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Commodore Matthew Perry:

When We Landed in Japan, 1854

[Tappan Introduction]

The expedition to Japan, which resulted in a treaty of peace between that country and the United States in 1854, was organized and commanded by Commodore Perry. The following selection was compiled by Francis L. Hawks from the notes and journals of Commodore Perry.

As the atmosphere cleared and the shores were disclosed to view, the steady labors of the Japanese during the night were revealed in the showy effect on the Uraga shore. Ornamental screens of cloth had been so arranged as to give a more distinct prominence as well as the appearance of greater size to the bastions and forts; and two tents had been spread among the trees. The screens were stretched tightly in the usual way upon posts of wood, and each interval between the hosts was thus distinctly marked, and had, in the distance, the appearance of paneling. Upon these seeming panels were emblazoned the imperial arms, alternating with the device of a scarlet flower bearing large heart-shaped leaves. Flags and streamers, upon which were various designs represented in gay colors, hung from the several angles of the screens, while behind them thronged crowds of soldiers, arrayed in a costume which had not been before observed, and which was supposed to belong to high occasions only. The main portion of the dress was a species of frock of a dark color, with short skirts, the waists of which were gathered in with a sash, and which was without sleeves, the arms of the wearers being bare.

All on board the ships were alert from the earliest hour, making the necessary preparations. Steam was got up and the anchors were weighed that the ships might be moved to a position where their guns would command the place of reception. The sailing-vessels, however, because of a calm, were unable to get into position. The officers, seamen, and marines who were to accompany the Commodore were selected, and as large a number of them mustered as could possibly be spared from the whole squadron. All, of course, were eager to bear a part in the ceremonies of the day, but all could not possibly go, as a sufficient number must be left to do ships' duty. Many of the officers and men were selected by lot, and when the full complement, which amounted to nearly three hundred, was filled up, each one busied himself in getting his person ready for the occasion. The officers, as had been ordered, were in full official dress, while the sailors and marines were in their naval and military uniforms of blue and white.

Before eight bells in the morning watch had struck, theSusquehanna andMississippi moved slowly down the bay. Simultaneously with this movement of our ships, six Japanese boats were observed to sail in the same direction, but more within the land. The government striped flag distinguished two of them, showing the presence on board of some high officials, while the others carried red banners, and were supposed to have on board a retinue or guard of soldiers. On doubling the headland which separated the former anchorage from the bay below, the preparations of the Japanese on the shore came suddenly into view. The land bordering the head of the bay was gay with a long stretch of painted screens of cloth, upon which was emblazoned the arms of the Emperor. Nine tall standards stood in the center of an immense number of banners of divers lively colors, which were arranged on either side, until the whole formed a crescent of variously tinted flags, which fluttered brightly in the rays of the morning sun. From the tall standards were suspended broad pennons of rich scarlet which swept the ground with their flowing length. On the beach in front of this display were ranged regiments of soldiers, who stood in fixed order, evidently arrayed to give an appearance of martial force, that the Americans might be duly impressed with the military power of the Japanese.

As the beholder faced the bay, he saw on the left of the village of Gori-Hama a straggling group of peaked roofed houses, built between the beach and the base of the high ground which ran in green acclivities behind, and ascended from height to height to the distant mountains. A luxuriant valley or gorge, walled in with richly wooded hills, opened at the head of the bay, and breaking the uniformity of the curve of the shore gave a beautiful variety to the landscape. On the right some hundred Japanese boats, or more, were arranged in parallel lines along the margin of the shore, with a red flag flying at the stern of each. The whole effect, though not startling, was novel and cheerful, and everything combined to give a pleasing aspect to the picture. The day was bright, with a clear sunlight which seemed to give fresh vitality alike to the verdant hillsides, and the gay banners, and the glittering soldiery. Back from the beach, opposite the center of the curved shore of the bay, the building, just constructed for the reception, rose in three pyramidal-shaped roofs, high above the surrounding houses. It was covered in front by striped cloth, which was extended in screens to either side. It had a new, fresh look, indicative of its recent erection, and with its peaked summits was not unlike, in the distance, a group of very large ricks of grain.

Two boats approached as the steamers entered the opening of the bay, and when the anchors were dropped they came alongside theSusquehanna. Kayama Yezaiman, with his two interpreters, came on board, followed immediately by Nagazima Saboroske and an officer in attendance, who had come in the second boat. They were duly received at the gangway and conducted to seats on the quarter-deck. All were dressed in full official costume, somewhat different from their ordinary garments. Their gowns, though of the usual shape, were much more elaborately adorned. The material was of very rich silk brocade of gay colors, turned up with yellow velvet, and the whole dress was highly embroidered with gold lace in various figures, upon which was conspicuously displayed on the back, sleeves, and breast the arms of the wearer....

