The Perry Centennial Celebration: A Case Study in U.S.-Japanese Cultural Diplomacy

By Saeki, Chizuru | International Social Science Review, Fall-Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Perry Centennial Celebration: A Case Study in U.S.-Japanese Cultural Diplomacy


Saeki, Chizuru, International Social Science Review


Introduction

In studying U.S.-Japanese relations during the 1950s, historians and specialists in international relations have focused on political affairs, military strategies, and global politics in East Asia. (1) During this period, however, American involvement with Japan was not based exclusively on geo-political and military considerations; it also included cultural diplomacy. In undertaking this indirect yet important approach in the conduct of diplomacy, American policy makers relied on both government and private agencies to promote ideas and practices that characterized the American way of life to secure influence overseas. (2) In the case of U.S.-Japanese relations, the centennial celebration of the opening of Japan to American trade, an example of cultural diplomacy, had a significant impact on U.S.-Japanese relations and the development of the Cold War in East Asia.

U.S.-Japanese Relations, 1853-1945

On July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived off the coast of Uraga with four U.S. warships carrying a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the shogun in Edo (Tokyo) asking for humane treatment of shipwrecked American seamen, permission for American ships to enter Japanese ports for coal and supplies, and trade between the two nations. The shogunate was plunged into a state of crisis as the American ships entered Edo Bay. Caught in a vulnerable position because of the shogun's illness, the shogunal's advisors could not agree on a response to Perry's demands. Fearful that the Americans might use force to secure Japanese compliance, the Tokugawa government (Bakufu) allowed Perry to land in Uraga. Ending nearly two centuries of relative isolation, Bakufu officials, aware of the West's superior technology demonstrated against China in the Opium War (1839-42), knew that Japan could not withstand a military assault by a Western power. (3)

As the shogunate continued to wrestle with Perry's demands, the commodore returned the following spring with eight ships. Bakufu officials agreed to open two ports--Hakodate in Hokkaido and Shimoda at the tip of the Izu Peninsula--to American ships, to treat shipwrecked sailors, and to permit an American consul to reside in Shimoda. In August 1856, the American government directed Townsend Harris, the first U.S. consul to Japan, to negotiate a commercial treaty. Some Bakufu officials, realizing that the Western powers were far more advanced than Japan militarily, economically, and technologically, concluded that Japan could not avoid establishing full diplomatic relations with foreign powers. On July 29, 1858, Japan concluded a commercial treaty with the U.S., providing for the immediate opening of three ports for trade and two others shortly thereafter. The agreement also included provisions for duties on a variety of imports with a maximum five percent tariff on those imports. Edo and Osaka were opened to foreign residents in 1862 and 1863. Lastly, American citizens were granted extraterritorial rights and freedom of worship in Japan. (4)

During the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), the Meiji government promoted Japan's modernization under Western tutelage. Under the slogan of rich nation and strong army, the Meiji government sought to make Japan strong enough to be treated with respect by the Western powers. After establishing a modern army and navy with Western assistance, Japan pursued imperialist policies in East Asia. Through its victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), and subsequent annexation of Korea (1910), Japan began to imitate the Western powers by establishing colonies and spheres of influence in East Asia. Western recognition of Japan's rising power followed quickly as evidenced by the termination of unequal treaties (1897) and the Anglo-Japanese alliance (1902). (5)

Despite Japan's rising power in East Asia, the U.S. did not recognize Japan as an equal power. In 1905, the state legislature of California tried to restrict Asian immigration to the West Coast. …

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