Commodore Perry Opens Japan To The World
AN HEROIC DEED WITHOUT BLOODSHED
THERE are victories of peace as well as of war. Of course, you do not
need to be told that. Everybody knows it. And it often takes as much
courage to win these victories as it does those of war. I am going now
to tell you of one of the greatest victories ever won by an American
naval hero, and without firing a gun.
Not far away from the great em
ire of China lies the island empire of
Japan. Here the map shows us three or four large islands, but there are
many hundreds of small ones, and in and out among them flow the smiling
blue waters of the great Pacific Ocean.
The people of Japan, like the people of China, for a long time did not
like foreigners and did not want anything to do with them. But that was
the fault of the foreigners themselves. For at first these people were
glad to have strangers come among them, and treated them kindly, and let
missionaries land and try to make Christians of them. But the Christian
teachers were not wise; for they interfered with the government as well
as with the faith of the people.
The Japanese soon grew angry at this. In the end they drove all the
strangers away and killed all the Christian converts they could find.
Then laws were made to keep all foreigners out of the country. They let
a Dutch ship come once a year to bring some foreign goods to the seaport
of Nagasaki, but they treated these Dutch traders as if they were of no
account. And thus it continued in Japan for nearly three hundred years.
The Japanese did not care much for the Dutch goods, but they liked to
hear, now and then, what was going on in the world. Once a year they let
some of the Dutch visit the capital, but these had to crawl up to the
emperor on their hands and knees and crawl out backward like crabs. They
must have wanted the Japanese trade badly to do that.
When a vessel happened to be wrecked on the coast of Japan, the sailors
were held as prisoners and there was much trouble to get them off; and
when Japanese were wrecked and sent home, no thanks were given. They
were looked upon as no longer Japanese.
The Russians had seaports in Siberia, which made them near neighbors to
Japan, so they tried to make friends with the Japanese. But the island
people would have nothing to do with them. Captain Golownin, of the
Russian navy, landed on one of the islands; but he was taken prisoner
and kept for a long time and treated cruelly. That was the way things
went in Japan till 1850 had come and passed.
It took the Yankees to do what the Dutch and the Russians had failed in
doing. After the war with Mexico, thousands of Americans went to
California and other parts of the Pacific coast, and trading ships grew
numerous on that great ocean. It was felt to be time that Japan should
be made to open her ports to the commerce of the nations, and the United
States tried to do it.
Captain Matthew Calbraith Perry was selected for this great work.
Captain Perry was a brother of Oliver H. Perry, the hero of Lake Erie.
He was a lieutenant in that war, but he commanded a ship in the war with
the pirates and the Mexican war. In 1852 he was given the command of a
commodore and sent out with a fine squadron to Japan. He took with him a
letter from the President to the Tycoon, or military ruler, of Japan.
On the 8th of July, 1853, the eyes of many of the Japanese opened wide
when they saw four fine vessels sailing grandly up the broad Bay of
Yeddo, where such a sight had never been seen before. As late as 1850
the ruler of Japan had sent word to foreign nations that he would have
nothing to do with them or their people, and now here came these daring
These ships were the steam frigates Mississippi and Susquehanna, and
the sailing ships Saratoga and Plymouth of the United States Navy,
under command of Commodore Perry.
Have you ever disturbed an ant-hill, and seen the ants come running out
in great haste to learn what was wrong? It was much like that on the Bay
of Yeddo. Thousands of Japanese gathered on the shores or rowed out on
the bay to gaze at this strange sight. The great steamships, gliding on
without sails, were a wonderful spectacle to them.
As the ships came on, boats put out with flags and carrying men who wore
two swords. This meant that they were of high station. They wanted to
climb into the ships and order the daring commodore to turn around and
go back, but none of them were allowed to set foot on board.
"Our commodore is a great dignitary," they were told. "He cannot meet
small folk like you. He will only speak with one of your great men, who
is his equal."
And so the ropes which were fastened to the ships were cut, and those
who tried to climb on board were driven back, and these two-sworded
people had to row away as they had come.
This made them think that the American commodore must be a very big man
indeed. So a more important man came out; but he was stopped too, and
asked his business. He showed an order for the ships to leave the harbor
at once, but was told that they had come there on business and would not
leave till their business was done.
After some more talk they let this man come on board, but a lieutenant
was sent to talk with him as his equal in rank. He said he was the
vice-governor of the district, and that the law of Japan forbade
foreigners to come to any port but that of Nagasaki, where the Dutch
The lieutenant replied that such talk was not respectful; that they had
come with a letter from the President of the United States to the
Emperor of Japan; and that they would deliver it where they were and
nowhere else. And it would be given only to a prince of the highest
Then he was told that the armed boats that were gathering about the ship
must go away. If they did not they would be driven away with cannon.
