THE Treaty of Kanagawa, signed on March 31, 1854, was the opening
wedge for trade between the United States and Japan. Providing for
more humane treatment of American sailors shipwrecked off the coast
of Japan and permitting limited trade by Americans at the relatively
inaccessible ports of Shimoda and Hakodate, the treaty was a modest
achievement when taken at face value, as the American press was
quick to observe. But Matthew Calbraith Perry, the man responsible
for the agreement, viewed his expedition and the resulting treaty
In his "Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to
the China Seas and Japan ...," the commodore insisted that "new
relations of trade once commenced ... could not, in the progress of
events, fail effectually and forever not only to break up the old
restrictive policy, and open Japan to the world, but must also lead
generally to liberal commercial treaties." Japan, he claimed,
promised to be "amongst the most important of eastern nations, with
which a profitable trade will be established."
"Yankees in the Land of the Gods" confirms the accepted
explanation that the American expedition to Japan was motivated by
the desire to assure the safety of American sailors, to set up
coaling stations for steamships engaged in trade with China, and to
establish new markets for American goods. Peter Wiley provides a
convincing argument that the expansionist policies of the 1840s and
Perry's desire to enhance the stature of the US Navy should also be
taken into account, along with the commodore's personal ambition.
The book is based not only on the official record of the
expedition commissioned by Perry, but also on the personal memoirs
of other Americans and both public and private Japanese accounts.
The result is a sophisticated examination of this historical event.
The documents reveal disagreements among the decisionmakers in
Japan as to what course to take in dealing with the Americans.
Japan's government, an inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy that
had evolved during centuries of feudal rule, was totally unprepared
for any encounter with the West.
Political leaders - unsure of their own authority, disturbed by
overtures from Russia, and confused by the refusal of the Americans
to comply with ancient customs and laws - consulted both the emperor
and leading merchants during the negotiations with the Americans.
The advice of the merchants prevailed: Opening of trade with the
West would stimulate the Japanese economy, temper domestic unrest,
and introduce technology important to defense as well as