Okinawa for the US Government. Many items were obtained during the course of the Expedition by gift or purchase and these were transferred to the United States National Museum (now the Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution). The history of the Perry collection and the contents are discussed in detail in Artifacts of Diplomacy: Smithsonian Collections from Commodore Matthew Perry's Japan Expedition (1853-4) by Chang-su Houchins. For information on that book, click here. The most recent inventory of the collection in 1969 listed 203 items. Chang-su Houchins lists the major item categories in the Smithsonian's "Perry collection" as lacquerware, textiles, ceramics, fans, umbrellas, tobacco pipes, graphics, bamboo, wood and straw products, metalware, swords and arms, tools and miscellany.

A brief political/historical perspective of Okinawa at the time of Perry's visit. In 1609, Lord Satsuma from Kyushu in southern Japan invaded Ryukyu and easily defeated the Ryukyuans and established a tributary relationship. Ryukyu was paying tribute to China at the same time. Several islands within the Ryukyu archipelago were considered separate political entities and they paid tribute to the Ryukyuan monarchy. Ryukyu thus possessed a variety of historical allegiances and identities. Despite Satsuma invasion, Ryukyu remained a separate kingdom, ostensibly independent but largely under Satsuma/Bakufu control. The Japanese ruled indirectly, leaving the political and sociological infrastructure intact. You see strong evidence of this indirect influence in the role of the Regent of Lew Chew and his dealings with the Perry Expedition. In 1879, a rapidly industrializing and expanding Japan invaded Okinawa and sent troops to occupy Shuri Castle. Japan annexed the Ryukyu Islands. This period began the forced Japanization of Okinawa. Sho Tai-kyu, the last Ryukyuan King, was exiled to Tokyo and a Japanese governor appointed. For an excellent on-line history of Okinawa by John Michael Purves entitled Managing a Wild Horse with a Rotten Rope: A Contemporary History of Okinawa click here.

Kuro-Siwo. A critical maritime matter explored by the Expedition was the Kuro-Siwo (Black Current). The area around Japan is strongly influenced by the warm ocean current called the Kuro-Siwo. The situation created by the Kuro-Siwo is the same as the Gulf Stream on the eastern seaboard of North America. About half way up the coast, the cold ocean current flowing down from the Arctic meets the warm ocean current moving up from the equator. The cold Kuro-Siwo current flows southward along the coast between China and Japan and this forces the northward moving warm Kuro-Siwo current to flow off the eastern side of Japan. Lieutenant Silas Bent reported on the Kuro-Siwo in a detailed report in Volume II (pages 363-371) of the Narrative and his basic findings are discussed in the Volume I (pages 427-9) of the Narrative. Years after the Expedition, in the 1870s, Captain Bent proposed that the Kuro-Siwo offered a route to the Arctic Circle. Silas Bent came to be recognized as one of the great hydrographers of his era. His public expressions that the weather in the United States was influenced by the massive ocean rivers like the Kuro-Siwo were very controversial at the time.


Lew   Chew

Commodore Perry     Washington Monument  Washington Monument.

What do these three have in common. A stone. At the same time Commodore Perry received the Bell on Okinawa, he was presented a stone for the "monument which is rising at Washington...."  The Washington Monument was then it's first phase of construction (1848-58) which would take it to an elevation of 152 feet. Memorial stones from the states and various countries were being placed into the interior stairwell of the monument. The Lew Chewan government presented a stone for the Washington Monument to Perry on his last visit to Okinawa. Perry also received stones for the Monument in June of 1854 from officials at Hakodate and Simoda. Unfortunately, the Lew Chew stone presented to Perry in 1854 never was incorporated into the monument. In 1989 the Prefecture of Okinawa provided a replacement stone for the Monument and it was placed at step 310 (310 of 897 steps). The polished coral stone is 2 x 4 feet and weighs 396 pounds. It bears the following inscription:

This 'Ryukyu Stone' is Presented in Friendship and Admiration to the People of the United States of America and Dedicated to the Memory of George Washington. May His Peaceful Ideals and Statesmanship Be Long Remembered and Upheld. From the People of the Okinawa Prefecture Japan, August 4, 1989.
SusquehannaPerry's ships at anchor in Naha Harbor. The ship in foreground to the right is the USS Susquehanna. Commodore Perry entertained dignitaries from the Lew Chew Islands aboard his ships. The functions may not have been the formal dining-in style seen today but full military courtesies were rendered to the guests including Marine escorts and a three gun salute.