When the vice-governor heard this he ordered the boats away, and soon
followed them himself. He was told that if the governor did not receive
the letter the ships would go up the bay to Yeddo, the capital, and send
it up to the Emperor in his palace.
The next day the governor of the district came. Two captains were sent
to talk with him. He did not want to receive the letter either, and
tried every way he could to avoid taking it. After some talk he asked
if he might have four days to send and get permission of the Tycoon, who
was the acting but not the real emperor of Japan.
"No," he was told. "Three days will be plenty of time, for Yeddo is not
far off. If the answer does not come then, we will steam up to the city,
and our commodore will go to the Emperor's palace for the answer."
The governor was frightened at this, so he agreed upon the three days
and went ashore.
During those three days the ships were not idle. They sent parties in
boats to survey the bay. All along the shores were villages full of
people, and fishing boats and trading vessels were on the waters by
hundreds. There were forts on shore, but they were poor affairs, with a
few little cannon, and soldiers carrying spears. And canvas was
stretched from tree to tree as if it would keep back cannon-balls. The
sailors laughed when they saw this.
The governor said that they ought not to survey the waters; it was
against the laws of Japan. But they kept at it all the same. The boats
went ten miles up the bay, and the Mississippi steamed after them.
Government boats came out, and signs were made for them to go back; but
they paid no attention to these signs.
When the three days were ended the good news came that the Emperor would
receive the letter. He would send one of his high officers for it. An
answer would be returned through the Dutch or the Chinese. Commodore
Perry said this was an insult, and he would not take an answer from
them, but would come back for it himself.
So, on the 14th of July the President's letter was received. It was
written in the most beautiful manner, on the finest paper, and was in a
golden box of a thousand dollars in value. It asked for a treaty of
commerce between the two countries, and for kind treatment of American
So far none of the Japanese had seen the Commodore, and they thought he
must be a very great man. Now he went ashore with much dignity, with
several hundred officers and men, and with bands playing and cannon
roaring. There were two princes of the empire to receive him, splendidly
dressed in embroidered robes of silk.
The Commodore was carried in a fine sedan-chair, beside which walked two
gigantic negroes, dressed in gorgeous uniform and armed with swords and
pistols. Two other large, handsome negroes carried the golden letter
A beautiful scarlet box was brought by the Japanese to receive this. It
was put in the box with much ceremony, and a receipt was given. Then the
"Nothing more can be done now. The letter has been received and you must
"I shall come back for the answer," said Commodore Perry.
"With all the ships?"
"Yes, and likely with more."
Not another word was said, and the Commodore rose and returned to the
ship. The next day he sailed up the bay until only eight or ten miles
from the capital. On the 16th, the Japanese officials were glad to see
the foreign ships, with their proud Commodore, sailing away. The visit
had caused them great anxiety and trouble of mind.
Commodore Perry did not come back till February of the next year. Then
he had a larger fleet; nine ships in all. And he went farther up the
bay than before and anchored opposite the village of Yokohama. This
village has now grown into a large city.
The Emperor's answer was ready, but there was much ceremony before it
was delivered. There were several receptions, and at one of these the
presents which Commodore Perry had brought were delivered. These were
fine cloths, firearms, plows, and various other articles. The most
valuable were a small locomotive and a railroad car. These were run in a
circular track that was set up, and the Japanese looked on with wonder.
Also a telegraph wire was set up and operated. This interested the
Japanese more than anything else, but they took care not to show any
In the Emperor's reply, he agreed that the American ships should be
supplied with provisions and water, and that shipwrecked sailors should
be kindly treated. And he also agreed to open to American ships another
port besides that of Nagasaki, where the Dutch were received. The
Commodore was not satisfied with this, and finally two new ports were
opened to American commerce. And the Americans were given much more
freedom to go about than was given to the Dutch or the Chinese. They
refused to be treated like slaves.
When it was all settled and the treaties were exchanged, Commodore Perry
gave an elegant dinner on his flagship to the Japanese princes and
officials. They enjoyed the American food greatly, but what they liked
most was champagne wine, which they had never tasted before. One little
Japanese got so merry with drinking this, that he sprang up and embraced
the Commodore like a brother. Perry bore this with great good-humor.
But just think of the importance of all this! For three centuries the
empire of Japan had been shut like a locked box against the nations. Now
the box was unlocked, and the people of the nations were free to come
and go. For treaties were soon made with other countries, and the island
empire was thrown open to the commerce of the world.