The Black Ships Scrolls

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1. Meet the two principal figures of the Perry Expedition. On the left we see Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry. On the right we have Henry A. Adams, Captain of the Fleet, and Perry's second in command. Adams was Captain of the flagships Mississippi, Susquehanna, and Powhatan on which Perry sailed. The artist who made this drawing may not have seen Perry personally, for Perry was extremely dignified in public. It is unlikely that he would have allowed himself to be painted in this casual pose. In addition, Perry was always clean shaven, yet here he is bewhiskered. What needs to be pointed out, however, is that the artist painted Perry and Adams as individuals. There are other portraits of Perry and Adams that showed them as stereotypical "southern barbarians" with wild-looking, unkempt hair and grotesque features. Westerners at that time had their own stereotypes of the Japanese who were seen as "uncivilized" and "heathen."

Adams also served as early negotiator with the Japanese when Perry insisted that he would have nothing to do with any but the highest authorities and Adams carried out many of the preliminary negotiations.

2. This figure is most likely Sam Patch. Sam Patch, as his fellow sailors called him (his name may well have been Sampachi), was a Japanese castaway who had made his way to California. He was one of several Japanese castaways who agreed to join the American expedition. We know that Perry's official "interpreter" was S. Wells Williams, a China scholar who had learned some Japanese. While not an official interpreter, Sam played a key role as a go-between for the Americans. At the conclusion of the expedition, Sam was invited to remain in Japan. However, as it was a crime for Japanese to return to Japan, he was fearful of what would happen to him if he stayed. Sam returned to the United States on the Mississippi and later went to school in the U.S.  Sam went by many names: Sentaro, Sampachi, Kurazo, Kurakichi, etc. Curiously, the Scroll caption refers to him as Matou. One possibility is that under his friend Jonathan Goble's Christian "instruction" he had converted to Christianity and that the marine had given him the Christian name "Mathew." This may explain why Sam was so reluctant to stay in Japan where Christianity was strictly outlawed.

When Jonathan Goble (a member of the Perry expedition) and his wife returned to Japan as Baptist missionaries in 1860, Sam Patch accompanied them. Later he worked for the important Yokohama missionary, James Ballagh and his wife. 

3. Here we see two of Perry's "black ships." At the right is the Powhatan, which served as Perry's flagship. The Powhatan was a steam frigate built in Norfolk in 1852. It was among the most modern ships of its time. It carried a crew of 300, was 253 feet long, and was armed with 9 of the latest naval cannon. The vessel on the left might have been one of the supply ships. In total Perry brought with him three frigates (paddle wheel steamers), four sloops (sailing vessels) and three supply ships. At the time this was one quarter of the entire U.S. Navy. The combined firepower of Perry's ships, 130 cannon and 2600 men, awed the Japanese. They felt they had no choice but to agree to the American terms. That is, to "open" the country to Americans and sign the "Treaty of Peace and Amity between the United States and Japan." // The scroll caption tells us: "Fleet Commander Hiri (Perry) is aboard."

The hard to decipher caption also indicates that this ship was called "Shitsumatei," a name that does not fit any of the vessels recorded to have gone to Japan. The caption tells us it had a crew of 50, "seven large cannon" and "twenty-four medium sized cannon." 

4. After the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed in March of 1854, Perry and his crew set sail for the newly opened port of Shimoda. Shimoda was located about 130 miles from the city of Edo, at the southern end of the rugged Izu Peninsula. The Japanese did not want "foreign barbarians" close to Edo, the Shogunal capital of Japan. For this reason they selected an out-of-the-way port as the site where Westerners would be allowed to reside. Though isolated, Shimoda had a certain scenic charm. Heine, the artist on the Perry Expedition, said of Shimoda, "the harbor of Shimoda consists of a spacious inlet surrounded by rolling countryside rising to hills of several hundred feet. Even our large ships could anchor within rifle shot of land, so abruptly does the shore slant to depth …There at the mouth of a small but vigorous river the town of Shimoda numbers about a thousand buildings."  The artist Heine, who had an eye for scenery, wrote of Izu: "At many coastal spots, walls of rock soar from the water, vertical for a thousand feet and more. Plateaus can often be descried, several thousand feet above the sea level, with wild-looking rugged ridges towering still higher…Lusty brooks dance through them to the ocean, and cities and towns nestle like strings of pearls on the emerald velvet of meadows and fields."