Artists and a photographer accompanied the expedition and recorded in watercolor and daguerreotypes views of places and people. These were subsequently the basis for tinted and color lithographic plates manufactured by various printing firms and incorporated into the official narrative of the expedition. These lithographs reflect what Perry and his men saw while in Okinawa (Lew Chew) and throughout the expedition. Many of the lithographs were made from daguerreotypes produced by Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. The artist, Wilhelm Heine would paint a picture from a daguerreotype and this would be converted to a lithograph. On the lithographs you will often see attribution to Heine (artist) and Brown (photographer/daguerreotypist). Some of the lithographs were made from paintings that Heine made on-site. These are generally captioned as "From nature by Heine" on the lithograph. You also see "Figures by Brown" on many of the lithographs in the narrative. Apparently, these images were a collaborative effort between Heine and Brown. A famous Naval officer, writer and artist, Henry Walke, painted one of the lithograph images with Heine. I find no evidence that Walke accompanied the expedition. There is another artist who's work is used in the narrative of the expedition and he is William T. Peters and occasionally you find illustrations with his name ("W.T. Peters"). Samuel Eliot Morison refers to W. T. Peters as a "rather obscure" New York artist who was contracted to make drawings from daguerreotypes taken by Eliphalet Brown, Jr. Additionally, at least one of the fish plates in Volume II of the narrative was drawn by Bayard Taylor, the famous travel writer, who accompanied the expedition.

The importance of the visual record created by the Japan Expedition should not be underestimated. At this time Japan was shrouded by an official policy of isolationism. Very few Westerners were allowed to enter the country and those who were had very restricted access. Prior to the Japan Expedition, visual records were confined primarily to reproductions of drawing made by the Dutch who had obtained very restricted trade concessions. All this changed with the Perry Expedition to Japan. The expedition intruded deeply into Japan and, under the umbrella of a US military presence, artists and even a photographer gained unprecedented access to Japan. The German painter, Wilhelm Heine, was the expedition's official artist. Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr. was the official photographer (daguerreotypist). While there is dispute, it has long been accepted that the distinction of taking the first photographs of Japanese subjects in Japan belongs to Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr.. While in Okinawa in May 1853 and in Japan between February and June of the following year, Brown took 400~500 daguerreotypes, a number of which were reproduced as lithographs in the official report (Narrative) of Perry’s expedition. The visual record these men produced was quickly provided to an eager Western public through the Government published narrative of the expedition, numerous privately published books, mass marketed periodicals and very limited production high quality fine art type lithographs.

Other important figures accompanied or associated with the expedition.  

