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An American ship

The subject of this painting is probably the U.S.S. Powhatan, Commodore Matthew Perry’s flagship on his second expedition to Japan in 1854. The previous year Perry had come to Japan, delivered a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the shogun’s officials, and left, promising to return. Perry’s 1854 expedition, larger than the first, comprised seven ships. Inset at the upper-left corner are portraits of Commodore Perry and his deputy, Henry Adams.
The black-hulled American warships, particularly the steam frigates that puffed smoke “like dragons,” frightened the Japanese and at the same time fascinated them, no ship more so than the Powhatan, which had been built in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1852. The artist Shinsei, about whom little is known, depicted the warship in typical Japanese style, with flat planes and fine details enhanced by decorative patterns of ocean waves and rising smoke.

The Perry Expedition

In 1852 the United States Congress and President Millard Fillmore appointed Commodore Matthew Perry to lead an expedition to Japan. The Perry Expedition, as it came to be known, had several goals: to secure the opening of one or more Japanese ports for trade as well as to provide a place for American ships to obtain supplies and fuel. The expedition also sought to ensure that the Japanese would come to the aid of American seamen in nearby waters if the need arose. Perry was further directed to gather information on Japan and conduct a survey of Japanese coastal waters. Perry sailed to Japan with a squadron in 1853. The following year he successfully concluded negotiations for the Kanagawa Treaty, in which Japan agreed to America’ s requests, thus marking the beginning of formal relations between the two countries. A respected military strategist, Commodore Perry was also a literary man. A highly informative and magnificently illustrated narrative on his expeditions was compiled—from his original notes and journals and those kept by officers—under his supervision by Francis L. Hawks and published under the title Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, Performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy, by Order of the Government of the United States (3 vols., Washington, D.C., 1856).

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user The Q
    Which is correct: in this article, it says there were seven ships accompanying, whereas in the next article ('The steamship...') it says there were nine.
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Sam
    Maybe I learnt it wrong, but I thought that Commodore Perry attacked Japan with his ships and forced the Japanese to negotiate to what the Americans wanted? Am I wrong?
    (1 vote)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Jyzavi
      He did not attack Japan, though he did bring ships armed with canons and such as a display of power. He did intend to bully them if necessary, but actually once they all sat down to negotiate those in charge agreed to pretty much everything he wanted. It was a very controversial decision among the Japanese people, especially the samurai, but realistically he didn't actually ask for much in this first agreement. The controversy was more that any agreement be made with the "barbaric" foreigners, not even talking about Americans specifically but as an attitude towards anyone who wasn't Japanese. It was later agreements when Americans forced negotiations more and created unfair treaties.
      (1 vote)