5. Once Perry and his men came ashore in Shimoda, they had much work to do. The Treaty of Kanagawa that Perry signed with the Japanese on March 31, 1854 opened two ports, Shimoda and Hakodate for "trade and residence." Shimoda was to become the chief port in Japan for Westerners. To prepare the way for the arrival of future Americans, Perry had his squadron carefully survey the port. William Heine, the American artist who helped with the surveying, wrote: "we undertook a scrupulous coastal survey of the harbor, the shoreline and contiguous areas, and especially the isolated rocks and a series of reefs." Heine seems to have made topographical drawings that went with the surveys. He wrote that on these excursions ashore "we brought food and water for three days." To take their measurements, they used the plane table, diopter, compass, and chain. The Japanese artist recorded the American surveying party (perhaps Heine was in the group) and carefully included all their complex equipment.

6. William Heine was the official artist of the Perry Expedition. At a time when photography was still highly limited, artists like Heine were needed to make careful drawings of scenes and events. Heine made hundreds of drawings and recorded most of the official ceremonies in which Commodore Perry participated. Heine often sketched the Japanese countryside. In this scene the Japanese artist shows him doing a sketch of the tiny islet in Shimoda harbor on which there is a shrine to Benten the goddess of music and beauty. It is from this island, connected by the little bridge to the mainland, that a man named Yoshida Shoin and his partner rowed out to Perry's ships hoping to travel to America. Perry refused to take them aboard and Yoshida was subsequently arrested. No Japanese was allowed to leave Japan while the old (Tokugawa) regime was in power.

7. The man we see here making a drawing of a pine branch is very likely the agriculturalist Dr. James Morrow. Morrow made many drawings of Japanese plants and flowers, including species of plants yet unknown to Americans. Here we see him using a go-board (a Japanese game board) on which to paint his picture in Shimoda. When the expedition was completed, Morrow refused to give his drawings to Perry to have them published with the official record of the journey. He reasoned that because he had been sent to Japan by the Secretary of State, not Perry, the State Department should publish his drawings and journal as a separate volume. Unfortunately his proposed volume of drawings was never published and his materials have disappeared. Alas, we can at least see Morrow making one of his drawings in this scene.

8. The Japanese artist who painted these scrolls was interested in everything the Americans brought and used. In this image, he carefully records the size, capacity, and use of one of the American landing boats. The author notes that "small boats" of this type were about "two and a half ken" (about eight feet) in length. "Large boats" of the same type could be as long as "five ken" (fifteen feet). Americans called these "houteu," he notes, which appears to be his transliteration of "boat" in Japanese. Obviously the artist who made these pictures was in close enough contact with the Americans to ask them what they were called in English. Japanese, who had no national flag at the time, were intrigued by foreign flags. Note the careful depiction of the rigging, oar-locks, and tiller. The artist also comments on the color schemes of these vessels.

9. Every detail was recorded by the Japanese. Here is a typical example of a picture depicting American coins ranging from one dollar to twenty dollar gold pieces and silver coins of various denominations. Below are drawings of Western pipes of different shapes, a water barrel and an anchor. At the bottom we see a grappling hook and oars. Similar drawings were made for the hundreds of agricultural tools and implements that were presented by Perry as gifts to the Japanese people and their government. Included among his gifts were the newest examples of Western technology, including a miniature steam train (on which many a samurai wanted to take a ride), a complete telegraph apparatus and lines, fire-fighting equipment, and Western weapons including Colt (Six Shooters) and Hall's (twenty-four-shot) rifles. There were also many books including a splendid edition of Audubon's Birds of America. As depicted here, all these objects were carefully drawn and described.

10. One of the new technologies that Perry brought to demonstrate to the Japanese was the early camera, the Daguerreotype. The making of an early photograph took place in Shimoda on May 7, 1854. Eliphalet M. Brown, Jr., a member of Perry's team, was the official degeurreotypist. At Commodore Perry's request, the governor of Shimoda selected several Japanese ladies to be daguerreotyped. About a hundred people gathered to witness this "experiment with that miraculous box." William Heine, the artist who accompanied Perry, wrote in his journal: "On one occasion I saw six or eight young women tricked out in their most elegant. All were attractive, and some would have been called lovely in different cultures and other lands." The caption on the scroll tells us that the seated lady is a "courtesan" who is having her picture taken so that it can be sent to the "the American king" to show him what "a Japanese beauty looked like." Rumors circulated not long thereafter that anyone who had been photographed would "die within three years." This was just an idle rumor, and the new technology was soon embraced.