  • Bettelheim, Bernard J. (1810-1870). Known as the first Anglican and first Christian Missionary in the modern era to begin living in Japan. He served as a medical missionary on Okinawa for a period of eight years. Bettelheim arrived in Okinawa on April 30, 1846 and departed with Perry's ships in 1854. During the expedition, he served as an interpreter and advisor to Perry. For more information on Bettelheim, click here. Dr. Bettelheim's activities in Okinawa were under the authority/ sponsorship of the Loochoo Naval Mission.
  • Cassin, John (1813-1869).  Considered one of the foremost ornithologist of the time. Cassin did not accompany the expedition. However he authored the natural history section on birds that is found in Volume II. Cassin later catalogued bird specimens obtained by the US North Pacific Exploring Expedition under Captain John Rodgers (1853-1856) and the "Portsmouth" cruise to Hakodadai in 1857.
  • Manjiro, John (1827-98). Manjiro (Manjiro Nakahama, aka John Mung), a Japanese fisherman, was shipwrecked and rescued by an America whaling ship in 1841. He arrived in New Fairhaven, Mass, in 1843 where he attended school. In 1851 Manjiro returned to Japan via the California Gold fields and a stop in Okinawa. Because of his rather unique, at the time, knowledge of the United States and English language, he was used by the Japanese government as interpreter and consultant when Commodore Perry arrived. Despite reservations by high officials in the Tokugawa government, Manjiro was accorded an influential role in shaping the Japanese response to the Perry Expedition by the Prime Minister, Masahiro Abe. His unique background and influential position is believed to have made a critical contribution to the success of Perry in opening of Japan. Manjiro accompanied the 1860 Japanese delegation to the United States. He did much to foster English language education in Japan and he taught shipbuilding and navigation skills.
  • Maury, Matthew (1806-1873).   Known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas," Maury was considered to be the greatest oceanographer of the 19th century. It is not clear if he accompanied the expedition or just contributed to the report. I believe that he was not on the expedition as he was not listed as a member and because he was injured in 1839 and the resulting physical disability resulted in his removal from the "active" Naval service.
  • Morrow, Dr. James.   Dr. Morrow was agriculturalist who accompanied the Expedition. His official contribution to the Narrative of the Expedition became a matter of some controversy. For information on Dr. Morrow's journal and role in the Expedition, click here.
  • Perry, Oliver Hazard II (??-1870).  This is Matthew Perry's son. He served as his father's secretary during the expedition. This is not the Oliver Hazard Perry ("We have met the enemy, and they are ours") of the War of 1812 fame. That was Matthew Perry's older brother. Oliver Hazard Perry, II served in the Navy for twenty years. In 1855 he was appointed as the U.S. Consul at Hong Kong.
  • Taylor, Bayard (1825-1878).   The famous traveler and widely-read journalist, Bayard Taylor, was with the expedition during 1853. His writing contributed to the official Narrative and he published commercial works about the expedition. Taylor lectured on the Expedition extensively also. For more information on Bayard Taylor, visit this web page.
  • Walke, Henry (1808-1896).   Henry Walke served under Commodore Perry in the Mexican War. There is uncertainty as to whether Walke accompanied the expedition to Japan. I don't believe that he did. His name does not appear in the listing of officers in the Narrative. However, his art is found in the Narrative. Walke was a Union naval hero in the Civil war and served with great distinction at Pensacola, Forts Henry & Donelson, Fort Pillow, Vicksburg and elsewhere. Later, Walke was dispatched to pursue Confederate cruisers in European waters. He was promoted to Captain in 1862 and to Rear Admiral in 1870. Walke authored a book on the Mexican War and a book on the Civil War and both are illustrated with his art work. The book on the Mexican War has a highly prized lithograph of the Steam Frigate Mississippi in stormy seas. For more information on Henry Walke and his art in the Narrative, click here
  • Williams, Samuel Wells (1812-1884).   Williams was an American missionary living in China. He joined the expedition from China as an official interpreter. He also collected plant specimens for the expedition. Williams had been in China since 1833. He was fluent in the spoken Mandarin Chinese dialect but had very little experience with the Japanese language. He first visited Japan on board the Morrison in 1837. In 1855 he was appointed secretary and interpreter to the U.S. legation in China. Years after the expedition he returned to the US and in 1877 he became professor of Chinese language and literature at Yale. He was the author of many important books on China. Williams maintained a journal during the expedition and it is considered by many to be the best private account of the expedition to be published. Information on his journal can be found here. A biographical article on Williams published in 1876 is posted here. An important work on S. Wells Williams was published by his son in 1889. It is titled The Life and Letters of Samuel Wells Williams. Information on the book is here.
  • Zeilin, Jacob (1806-1880). At the time of the expedition Major Jacob Zeilin was the senior Marine on the expedition. He therefore probably bears the distinction of being one of the first US Marines to land on Okinawa (June of 1853). Jacob Zeilin served as the seventh Commandant (Colonel Commandant) of the US Marine Corps from June 10, 1864 through October 31, 1876. He retired as a brigadier general in 1876. It was under his command and direction that the current Marine Corps insignia was approved and the The Marines' Hymn adopted. Jacob Zeilin shares the distinction of being one of four non-graduates of the West Point class of 1826 that went on to achieve the rank General Officer in the Navy/Marine Corps.

