Commodore Perry Opens Japan To The World


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

traders came.

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

interpreter said:

"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.