Point of interest: Uraga and the Black Ships of Commodore Perry

Uraga and the Black Ships of Commodore Perry  The Treaty of Kanagawa
440 words
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Commodore Perry sailed into Uraga Harbor, along the coast of the city of Edo (Tokyo), in July, 1853. Perry's fleet was small by Western standards, only four ships - two steamers and two clippers. The ships caused a great deal of shock for the townspeople; they were not accustomed to such large vessels, and certainly not flying the American flag.
Perry brought a letter from the American President Fillmore for the Emperor, asking to open trade between the US and Japan. The letter was written in Chinese, (as Fillmore did not have the advantage of learning Japanese with Kanshudo). The Tokugawa representatives of the Shogunate were not impressed by the letter, regardless of the language, and refused Perry's request to enter the Japanese waters or set foot on shore.

Language Barriers Made Things Worse

The language barrier certainly contributed to the animosity the Shogunate (which was effectively the Japanese government, since the emperor was politically weak) felt towards the Americans. French was the international language of diplomacy and business during the 19th century, but the letter was written in Chinese, and there is no way to know the fluency of any of the parties involved.

Perry Retreats and the Shogunate Starts Building Ships

The US fleet made several attempts to sail up into Tokyo Bay, but was rebuffed every time by the Japanese. After ten days he told the Shogunate representatives that he was not giving up but was retreating, and set sail for China. What Perry did not know was that the Japanese government was almost bankrupt, and had no navy or coastal defenses. Almost as soon as the Black Ships were out of view, the Japanese repealed their laws that forbade building sea-going vessels, and started negotiating with the Dutch (their only Western partner) to buy some steamships.

Perry Returns With More Black Ships

If the locals were shocked by Perry's initial foray into Uraga Harbor, they certainly experienced shock and awe when he returned in March 1854, sailing into the harbor with ten of the dreaded Black Ships. Those ten ships held 100 mounted cannon and 1500 men, demonstrating to Tokugawa's forces that he meant business. Perry understood diplomacy as well as force, and had good champagne, wines, and livestock on the ships as well - he was ready to wine and dine the Bakufu (shogunate officials) to get the treaties signed.
The Treaty Of Kanagawa ended Japan's two-century period of seclusion, known as
(sakoku jidai), and laid the groundwork for the modern Japanese economy. However, it also sowed the seeds of dissent that culminated eventually in Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Kanji used in this point of interest

サ   くさり a chain   
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コク   くに country   
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ジ   とき time, occasion   
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タイ   ダイ   かえる to replace, to exchange   かわる to be exchanged   よ the world   しろ substitute   
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