An account of the expedition, (Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan (3 Volumes) ) containing the sepia tone or colored tinted stone lithograph plates was published in 1856.Narrative of Expedition For information regarding the lithographs, prints, etc. found in the Narrative and other books relating to the Expedition, click here. Generally, each lithograph is titled, credits an artist and indicates the company that produced the lithograph. The lithograph image area of these lithographs is generally 15½-16 x 22½-23 cm with a total page size of 9 x 11.5 inches (23cm x 29cm). The Narrative was published in three volumes, the first is the actual record and Volumes Two and Three are appendices. Of the twenty-five chapters in Volume One, Chapters 7 to 11 and Chapters 15 and 25 concern the Ryukyus. There are 48 illustrations relating to Ryukyuan customs, people, and scenery included.

Heine, the official artist, also produced lithographs of the Expedition. In 1856 he published a book, Graphic Scenes of the Japan Expedition which contained 10 lithographic prints relating to the expedition. Click here for more information. One of these prints pertained to Okinawa - Jung-twa at Lew-Chew.

Black Minstrelsy. A sad but undeniable aspect of the expedition was the introduction of the black or "negro minstrelsy" to the Japanese. In Volume 1 of the Narrative it is noted that at the dinner for the Japanese Commissioners in Yedo bay aboard the Powhatan on March 27, 1854 "negro minstrelsy" entertainment was provided for the guests. The Narrative described it this way:

After the banquet, the Japanese were entertained by an exhibition of negro minstrelsy, got up by some of the sailors, who, blackening their faces and dressing themselves in character, enacted their parts with humor that would have gained them unbounded applause from a New York audience even at Christy's. (Narrative, Volume 1, page 376)

Dinner Aboard the Powhatan Similar theatrical shipboard performances were conducted in Hong Kong and other Chinese ports, Okinawa, Hakodate and Shimoda. Playbills were printed for these performances on the Expedition's press. S.E. Morison discusses these performances and the role of the expedition press in an article titled Commodore Perry's Japan Expedition Press and Shipboard Theatre. More information on that article is here. It is interesting to note that Morison does not believe the "negro minstrelsy" performance was performed for the Japanese Commissioners on March 27. He cites a playbill for a March 26 performance and concluded that Perry considered the performance "not dignified enough for the imperial commissioners." The lithograph depicting the banquet for the Japanese Commissioners aboard the Powhatan does not show the theatrical performance. Instead, it depicts banquet tables with much toasting and a band playing. A recent publication (2007) of a "historical fictional" nature is based upon these expedition minstrel shows. The book by Richard Wiley is titled Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show. Information on this book can be found here.

Spying, International Intrigue. While the Narrative of the expedition is a government document, it certainly is not bland or free of controversial commentary. An interesting illustration of this facet of the Narrative is the issue of spying and observation of the expedition by foreign powers. As you would expect, the Japanese constantly monitored the expedition and it's members. We were intruding into their sovereign territory and it is reasonable to expect them to want to know what we were doing. This type of intelligence gathering is discussed throughout the Narrative.

Russian Expedition. You find numerous references to the Russians in the Narrative. They seemed to be shadowing the US expedition. A Russian armed squadron of four ships under the command of Admiral Putiatin [Count Poutiatine, Putyatin or Pontratine] remained quietly in the background as the American expedition proceeded along with much noise and fanfare. Putiatin, in his flagship the Pallada, arrived in Hong Kong on June 13, 1853. He then sailed for Nagasaki with a stop in the Bonin Islands en route. Perry reached Yedo bay in July of 1853. It was not coincidence that in mid-August, 1853 the Russian squadron anchored in Nagasaki Bay. Like Perry, Putiatin presented a letter for the Emperor which demanded the opening of trade with Japan. Unlike Perry, he remained in Japan for three months, finally departing for Shanghai on November 11. Just like Perry, he promised to return "before the spring." Putiatin was back in Nagasaki in early January, 1854 and negotiations began. The Russian squadron then moved to Okinawa in early February, 1854 and departed after a couple of weeks. In July of 1854 while in Siberia, Putiatin moved his flag to a new ship, the Diana, and sailed for Japan. On December 23, while in Shimoda harbor the Diana was hit by a tidal wave and on January 19 the ship sunk as the result of damages it sustained. Despite the disaster, on January 26, 1855 the Russia/Japan treaty was concluded at Shimoda. In the Introduction, the Narrative speculates that "If Commodore Perry unfortunately should fail in his peaceful attempts, and be brought into forcible collision with the Japanese, Russia was on the spot, not to mediate, but to tender to Japan her aid as an ally in the conflict...." An account of the Russian expedition and negotiations is found in The Voyage of the Frigate Pallada by Ivan A. Goncharov (translated into English by N. W. Wilson). For more information on that book, click here. The Russian expedition is also the subject of Russia's Japan Expedition of 1852-55 by George Alexander Lensen. For more information on that book, click here. Just as Commodore Perry, Admiral Putiatin had a daguerreotypist on the expedition. He was Captain Alexandr Feodorovich Mozhaiskii. Unlike Brown's work which found its way in the narrative of the US Expedition, very little of Mozhaiskii's work appears to have made it into the public arena. There is a daguerreotype of the American cemetery at the Gyokusen-Ji Temple in Shimoda which is speculated to be by Mozhaiskii.