A signal was now hoisted from theSusquehanna as a summons for the boats from the other ships, and in the course of half an hour they had all pulled alongside with their various officers, sailors, and marines, detailed for the day's ceremonies. The launches and cutters numbered no less than fifteen, and presented quite an imposing array; and with all on board them, in proper uniform, a picturesque effect was not wanting. Captain Buchanan, having taken his place in his barge, led the way, flanked on either side hy the two Japanese boats containing the governor and vice-governor of Uraga with their respective suites; and these dignitaries acted as masters of ceremony and pointed out the course to the American flotilla. The rest of the ships' boats followed after in order, with the cutters containing the two bands of the steamers, who enlivened the occasion with their cheerful music.

The boats skimmed briskly over the smooth waters; for such was the skill and consequent rapidity of the Japanese scullers that our sturdy oarsmen were put to their mettle to keep up with their guides. When the boats had reached halfway to the shore, the thirteen guns of theSusquehanna began to boom away and re-echo among the hills. This announced the departure of the Commodore, who, stepping into his barge, was rowed off to the land.

The guides in the Japanese boats pointed to the landing-place toward the center of the curved shore, where a temporary wharf had been built out from the beach by means of bags of sand and straw. The advance boat soon touched the spot, and Captain Buchanan, who commanded the party, sprang ashore, being the first of the Americans who landed in the Kingdom of Japan. He was immediately followed by Major Zeilin, of the Marines. The rest of the boats now pulled in and disembarked their respective loads. The marines (one hundred) marched up the wharf and formed into line on either side, facing the sea; then came the hundred sailors, who were also ranged in rank and file as they advanced, while the two bands brought up the rear. The whole number of Americans, including sailors, marines, musicians, and officers, amounted to nearly three hundred; no very formidable array, but still quite enough for a peaceful occasion, and composed of very vigorous, able-bodied men, who contrasted strongly with the smaller and more effeminate-looking Japanese. These latter had mustered in great force, the amount of which the Governor of Uraga stated to be fivc thousand; but seemingly they far outnumbered that. Their line extended around the whole circuit of the beach, from the farther extremity of the village to the abrupt acclivity of the hill which bounded the bay on the northern side; while an immense number of the soldiers thronged in behind and under cover of the cloth screens which strctched along the rear. The loose order of this Japanese army did not betoken any very great degree of discipline. The soldiers were tolerably well armed and equipped. Their uniform was very much like the ordinary Japanese dress. Their arms were swords, spears, and matchlocks. These in front were all infantry, archers, and lancers; but large bodies of cavalry were seen behind somewhat in the distance, as if held in reserve. The horses of these seemed of a fine breed, hardy, of good bottom and brisk in action; and these troopers, with their rich caparisons, presented at least a showy cavalcade. Along the base of the rising ground which ascended behind the village, and entirely in the rear of the soldiers, was a large number of the inhabitants, among whom there was quite an assemblage of women, who gazed with intense curiosity, through the openings in the line of the military, upon the stranger visitors from another hemisphere.

On the arrival of the Commodore, his suite of officcrs formed a double line along the landing-place, and as he passed up between, they fell into order behind him. The procession was then formed and took up its march toward the house of reception, the route to which was pointed out by Kayama Yezaiman and his interpreter, who preceded the party. The marines led the way, and the sailors following, the Commodore was duly escorted up the beach. The United States flag and the broad pennant were borne by two athletic seamen, who had been selected from the crews of the squadron on account of their stalwart proportions. Two boys, dressed for the ceremony, preceded the Commodore, bearing in an envelope of scarlet cloth the boxes which contained his credentials and the President's letter. These documents, of folio size, were beautifully written on vellum, and not folded, but bound in blue silk velvet. Each seal, attached by cords of interwoven gold and silk with pendent gold tassels, was encased in a circular box six inches in diameter and three in depth, wrought of pure gold. Each of the documents, together with its seal, was placed in a box of rosewood about a foot long, with lock, hinges, and mountings all of gold. On either side of the Commodore marched a tall, well-formed Negro, who, armed to the teeth, acted as his personal guard. These blacks, selected for the occasion, were two of the best-looking fellows of their color that the squadron could furnish. All this, of course, was but for effect.

