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Matthew C. Perry

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Matthew C. Perry was a U.S. naval officer who is best known for forcefully reopening Japanese borders to international relations in 1854 after the Tokugawa Shogunate’s 250 year isolationist foreign policy known as sakoku. Commodore Perry assessed the Japanese stance on diplomatic relations at the time and understood that Japan would only open its borders if faced with aggression and resoluteness.

On July 8, 1853, Commodore Perry and his naval team entered the fortified Uraga harbor with two frigates and two sailing vessels. Perry studied the Japanese hierarchical culture and formulated a carefully calculated approach to the Japanese. When his ships entered Uraga and headed towards Edo Bay, the four ships aimed guns towards Uraga and rejected all Japanese demands to move. He approached the Japanese with forceful determination, demanding they obey his orders, and delivered a treaty from US President Millard Fillmore to the Japanese government.

The Japanese were fearful of the US since the Chinese were recently defeated by Western forces in the Opium War. As such, they accepted US terms in order to stall for more time to strengthen their military. However, 7 months later, in February 1854, Perry entered Edo Bay with nine ships; this resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa between the US and Japan. Slowly, Perry began pecking at the Shogun’s ability to maintain Japan’s isolationist policy.

(MIT Visualizing Cultures) As seen in this image, the Japanese depicted Perry as a “blue-eyed barbarian”, a typical depiction of Perry as a barbarous Westerner who is disrupting Japanese order and civility in Edo Japan.

This work, known as “Black Ships of Evil Mien” represents the Japanese view of Perry’s ships entering Uraga harbor.


Works Cited

“Commodore Perry and Japan (1853-1854): Asia for Educators: Columbia University.” Commodore Perry and Japan (1853-1854) | Asia for Educators | Columbia University, Columbia University,

Dower, John W. “Black Ships & Samurai | Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan.” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 2010,

“Matthew C. Perry.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

“Matthew C. Perry.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Nov. 2022,

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