Philip F. von Siebold, a Dutch (German by birth) physician, applied great pressure to be included in the expedition. He had been the physician for Dutch trading settlement in Deshima beginning in August of 1823. In October of 1829, Von Siebold was banished from Japan forever. He was suspected by the Japanese of spying for the Russians. While von Siebold had great expertise in all facets of Japan, Commodore Perry did not give in to the intense pressure exerted on Von Siebold's behalf and refused to allow him as a member of the expedition. Apparently Perry had the same fear as the Japanese when they expelled him - that Von Siebold was a spy for the Russians. After the opening of Japan, Von Siebold returned. While Perry rejected Von Siebold's direct participation, there is no doubt his writings were considered. I suspect that Perry closely studied Von Siebold's published writings on Japan before departing on the expedition. The book, Manners and Customs of the Japanese, based primarily on Siebold's writings and published in 1841, was probably the most comprehensive discussion of Japan available at the time. I have found one section of the Narrative that was lifted directly from Von Siebold's writings on Japan.

Accounts of the expedition were formally banned by Commodore Perry except for official accounts. While this policy was generally attributed directly to Perry, he received this restriction directly from the Secretary of the Navy, John P. Kennedy. This policy probably resulted from the experience of the British in the Amherst Embassy to China (1816-17). On that expedition, keeping of diaries was encouraged. When the mission was completed four major books were immediately published by members of the embassy. These books went through several printings and some were translated into other languages. Unfortunately, the Amherst Embassy was a strategic and tactical failure and no doubt the wide spread publication of this influenced American policy makers as they prepared for the Expedition to Japan some 35 years later. For information on the Amherst Embassy to China, click here. The Americans intended to tightly control the dissemination of information about the expedition. The policy displeased some of the sailors and other members of the expedition. Unofficial accounts are relatively scarce and informative to review. The first private journal published appears to be that of Lou Sen, a Chinese assistant hired by the expedition's interpreter, Samuel Wells Williams. The journal, translated by Williams was publish on September 11, 1854. It was titled "Journal of a Visit to Japan" and published in the Overland Register and Price Current, a supplement to the Hong Kong Register and Government Gazette. A interesting example of an unofficial account is the writings of a Thomas C. Dudley, a sailor aboard the Powhatan. Dudley's account of events from January 1852 through March of 1856 are recorded in a 219 page memoir and 89 letters to his sister which are in the William L. Clements Library of the University of Michigan Dudley Papers collection. For instance, Dudley notes "If I ever despised a man, it is Perry and I question much if he is entitled to be called a man -- his naval name in the squadron is 'old hog' -- 'beast' and such like." Regarding the entrance into Japanese waters of the heavily armed and ready for combat squadron, Dudley notes "whether a foreign ship or fleet has a right to ascend bays and rivers of another country and make surveys, without permission even, or in the face of objection is a question our country will probably soon settle to its own satisfaction." Regarding the role of women in Japan, Dudley advised his sister, "Think of this ye 'womens rights' women of America, and be very thankful with your present lot." These certainly are not points of view you will find in the official narrative of the expedition.

Another personal account of the expedition was written by an officer aboard the Vandalia, John McIntosh Kell. In this account Kell notes "...others argue that Commodore Perry will not be put off on any pretence whatever; that he will effect his mission peaceably if he can, forcibly if he must; that the United States Government has gone to too much expense in fitting out this expedition to have it return without making some active demonstration; but from what I have heard of the Japanese we will have no just cause to go to war with them." (at page 80).

