Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry was born in Newport, Rhode Island
in 1794 as the third son of a navy man. His father was a captain and one
of his elder brothers also rose to the rank of a commander. In the atmosphere
of this navyoriented family, Perry joined the service as a midshipman at
the age of 14.
Distinction in the navy
In the navy, Perry distinguished himself through action during the War
of 1812, the suppression of piracy, and service in convoys. He also had
a lot of technical knowledge and was involved in the improvement of arms
and construction of the country's first steampowered warship. Even after
his promotion to captain in 1837, he continued to take a hand in the improvement
of officer education and other efforts to modernize the navy. During his
tenure as commander of the Gulf Squadron after commanding the African
Squadron, he contributed to the American victory in the Mexican War, which
began in 1846. In 1852, he was appointed commander of the East Indies
Squadron, and was ordered by Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, to
lead the expedition to Japan in accordance with a congressional resolution.
(It should be noted that, from 1775 to 1857, captain was the highest rank
in the U.S. navy, and captains and commanders who headed fleets were addressed
The situation in East Asia and the Edo shogunate
After its defeat at the hands of the British in the Opium War, China
opened up five ports and ceded Hong Kong to Great Britain based on the
1842 Treaty of Nanking. Thereafter, France and other European powers began
to establish a presence in China, and the United States also endeavored
to acquire rights and interests there.
In spite of its policy of national seclusion, the Tokugawa shogunate
learned of developments in the region through the "fusetsugaki" reports
on the world situation which the incoming captain of the Dutch factory
at Dejima was obliged to submit to the authorities upon his arrival from
the Netherlands, more detailed "betsudan fusetsugaki" reports of the same
nature which became required in 1842, and the analogous "karafune fusetsugaki"
reports submitted by ships from China. In 1844, it received an envoy carrying
a letter from the king of the Netherlands urging the shogunate to end
the policy of isolation in light of what was going on in the rest of the
U.S. expeditions to Japan before Perry
Toward the end of the Edo period, many foreign ships began to appear
in the waters around Japan. The USS Morrison, which attempted to sail
into Edo Bay in 1837, was repulsed in line with the shogunate's order
to turn back foreign ships. Also in 1846, Commodore James Biddle, then
commander of the East Indies Squadron, led two warships (the Vincennes
and the Columbia) into Uraga Strait to seek the opening of ports, but
his overture was rejected.
In addition, Japanese shores were also reached by wrecks and ships from
other countries, but the shogunate took the same kind of measures against
all of them.
Purpose of the expedition
Perry was therefore the second U.S. envoy to be sent to Japan. By the
time of his expedition, however, advances in steamships had considerably
reduced the time required to reach East Asia as compared to Biddle's days;
from California, the voyage to Japan could be made in only about 18 days,
and that to China, about 20 days. Furthermore, the development of trade
with China and growth of whaling helped to increase the number of ships
sailing Pacific routes. There were consequently mounting desires in industry
as well to make use of ports in Japan for resupply of fuel and stores.
Under these circumstances, the United States posted the objective of concluding
a treaty of friendship and trade in the interests of both its military
Arrival at Uraga
With a view to executing his mission, Perry made meticulous plans based
on an abundance of information gathered from books about Japan that had
been published in Europe. In November 1852, he set out from Norfolk, Virginia,
in a single steamship (the Mississippi) on a voyage to Japan via Capetown,
South Africa. The Mississippi was joined by other vessels along the way,
until a squadron of four "black ships" was formed, consisting of the two
steamships Susquehanna (Perry's flagship) and Mississippi and the sailing
ships Saratoga and Plymouth. On July 8, 1853, the squadron appeared off
Uraga, at the mouth of Edo Bay on the very doorstep of Tokugawa Japan.
Backed by the forces defending Edo Bay, which consisted of elite detachments
of Aizu, Hikone, and Kawagoe samurai, the shogunate demanded that Perry
sail to Nagasaki, the place it designated as the venue for talks with
representatives of other countries. However, it was unable to break the
firm stance taken by Perry and his staff, who insisted on delivering the
letter from President Fillmore in the area of Edo, the shogun's capital.
Eventually, it agreed to accept the letter upon the decision of Abe Masahiro,
the head of the shogun's Council of Elders and lord of Ise province. A
structure (termed the "treaty hall" by the Americans) was consequently
built in Kurihama, close to Uraga. It was on July 14 that the lords Toda
Ujiyoshi and Ido Hiromichi of Izu and Iwami domains, respectively, received
the letter, to which Dutch and Chinese translations had been appended,
as well as other related documents.