11. The Japanese, according to members of the Perry Expedition, were very fond of music, both singing and dancing. Heine wrote "the Japanese seem to love music. When the commodore brought our choir ashore at Shimoda, half the city turned out to hear them. The next time he landed, without the choir, many Shimodans followed him and by all sorts of signs let him know how much they liked the singing and how they wished he would bring the choir along again." Perry also put on a "minstrel show" in which there was both dancing and singing and this was equally a hit among the Japanese.

12. Here we see two sailors in a rather tipsy state dancing along the beach. The artist has accompanied their dancing with what seems to be a Japanese folk song about a "sweetheart in the far mountains who is coming to her lover." ["Sweet Betsey From Pike"?] The Japanese appear to have had sympathy for the American sailors long cut off from home and family. This suggests that many Japanese saw the Americans as normal human beings, not demonic barbarians. In fact, members of the Perry expedition observed that while the samurai were often cool and aloof, the common people were usually friendly and courteous.

13. In this scene we see that the Japanese common people were prepared to include Americans in their every-day rituals and that Americans were willing to join in. We see here an American sailor with mallet pounding out glutinous rice cakes, or mochi, in the large mortar. The job of the second man is to turn the glob of glutinous rice every so often as it is being pounded. The tricky thing is to turn it quickly so as not to interrupt the rhythm of the man doing the pounding and not to get your hand in the way. The timing is important so the ritual usually involves singing to establish a proper beat. Can you guess what the Japanese lady in the background is doing? Mochi is often associated with the New Year's celebration in Japan and with other holidays. While the lunar New Year fell later than the January 1 date we normally associate with New Year, it is not clear whether the mochi being pounded here is for that event or for another holiday. Events such as this broke down the cross-cultural barriers that separated Japanese from Americans.

14. For the Japanese, Perry's squadron was an unusual gathering of different national and racial groups. Perry brought with him a number of Chinese who served as stewards on his ships. The standing Chinese in this picture, who seems to be wearing an apron, may well show such a steward. Japanese were familiar with Chinese who continued to trade with Japan through Nagasaki during the Tokugawa period. In fact, the standard term for all foreigners in Japan at this time was "t_jin" or "Man from China." Even Americans and Europeans were referred to as t_jin.

More unusual to the Japanese were sailors of African descent. The U.S. Navy at the time included a variety of blacks. They often served as deckhands and cooks, though some held higher positions. When Perry landed at Kanagawa in 1854 he was escorted by two black sailors who were fully armed. His standard bearer, as other Japanese pictures show, was a very tall and powerful sailor, and on the occasion of the first presentation of the American President's letter two impressive blacks served as armed guards to the young men who carried the boxes containing the documents. The first blacks to visit Japan had come with the Portuguese and Spanish in the sixteenth century. They were often depicted on the scrolls and screens of the early sixteenth century showing "southern barbarians." The portrait of the black man shown here was consequently stylized by the artist to fit earlier perceptions.

The figure at the far right is Jonathan Goble, one of Perry's Marines, who was a devout Christian and spent a good deal of time with the Japanese on shore. He seems to have gotten to know the artist who made the original drawing, for he is one of the few foreigners whose name is given next to his image. 

15. In the course of getting to know one another, cultural mishaps were bound to happen. In this amusing scene an American sailor has decided to sample what the merchant in blue is selling. The American does not seem to be aware that this is Japanese "hair oil" made from Camelia nuts, and not meant for human consumption. The Japanese merchant appears taken aback by the American's effort to swallow the oil rather than apply it to his hair. The man at the left, who is holding up his hands, as if to say "no don't do that!" is probably also telling him in Japanese that this is not for eating. Look at the red face and surprised expression of the American! Such misunderstandings were common in the initial encounter between Americans and Japanese. What this scene shows is the essential curiosity that each side had about the other.


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