Other informative personal accounts of sailors (Master's Mate John R.C. Lewis and Cabin Boy William B. Allen) on the expedition are published in Bluejackets with Perry. Midshipman Sproston's journal of his experiences from February, 1854 to August, 1854 surfaced on the market in 1926 and was first published in 1940. For more information on the Sproston Journal click here. Yet another personal account of the expedition was recorded by George Henry Preble who was at the time a Lieutenant aboard the Macedonia. The account was maintained in the guise of letters to his wife. It was published in a book in 1962. Acting-Master Edward Yorke McCauley's diary from the expedition was published in a book in 1942.

News about the Expedition and Japan was eagerly awaited throughout the Western world and this was reflected in the mass media of the time. The weekly illustrated newspapers devoted considerable attention to the Expedition and Japan. For more information about the weekly illustrated newspapers/publications and specific articles on the Perry Expedition and Japan, click here. An early article on the Expedition was published in the Illustrated London News on May 7, 1853. To see the article, click here.

During the period prior to Perry's visit to Okinawa, many foreign ships ventured into Loo Choo waters. Some were shipwrecked but most visits were intentional. In 1895, a noted scholar, Chamberlain Basil Hall, related these visits to Commodore Perry's visit in unflattering terms.

Karate and the Perry Expedition. I can find no evidence in published works about the expedition that there was an awareness of the Ryukyuan martial art of karate. It is clear that Commodore Perry was not officially introduced to karate like he was sumo wrestling in Japan. Regarding a fight between an American sailor armed with a knife and an Okinawan merchant, the Narrative notes:

...a Lew Chew butcher had quarrelled with one of the seamen while engaged in traffic with him, and beaten him with a club. (Narrative page 492).

This comment is the only one in the narrative that refers to any form of hand to hand combat in Okinawa. For general information on Okinawan martial arts as reflected in stamps, visit our martial arts web page.

Aftermath of the Expedition. The American treaty with Japan marked the beginning of an ever increasing flow of westerners and western influences into Japan. It was soon followed by British, Dutch, French and Russian treaties. The list of open ports grew from Shimoda and Hakodate (1854) to Yokohama and Nagasaki (1859) and Kobe (1868). The period from 1853-1868 is often referred to as the Bakumatsu (later Tokugawa) period. It was during this time that intense internal struggles, often with armed conflict, were waged between the forces favoring the continuation of power with the Tokugawa Shogunate and those favoring restoration of power to the Emperor. Inextricably intertwined in this struggle were the newly arrived foreign powers and their political, commercial and military institutions and armed forces who arrived in Japan in ever increasing numbers. This rapid influx of foreigners lead to friction with foreign powers as well as domestic friction. In September of 1862 a British citizen, Mr. Richardson, was killed when attacked by a party guarding Shimadzu, a Prince of Satsuma. The Prince was openly opposed to the Shogun's rule. Others in the Richardson party were seriously injured but escaped. To avenge this murder, a British squadron was dispatched from Yokohama to Kagoshima, the capital of the Satsuma territory, with the mission of demanding punishment of the killers and compensation for the victims. The British request was rejected and the Japanese opened fire on the squadron from land batteries and ships. The British joined the fight and sunk three steamers belonging to the Prince of Satsuma and bombarded Kagoshima. They then returned to Yokohama and the Japanese government ultimately paid compensation. After this incident the Satsuma clan, through Lord Mori, established a policy of firing on foreign vessels passing through the Straits of Shimonoseki. In June of 1863 an American merchant ship, the Penbroke, was fired upon by land batteries at Cho-shiu and by an armed brig, the Ko-sei. These incidents were followed in July by French and Dutch ships being fired upon in the straits and these incidents were matched by French and British naval retaliation. The Americans responded by ordering the Wyoming from China to Japan. The Wyoming entered the Straits of Shimonoseki on July 16, 1863. She immediately came under fire from land and ship. When the smoke cleared two Japanese ships were sunk and another disabled and several of the Japanese land batteries were destroyed. Ironically, the Japanese were flexing their naval power by patrolling the straits in ships purchased from the Americans. The Wyoming promptly returned to China and a period of relative calm followed. Then, in September of 1864, American, British, French and Dutch warships bombarded fortifications in Shimonoseki in retaliation for the previous attacks. The hostilities ceased October 22, 1864, with the signing of the Shimonoseki agreement. Internally, the political turmoil that developed in Japan after the Perry Expedition ultimately led to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and subsequent Boshin Senso (literally War of the Year of the Dragon) of 1868-1869. The last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913) resigned his office in 1867 and in 1868 the restoration of Imperial Rule was proclaimed. The Emperor, Mitsuhito (1852~1912 - Meiji era - "Enlightened Rule") and the new government moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. While initially opposed to Western influences, Emperor Mitsuhito came to support the Westernization of Japan.
Petitions to Congress for Additional Pay. Because Commodore Perry required the vast majority of the Expedition's scientific and specialized skill members to actually join the Navy, some felt that the Naval salary they received was not commensurate with the services they performed. They were generally brought into the Navy at the rank of Master's Mate which appears to be the lowest officer rank in the Navy at the time. Requests to Congress for additional pay resulted from the perceived disparity in pay and contribution to the success of the expedition.