The procession was obliged to make a somewhat circular movement to reach the entrance of the house of reception. This gave a good opportunity for the display of the escort. The building, which was but a short distance from the landing, was soon reached. In front of the entrance were two small brass cannon which were old and apparently of European manufaeture; on either side were grouped a rather straggling company of Japanese guards, whose costume was different from that of the other soldiers. Those on the right were dressed in tunics, gathered in at the waist with broad sashes, and in full trousers of a gray color, the capacious width of which was drawn in at the knees, while their heads were bound with a white cloth in the form of a turban. They were armed with muskets upon which bayonets and flint-locks were observed. The guards on the left were dressed in a rather dingy, brown-colored uniform turned up with yellow, and carried old-fashioned matchlocks.

The Commodore having been escorted to the door of the house of reception, entered with his suite. The building showed marks of hasty erection, the timbers and boards of pine wood were numbered, as if they had been fashioned previously and brought to the spot all ready to be put together. The first portion of the structure entered was a kind of tent, principally constructed of painted canvas, upon which in various places the imperial arms were painted. Its area inclosed a space of nearly forty feet square. Beyond this entrance hall was an inner apartment to which a carpeted path led. The floor of the outer room was generally covered with white cloth, but through its center passed a slip of red-colored carpet, which showed the direction to the interior chamber. This latter was entirely carpeted with red cloth, and was the state apartment of the building where the reception was to take place. Its floor was somewhat raised, like a dais, above the general level, and was handsomely adorned for the occasion. Violet-colored hangings of silk and fine cotton, with the imperial coat of arms embroidered in white, hung from the walls which inclosed the inner room, on three sides, while the front was left open to the antechamber or outer room.

As the Commodore and his suite ascended to the reception room, the two dignitaries who were seated on the left arose and bowed, and the Commodore and suite were conducted to the armchairs which had been provided for them on the right. The interpreters announced the names and titles of the high Japanese functionaries as Toda-Idzu-no-kami, Toda, Prince of Idzu, and Ido-Owami-no-kami, Ido, Prince of Iwami. They were both men of advanced years, the former apparently about fifty, and the latter some ten or fifteen years older. Prince Toda was the better-looking man of the two, and the intellectual expression of his large forehead and amiable look of his regular features contrasted very favorably with the more wrinkled and contracted and less intelligent face of his associate, the Prince of Iwami. They were both very richly dressed, their garments being of heavy silk brocade interwoven with elaborately wrought figures in gold and silver.

From the beginning the two princes had assumed an air of statuesque formality, which they preserved during the whole interview, as they never spoke a word, and rose from their seats only at the entrance and exit of the Commodore, when they made a grave and formal bow. Yezaiman and his interpreters acted as masters of ceremony during the occasion. On entering, they took their positions at the upper end of the room, kneeling down beside a large lacquered box of scarlet color, supported by feet, gilt or brass.

For some time after the Commodore and his suite had taken their seats there was a pause of some minutes, not a word being uttered on either side. Tatznoske, the principal interpreter, was the first to break silence, which he did by asking Mr. Portman, the Dutch interpreter, whether the letters were ready for delivery, and stating that the Prince Toda was prepared to receive them; and that the scarlet box at the upper end of the room was prepared as the receptacle for them. The Commodore upon this being communicated to him, beckoned to the boys who stood in the lower hall to advance, when they immediately obeyed his summons and came forward, bearing the handsome boxes which contained the President's letter and other documents. The two stalwart Negroes followed immediately in rear of the boys, and marching up to the scarlet receptacle received the boxes from the hands of the bearers, opened them, took out the letters, and, displaying the writing and seals laid them upon the lid of the Japanese box, all in perfect silence.

[The letter of the President, Millard Fillmore, expressed the friendly feelings of the United States toward Japan and his desire that there should be friendship and trade between the two countries. The documents were laid upon the scarlet box and a formal receipt was given for them.]

Yezaiman and Tatznoske now bowed, and, rising from their knees drew the fastenings around the scarlet box, and informing the Commodore's interpreter that there was nothing more to be done, passed out of the apartment, bowing to those on either side as they went. Thc Commodore now rose to take leave, and, as he departed, the two princes, still preserving absolute silence, also arose and stood until the strangers had passed from their presence.

The Commodore and his suite were detained a short time at the entrance of the building waiting for their barge, whereupon Yezaiman and his interpreter returned and asked some of the party what they were waiting for; to which they received the reply, "For the Commodore's boat." Nothing further was said. The whole interview had not occupied more than from twenty to thirty minutes, and had been conducted with the greatest formality, though with the most perfect courtesy in every respect.

The procession re-formed as before, and the Commodore was escorted to his barge, and, embarking, was rowed off toward his ship, followed by the other American and the two Japanese boats which contained the Governor of Uraga and his attendants, the bands meanwhile playing our national airs with great spirit as the boats pulled off to the ships.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed.,The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, pp. 427-437.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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