Commodore Perry's visit to Japan
On 8th July 1853, black ships arrived in the port of Edo (Tokyo).
The Japanese demanded the ships leave, resulting in the ships turning their guns on the city in a show of force.
The Japanese are forced into allowing them to dock, and Commodore Perry, an American naval officer, brings two letters; one from himself and one from President Fillmore.
In summary, President Fillmore's letter is generally written in a friendly, polite and respectful tone, yet also with an intimidating nature.
The US President makes three main requests to the Japanese Emperor; opening Japan’s ports to American ships for trade, providing US ships with ports to resupply with coal and other provisions (in return for payment) and the protection of US citizens that become shipwrecked in Japan.
He also mentions that he has dispatched Perry “with a powerful squadron” and that American steamships can reach Japan in “eighteen days” with the aim of intimidating the Emperor and suggesting that the US can force the Emperor to agree to the terms that he wishes Japan to accept.
In comparison to President Fillmore's letter, Commodore Perry's is much firmer and appears threatening.
In his letter, Perry focuses on his wish that American sailors who are shipwrecked in Japan, be treated with respect and kindness, arguing that the Japanese are respected and treated as such in the US.
Perry reassures the Japanese about American intentions as he writes that the US is not allied with any European government, which may be interpreted as the US not wishing to colonise Japan.
Perry suggests that closer relations between the US and Japan are inevitable, due to the speed of ships and the expanding influence of the US.
His letter becomes increasingly threatening as he says that steamships can reach Japan in 18 days, Japan’s seas will soon be covered with US vessels and that larger warships are about to arrive. He says that if Japan fails to accept the President's wishes, a larger naval force will travel to Japan in the next year.
Why did Commodore Perry visit Japan in 1853?
The US aimed at forcing Japan to open up to free trade. The Netherlands already had trading posts in Japan, and American businessmen believed that it was only fair that they would be allowed the same trading rights as they also wanted access to the markets in Japan.
The US wanted access to ports in Japan so American whalers and traders, who were very active in the Pacific Ocean, could seek shelter, refuel and resupply. It would also be more convenient for them as they would not need to carry as much fuel.
The Americans were angered by the treatment of shipwrecked Americans. American sailors who had been shipwrecked off the Japanese coast had been held by the Japanese authorities. Despite being rescued by US warships, it was discovered that the sailors had been treated harshly by the Japanese.
While European influence in mainland Asia continued to increase, the US believed that Japan could become part of their sphere of influence in the Pacific.
America had much more superior, modern firepower, so Japan had no option but to agree to open up to trade with the USA as they were afraid of harsh defeat.
By 1858, Japan had been forced to open up several ports to foreign traders.