The following petitions ("Memorials") for compensation regarding the Japan Expedition have been confirmed:

  • 1855, Aaron Haight Palmer. Palmer did not accompany the expedition but requested compensation for his work in planning and promoting the expedition. To see his request (Memorial) to Congress, click here.
  • 1856-1857, William Aiken, James Kelley and ninety others who served on the Japan expedition under Commodore Perry, asked for extra compensation similar to that allowed to the officers and crews of vessels of the navy stationed in the Pacific ocean in the years 1846-1849. Not authorized, Feb 12, 1857 (Thirty-fourth Congress, Third Session, Senate rep. at page 379).
  • 1856-7, Dr. James Morrow, agriculturalist attached to the squadron with a Naval salary of $300 per year. Dr. Morrow ultimately received $3000 additional compensation. (See A Scientist with Perry in Japan, Dr. James Morrow, Introduction a page xxii).
  • 1857-8, Auton L.C. Portman, Commodore Perry's clerk with a Naval salary of $500 per year. Portman requested additional compensation for his service as Dutch interpreter for Commodore Perry (Senate Report 315, Thirty-fourth Congress, Third Session, 1858 at page 701). He was authorized an additional $1000 by Congress.
  • 1858, Eliphalet Brown, Jr., the daguerreotypist on the Expedition serving as a Master's Mate (ca $300 per year Naval salary).
  • Commodore M.C. Perry is reported to have received an additional $20,000 pay for the Expedition (See A Scientist with Perry in Japan, Dr. James Morrow, Introduction a page xxii).

American Grave at Shimoda. Previously it was noted that Perry formally established a cemetery for foreigners on Okinawa. Because of the death of a sailor at Shimoda in early 1854, a somewhat similar situation was created in Shimoda. The American Grave in Shimoda is depicted in the official narrative as well as other publications. For more information, on the American grave at Shimoda, click here. While a cemetery for foreigners was not actually established in Shimoda, a section in an existing graveyard became the designated area of burial site for Americans and Russians.

Monument in Kurihama. Forty eight years after Perry first landed in Japan at Kurihama a large granite monument was dedicated to commemorate that event at the exact spot where the Americans fist came ashore. The monument was unveiled on July 14, 1901 by Perry's grandson, Rear Admiral Frederick Rodgers (Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Force on Asiatic Station). Many high ranking Japanese Government officials were present at the dedication ceremony including the newly installed Prime Minister, Katsura Taro. Three American warships (the USS New York, the USS New Orleans and the USS Yorktown) fired artillery salutes from a mile off-shore during the ceremony. The American ships were accompanied by three Japanese warships (the Shikishima, the Hatsuse, and the Amagi). The monument was sponsored by the Bei-yu Kyo-kai and erected with funds largely contributed by Japanese. For more information on the monument and the dedication/unveiling ceremony, click here.

Postal Systems in Early Japan. The Narrative of the Expedition contains a very brief comment on the Japanese postal system of that time. For more information on the Japanese postal system as well as the early British, French and American Post Offices in Japan, click here.

