MATERIAL: Hand-Written/Painted
TYPE: Report
DIMENSIONS: Manuscript measures 6 1/2 X 9 1/4 inches (closed).
COMPONENTS: 18 pages
CONDITION: Fine official calligraphy, generally fair shape, very rare, historic.
NOTES: Rare.
ITEM ID: 3920
  • Artwork
  • Artwork
  • Artwork
  • Artwork
  • Artwork

Post a comment

Official Japanese Documents from Commodore Matthew Perry’s Voyage to Japan

Decade: 1850s
Century: 19th (1801-1900)
Notes: 1852-1853

All documents are in the hand of Ohashi, a proponent of SONNO JOI (Expel the Barbarians), Feudal Lords against the opening of Japan to foreign countries. These Feudal Lords were interested in the terms being proposed by the Americans anchored in Edo Bay.

This first set comprises four translated letters (bound as one) from US President Millard Fillmore and Commodore Matthew Perry to the Emperor of Japan, discussing the proposal to open Japan to foreign trade and for the allowance of US steam vessels to re-supply coal in Japan and further assurances that shipwrecked sailors, in particular of whaling ships, be rescued and taken care of, both man and property, until other American vessels could be sent to pick them up.

All four letters are translated and written entirely using Chinese characters for official documents at that time. Below are translations of two of the letters, the first from President Millard Fillmore, delivered by Perry, and the second from Matthew Perry himself:

1) Millard Fillmore,
President of the United States of Americato
To his Imperial Majesty,THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN
Great and Good Friend! I send you this public letter by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, an officer of the highest rank in the navy of the United States, and commander of the squadron now visiting Your imperial majesty’s dominions. I have directed Commodore Perry to assure your imperial majesty that I entertain the kindest feelings toward your majesty’s person and government, and that I have no other object in sending him to Japan but to propose to your imperial majesty that the United States and Japan should live in friendship and have commercial intercourse with each other.

The Constitution and laws of the United States forbid all interference with the religious or political concerns of other nations. I have particularly charged Commodore Perry to abstain from every act which could possibly disturb the tranquillity of your imperial majesty’s dominions.

The United States of America reach from ocean to ocean, and our Territory of Oregon and State of California lie directly opposite to the dominions of your imperial majesty. Our steamships can go from California to Japan in eighteen days. Our great State of California produces about sixty millions of dollars in gold every year, besides silver, quicksilver, precious stones, and many other valuable articles. Japan is also a rich and fertile country, and produces many very valuable articles.

Your imperial majesty’s subjects are skilled in many of the arts. I am desirous that our two countries should trade with each other, for the benefit both of Japan and the United States.
We know that the ancient laws of your imperial majesty’s government do not allow of foreign trade, except with the Chinese and the Dutch; but as the state of the world changes and new governments are formed, it seems to be wise, from time to time, to make new laws. There was a time when the ancient laws of your imperial majesty’s government were first made. About the same time America, which is sometimes called the New World, was first discovered and settled by the Europeans. For a long time there were but a few people, and they were poor. They have now become quite numerous; their commerce is very extensive; and they think that if your imperial majesty were so far to change the ancient laws as to allow a free trade between the two countries it would be extremely beneficial to both. If your imperial majesty is not satisfied that it would be safe altogether to abrogate the ancient laws which forbid foreign trade, they might be suspended for five or ten years, so as to try the experiment. If it does not prove as beneficial as was hoped, the ancient laws can be restored.

The United States often limit their treaties with foreign States to a few years, and then renew them or not, as they please. I have directed Commodore Perry to mention another thing to your imperial majesty. Many of our ships pass every year from California to China; and great numbers of our people pursue the whale fishery near the shores of Japan. It sometimes happens, in stormy weather, that one of our ships is wrecked on your imperial majesty’s shores. In all such cases we ask, and expect, that our unfortunate people should be treated with kindness, and that their property should be protected, till we can send a vessel and bring them away. We are very much in earnest in this. Commodore Perry is also directed by me to represent to your imperial majesty that we understand there is a great abundance of coal and provisions in the Empire of Japan. Our steamships, in crossing the great ocean, burn a great deal of coal, and it is not convenient to bring it all the way from America. We wish that our steamships and other vessels should be allowed to stop in Japan and supply themselves with coal, provisions, and water. They will pay for them in money, or anything else your imperial majesty’s subjects may prefer; and we request your imperial majesty to appoint a convenient port, in the southern part of the Empire, where our vessels may stop for this purpose. We are very desirous of this.

