Form and Content
Rhoda Blumberg’s Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun follows the strategies, bluffs, and bullying of Commodore Matthew C. Perry as he arrived off the shores of Shimoda, Japan. He followed in the wake of several unsuccessful European and American attempts to open the feudal society to the outside world, and he was determined to succeed where others had failed; he never imagined that Japan had any right to remain as isolated as it wished. His first intent was to deliver a letter to the emperor from President Millard Fillmore, a letter that asked for ports to be opened to American ships so that they might obtain coal and provisions and for proper and humane treatment of any American sailors shipwrecked off the Japanese coast. After delivering the letter, Perry intended to sail away and return the next spring for his answer.
The arrival of Perry’s ship caused an uproar of fear and confusion in Japan. Mired in a feudal system that existed by maintaining things as they had been for a thousand years, the Japanese people saw the entrance of these foreigners as a potential disaster; by law, they were not allowed to speak with foreigners, and anyone who lived abroad and then returned to Japan was subject to execution. Perry, however, isolating himself so that he might appear as mysterious and remote as the emperor, threatened not only to land but also to march to Edo (modern Tokyo) in order to deliver the letter to the emperor personally. To indicate his adamant position, Perry began to send out survey crews to map the coast. Eager to avoid contact, the Japanese negotiator Kayama brought a letter from the emperor to Perry indicating that the letter from President Fillmore might be delivered to Japanese officials. On July 14, 1853, Americans landed on the sacred soil of Japan for the first time. Three days later, Perry sailed away.
At first, the Japanese people sought simply to refuse all contact, but when Perry...
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