Notice of return and the shogunate's anguish
The Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China
Seas and Japan compiled under Perry's supervision after his return relates
his announcement at the treaty hall that he would be off to the Ryukyu
Islands and Canton within the next few days but would be coming back next
spring, in April or May. Noting that the present squadron was only a part
of the ships under his command, he also warned that he would be leading
an even bigger one the next time. Perry sailed out of Uraga Strait on
After his departure, the shogunate attempted to unite the country in
opposition to the foreign offensive, and its cabinet was strengthened
with Abe's appointment of Tokugawa Nariaki, the leader of the Mito Clan
who was pushing for the exclusion of foreigners, as the councilor in charge
of coastal defenses. It sought the opinions of the lords throughout the
country on the subject, but was not able to obtain any practicable countermeasures
from them, and so was at a loss about what to do until Perry's next visit.
Return with a larger squadron
Contrary to what he had warned, Perry came back earlier on February
13, 1854, sailing past Uraga and anchoring off Koshiba in the province
of Musashi. This time, his squadron was composed of seven ships: the three
steamships Powhattan (his flagship), Susquehanna, and Mississippi, and
the four sailing ships Macedonian, Vandalia, Lexington, and Southampton.
They were joined a few days later by two more sailing ships, the Supply
and the Saratoga.
In reaction, the shogunate ordered its lords throughout the country
to mobilize a total of about 470,000 samurais and erected a line of defense
along the entire coast of Edo Bay, stretching from the province of Izu
to that of Awa (the present-day Shizuoka and Chiba prefectures, respectively)
Conclusion of the Treaty of Kanagawa
While Perry pressed for negotiations at Edo, the shogunate proposed
the vicinity of Kamakura or Uraga as the site. By way of compromise, both
sides agreed to meet in Yokohama. In the talks, which began on March 8,
Perry brought up issues such as the shogunate's inhumane treatment of
castaways and engaged in debate with the shogunate's representatives headed
by Hayashi Fukusai, the head of the university. On March 31, the negotiations
culminated in the signature of the Treaty of Kanagawa, which, among other
matters, provided for the opening of the two ports of Shimoda and Hakodate.
This ended the roughly 215 years of Japan's selfimposed seclusion. Based
on the impressions he gained in the course of the talks, Perry decided
to leave an agreement on trade to future negotiators.
In the same year, the shogunate later signed similar treaties of friendship
with Great Britain and Russia, which had closely watched Perry's negotiations,
and these opened the door to Japan even wider.
Return to the United States and preparation of the "Narrative"
After the conclusion of the Treaty of Kanagawa and the subsequent addition
of 13 supplementary provisions in Shimoda, Perry sailed north for the
purpose of survey and observation. From there, he went back to the Ryukyu,
where he concluded the Treaty of Naha, and then sailed to Hong Kong, where
he left the squadron to make an overland journey to Europe via India.
He finally returned to the United States on a British ship on January
By the time of his return, Franklin Pierce had succeeded Millard Fillmore
to become the 14th president, and the populace was far more concerned
about the domestic problems that would trigger the Civil War within a
few years than developments overseas. It was in this atmosphere that the
Reverend Francis Hawks was asked by the Congress to compile and edit an
official report on the expedition. Entitled "Narrative of the Expedition
of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan," the report was prepared
under Perry's supervision. On March 4, 1858, shortly after the publication
of The Americans in Japan, another report about the expedition edited
by Robert Tomes, Perry died of a heart attack at age 63.
In his "Narrative," Perry makes a shrewd prediction about the future
of Japan and its people. After touching on the customs, habits, and ways
of life he observed in Hakodate, he states his belief that, once they
come into possession of the past and present know-how of the "civilized
world," the Japanese would become formidable rivals in the future competition
surrounding the build-up of machine industries.
Japan-U.S. relations after Perry
It was 1858, the year in which Perry died, that also saw the conclusion
of a trade agreement (the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce) as
the outcome of negotiations between the shogunate and Townsend Harris,
the first U.S. consul to Japan. There ensued some turmoil in Japan, as
exemplified by the arrest and execution of numerous opponents of the shogunate
under the regent Ii Naosuke over the years 1859-1860 and his assassination
before the Sakurada gate of Edo Castle in 1860. In the same year, however,
the shogunate sent a mission led by Niimi Masaoki, lord of the Buzen province,
to the United States for the ratification of the trade agreement. Arriving
on the Powhattan, which had also carried Perry and was escorted by the
Kanrin-maru, the shogunate's steampowered warship, the mission was welcomed
by James Buchanan, the 15th president, and the American public. As a result
of the visit, Perry's achievement came to be properly appreciated by the
people of the United States, who have associated his name with relations
between the two countries ever since.