These are the only objects for which I have sent Commodore Perry, with a powerful squadron, to pay a visit to your imperial majesty’s renowned city of Yedo: friendship, commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our shipwrecked people. We have directed Commodore Perry to beg your imperial majesty’s acceptance of a few presents. They are of no great value in themselves; but some of them may serve as specimens of the articles manufactured in the United States, and they are intended as tokens of our sincere and respectful friendship.

May the Almighty have your imperial majesty in His great and holy keeping! In witness whereof, I have caused the great seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, and have subscribed the same with my name, at the city of Washington, in America, the seat of my government, on the thirteenth day of the month of November, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-two.
[Seal attached]Your good friend,
Milliard Fillmore, President

2) United States Flag Ship PowhatanAt anchor off the Town of Yokohama
To His Highness,Hayashi, Daigaku-no-kami etc. etc. etc.
Your Highness,
In reply to the communication of your highness, which was brought to me yesterday by Kurokawa Kahei, and the chief interpreter, Moriyama Einosuke, I hasten to remark that it has given me the greatest satisfaction to learn from its contents, that the imperial government of Japan has at last awakened to a conviction of the necessity of so altering its policy with respect to foreign nations, as to consent to an interchange of friendly intercourse with the United States. Though the propositions set forth in the communication of your highness furnish strong evidence of the enlightened spirit with which the imperial commissioners are disposed to meet the suggestions which I have had the honor to submit, they fall far short of my anticipations, and I do not hesitate to say that they would not satisfy the views of the President. I cheerfully accede to those of the propositions of your highness which offer to guarantee kind treatment to such vessels of the United States as may hereafter visit the parts of Japan, or be wrecked upon its coasts with protection, and suitable hospitality to the people who may belong to them. Also, that provisions and other supplies shall be furnished to them and payment received for the same. Also, that American steamers shall be supplied with reasonable quantities of coal, and at fair and equitable prices. These are all very well so far as they go, and can be incorporated in the treaty which I shall expect to make; but my instructions require me to look for an intercourse of a more enlarged and liberal character, and I feel assured that the Imperial government, in consideration of the spirit of the age, and with the full knowledge of my strong desire to conduct my mission in peace and friendship, will no longer hesitate to enter with cordiality into a treaty that will be mutually honorable and advantageous to both nations.

The convenience of the immense and growing commerce of the United States in these seas will require, certainly, as many ports of resort in Japan as are specified in the treaty with China, and these must be free from any restrictions not recognized, by the usages of free and independent nations. In a word, I again earnestly urge upon your highness the policy of fixing upon some written compact that will be binding as well upon the citizens of the United States as the subjects of Japan. It would be needless in me again to express the sincerest desire of my heart to bring these negotiations to an amicable and satisfactory termination; nor will I again allude to the importance of such an issue, important as well to save time as to prevent the necessity of sending from America more ships and men, and possibly with instructions of more stringent import. I have the power and the wish to meet the Imperial commissioners in all good faith, believing that there can be no more favorable time than the present to settle all the questions under consideration in such manner as will bring about a good understanding between two nations, whose geographical positions, lying in comparative proximity, would seem to enjoin, as a measure of wise foresight, a mutual interchange of those acts of kindness and good will which will serve to cement the friendship happily commenced, and to endure, I trust, for many years.
With the most profound respect
(signed) M. C. PerryCommander-in-chief U.S. Naval ForcesEast India, China, and Japan Seas And Special Ambassador to Japan.