Coins and the Expedition. Perry sought to obtain Lew Chew coins but was unsuccessful. For more information on his efforts in Okinawa and the coins in circulation in Japan at that time visit the coins page. Commodore Perry was a numismatist (coin collector). At his death his collection was passed to his daughter (Caroline Slidell Perry (Belmont)). The collection was maintained and passed down through the family. Finally in January of 1995, over 200 after his birth, the Commodore Perry Collection (coin) was offered at public auction by the auction firm of Bowers and Medena, Inc. Information on this auction catalogue is here. There is a privately commissioned but US Mint produced medal, originally from the 1800s, that commemorates the Expedition. For more information on that medal, click here.

Historial Footnotes.

  • It was in 1853 that Commodore Perry first steamed into the Bay of Yedo aboard the US Steam Frigate Mississippi and projected American naval power right to the heart of Imperial Japan. That event spanned almost 100 years crossing into the dawn of another era of United States and Japanese relations. The formal instruments of surrender by Japan in World War II were signed in a ceremony conducted aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The USS Mississippi was part of the surrender ceremony fleet. Even more ironic, the very same 31 star (1 column of 6 stars and 5 columns of 5 stars) flag that flew over Perry's Mississippi was ceremonially displayed during the surrender proceedings. Photographs of the mounted flag can be seen here and here. There is another photograph of the mounted flag and it shows the same mounting. That photograph is here. There are a couple curious aspects of that flag. First, the flag is displayed with the Union (stars) to the observers right while the normal display for mounted flags is with the union to the observers left. Perhaps the image on the photograph was flipped in processing but based on two different photographs, that seems unlikely. Second, the stars (five sided) in the flag are inverted. The points of the stars normally face up but in the displayed flag the points of the stars are facing down. This can not be explained by a quirk in the image processing. However, it appears that the only requirements for the US flag at this time were thirteen stripes (7 red and 6 white) and a star for each state on a blue field. The orientation and arrangement of the stars was apparently left to discretion of the flag maker.

  • During the battle of Okinawa the USS Mississippi (BB-41/AG-128) participated in the naval bombardment of Naha. She arrived off Okinawa on May 6, 1945 and her powerful guns were used to level the defenses at Shuri Castle. The same Shuri Castle that Commodore Perry, operating from the US Steam Frigate Mississippi, had forced his way into on June 6, 1853.
In 1953 the Government of the Ryukyu Islands issued this set of stamps (Scott 27-8) commemorating the Centenary of the Perry's visit.

Ryukyu Islands Scott 27-8

The stamps depict Perry's Reception at Shuri Castle on June 6, 1853 and the American squadron in Naha harbor. For more information on this set, click here.

The United States also issued a stamp commemorating the Centenary of Perry's visit to Japan and Okinawa. The stamp (Scott 1021) was issued in July of 1953 and it shows Commodore Perry's ships anchored off Tokyo Bay. To see an assortment of this stamp on cacheted first day covers, click here.

I am aware of only one Japanese stamp that commemorates Perry's visit to Japan. The stamp features a painting of the Powhatan. It was issued July 1, 2003 and is part of a souvenir sheet commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Edo Shogunate. The sheet bears the Japanese inscription "kaikoku e mukatte" (moving toward opening the nation).

A set of four private fund raising seals was issued ca 1953. There seals were issued by the "City of Yokosuka and Japan Centennial Central Committee." The stated purpose of the fund raising activity was "Seals for Construct Fund of Perry Memorial Hall." These seals bear no denomination. They were issued in sheets of 20 with each sheet containing 5 vertical strips of the four different seals. To see these items, click here.

In 2000, Volume 1 of the original narrative of Commodore Perry's expedition was re-published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York. This soft cover book is titled Commodore M. C. Perry, Narrative of the Expedition to China Seas and Japan, 1852-4. This book is an inexpensive way to see the lithographs of the expedition and read the accounts that pertain to them. You can order your copy on-line here ---> 2000 Reprint of Volume 1.

For information on Commodore Perry and his career (including the China Seas and Japan visit), you can visit this page - Perry.

Your comments, additions, corrections regarding this page are solicited. Thanks, George

We Are Buying the 1856-7 Perry Expedition Books and Lithographs.
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Perry Expedition to Japan Books & Lithographs