(73): Beware Party Crashers Bearing Gifts

Commodore Perry and pals as rendered in a Japanese print, 1854.

…or a partial list of the neato stuff that Commodore Matthew C. Perry brought to Japan in 1854 and a bit of offhand history from my fading memory.

When Commodore Perry sailed into Edo Bay in 1854 with his Black Ships, Americans were pretty much ignorant of this exotic country of Japan. It had been closed off (for the most part) from outside commerce since the 17th century, with the most minimal interaction with the outside world (mostly the Dutch and the Chinese through the port of Nagasaki). America sent a fleet of steamships to practice that fine 19th century art of “gunboat diplomacy.” These ships appeared first in 1853 off the Bay of Uraga (near Edo, now Tokyo) and gave an ultimatum to the “Emperor” to open ports for use by American ships. They returned in a year to make sure that the “Emperor” would sign a treaty opening two ports for use as refueling stations and at which shipwrecked sailors could be rescued and sent home.

So, America knew almost nothing about Japan. The august presence that Perry negotiated with was not the Emperor at all. This was 1854, after all. At that time, the Tokugawa Shogunate was the ruling body, but that didn’t stop Perry from distributing gifts for the “Emperor.” (This showed that Perry, and thus America, didn’t know doodly about the political system in Japan, but that’s to be expected.)

For the Emperor:

Miniature steam engine, ¼ size, with track, tender, and car
 2 telegraph sets, with batteries, three miles of wire, gutta percha wire, and insulators
 1 Francis’ copper lifeboat
 1 surfboat of copper
 Collection of agricultural implements
 Audubon’s Birds, in nine vols.
 Natural History of the State of New York, sixteen vols.
 Annals of Congress, four vols.
 Laws and Documents of the State of New York
 Journal of the Senate and Assembly of New York
 Lighthouse Reports, two vols.
 Bancroft’s History of the United States, four vols.
 Farmer’s Guide, two vols. 
 1 series of United States Coast Survey Charts
 Morris Engineeering
 Silver-topped dressing case
 8 yards of scarlet broadcloth, and scarlet velvet
 Series of United States standard yard, gallon, bushel, balances and weights
 Quarter cask of Madeira
 Barrel of whisky
 Box of champagne and cherry cordial and maraschino
 3 boxes of fine tea
 Maps of several states and four large lithographs
 Telescope and stand, in box
 Sheet-iron stove
 An assortment of fine perfumery
 5 Hall rifles
 3 Maynard muskets
 12 cavalry swords
 6 artillery swords
 1 carbine
 20 Army pistols in a box
 Catalogue of New York State Library and of Postoffices
 2 mail bags with padlocks

Great haul, isn’t it? This mass of American giftery would have gone to the Shogun of the time. In 1854, the ruling Shogun was Tokugawa Iesada, who had a very weak constitution. It is theorized he may have suffered from cerebral palsy. He never interacted with Perry’s party at all, leaving everything to his top counselor, Abe Masahiro. So what did Abe get? Let’s see:

For Abe, prince of Ise, first councilor:
 1 copper lifeboat
 Kendell War in Mexico and Ripley History of the War in Mexico
 1 box of champagne
 3 boxes of fine tea
 20 gallons whisky
 Revolver with powder
 1 sword
 2 dozen assorted perfumery
 4 yards scarlet broadcloth


I said at the outset that the Black Ships had pulled in briefly off the coast in 1853 and then returned a year later. Guess what? This event was so stressful, it probably resulted in the previous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, popping off suddenly, leaving the Shogunate to one of the absolute weakest successors, just at really important juncture.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu with his own damn rifle!

Now, since I’m only posting this for my own fun and games (and because I couldn’t think of anything else to post that I could manage to say anything meaningful about), I’ll go ahead and talk about the guy that an official faction wanted for Shogun at this time, and that was Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who actually DID become the very last Shogun and had the dubious honor of surrendering the capital (Edo) to the Imperial forces that became the Meiji (Imperial) government in 1869. The fellows who wanted Yoshinobu for Shogun were a party of Imperial loyalists whose aim was to bring back the reverence for the Emperor, which had mostly died out in official circles under the Tokugawa. The Emperor at the time had very little power until this faction helped them out. Then, a whole lot of madness, killing, and political flip-flopping happened, and our one-time Imperial loyalist candidate ended up being the whipping boy for the actual Imperial loyalists — those fellows from the South: Satsuma, Choshu and that guy they made The Last Samurai about (see below) except they changed a bunch of stuff and added Tom Cruise.

Statue of Saigo Takamori with his dog in Ueno Park. Never heard of Tom Cruise.

I suppose I’ve had enough fun for tonight, so let me just thank Brown University Library for the link to Commodore Perry’s journal wherein I found the lovely list of loot that poor old Iesada probably had no idea what to do with:

And a big thank you to tigger porn , who prompted the response that led to me deciding to make this the topic of the day!

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