Updated: Sep 26
Welcome to the first post in this series exploring the history of maritime relations between Japan and America. As Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, a native Rhode Islander, was instrumental in establishing this relationship. The 日米海上歴史blog is hosted at https://japanamericamaritimehistory.wordpress.com/ and the first three posts will be duplicated here. To continue to read these after those three, please subscribe at https://japanamericamaritimehistory.wordpress.com/.
In 2004, following closely on the heels of the 150th anniversary commemorating Commodore Perry’s 1854 signing of the Kanagawa Treaty (also known as the Treaty of Peace and Amity), U.S. President George W. Bush said the relationship between the United States and Japan had progressed “from strangers, to adversaries, to the very best of friends”. In keeping with the evolution of the relationship between these two countries, this series will begin by exploring the early years from the Black Ships up through the Great White Fleet.
By the time the U.S. declared independence on July 4th, 1776, Japan had been a closed country (鎖国 or sakoku) for over 137 years. Between 1614 and 1639, the shogun systematically closed Japan in order to protect the country from colonization by the European powers. The shogun feared the Christian religion, which was gaining a foothold in the country, would be used as a weapon to subjugate the country under European control, as he believed had occurred in other places. He outlawed Christianity and forced its adherents to disavow it or be executed. Furthermore, he restricted contact with outside countries to the Dutch in the port of Nagasaki. Because the Dutch focused on commerce and not religious conversion, they were allowed to set up a small post on the island of Deshima within Nagasaki harbor, and were allowed to bring in ships for trade with Japan. There was also limited trade with Korea and China during this period.
In future posts, we will discuss various attempts by Americans to engage with the Japanese between 1791 and 1849. Most failed completely, but there were some minor successes. Ensuing posts will highlight Commodore Perry’s successful 1852-1854 expedition with the Black Ships, his negotiation of the Treaty of Kanagawa, and his follow-on visits to Shimoda and Hakodate. Following those posts, we will discuss the American maritime relationship with Meiji Japan, including the efforts of Katsu Kaishuu, USS Wyoming shelling of Japan, the Sino-Japanese War, the Annexation of Hawaii, the Russo-Japanese War, and President Teddy Roosevelt and his Great White Fleet.