Trend in Japan Web Japan
Arts and Entertainment
Business and Economy Lifestyle Science and Technology Fashion Arts and Entertainment Sports People
Arts & Entertainment
Japan-US Relationship Marks 150 Years (July 8, 2003)

Black Ships Festival
A reenactment of the 1854 treaty-signing ceremony at the Black Ships Festival. (Shimoda City)
Japan emerged from a long period of seclusion and began to modernize in the mid-nineteenth century. The catalyst for the country's subsequent transformation was the arrival in Edo Bay of the "black ships" of US Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. The following year, the Treaty of Peace and Amity was signed, establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. The years 2003 and 2004 mark the 150th anniversary of these pivotal events, and both countries have various commemorative activities planned for between January 2003 and December 2004.

The Arrival of the Black Ships
In the early hours of July 8, 1853, four warships lined with cannons appeared off the coast of Uraga (now Yokosuka City in Kanagawa Prefecture), which stood at the entrance to Edo Bay. The Tokugawa Shogunate received quite a shock from the arrival of the ships, the hulls of which were black from the tar used for waterproofing. Commodore Perry had brought his fleet to open Japan to foreign trade, which at the time the country conducted only with the Netherlands and China.

With the military power of his ships on display, Commodore Perry took a hard line in the negotiations, and the Japanese government was gravely shaken by this turn of events. Perry returned the following year with a fleet of seven ships and the authorization to go directly to war if US demands were not met. This threat led the shogunate to conclude the 12-article Treaty of Peace and Amity. This treaty both ended Japan's period of isolation, which had lasted for more than 200 years, and began what has been called one of the closest bilateral relationships in the world.

Black Ships Festival
A commemorative parade at the Black Ships Festival. (Shimoda City)

The treaty opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American ships and gave the United States the right to build a consulate in Shimoda, among other provisions. Japan subsequently began to negotiate with other Western powers and later concluded similar treaties with such countries as Britain, Russia, and the Netherlands.

As a result of negotiations between Consul General Townsend Harris, who was stationed at the consulate in Shimoda, and the shogunate, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between the United States and Japan was concluded in 1858. A delegation of shogunate representatives visited the United States to exchange copies of the ratified treaty, and they were given a warm reception everywhere they went.

The Boshin War of 1868 led to the end of the Tokugawa shogunate that had ruled Japan for more than 250 years and the formation of a new government that had its power base in the Choshu (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Satsuma (now Kagoshima Prefecture) domains of western Japan and supported the Meiji Emperor. In 1871 the new government sent a 100-strong delegation led by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Tomomi Iwakura to the United States. The delegation stayed in the United States for eight months, and the members observed the systems and industries of America. The group then crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, where they visited Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands. By the time they returned to Japan, they had been gone for one year and ten months. The new Meiji government rushed to modernize Japan as though it intended to make up for centuries of isolation in one push.

Shared Values, Close Allies
In the 150 years since the arrival of Perry's fleet rocked the shogunate, Japan has developed into a wealthy country second only to the United States in terms of gross domestic product, a transformation that few could have imagined in the mid-nineteenth century. The US-Japan relationship did not always progress so smoothly, however, as the two countries went to war in December 1941. After the end of World War II in August 1945, Japan rebuilt itself out of the ashes with assistance from the United States. With the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, Japan regained its sovereignty and rejoined international society. At the same time, Japan and the United States signed a security treaty. While there has occasionally been trade friction between the two in the more than 50 years since then, both countries share the basic values of democracy, free markets, and respect for human rights. Japan and the United States became close allies in the postwar period, and this relationship continues today.

When US President George W. Bush visited Japan in February 2002 and addressed the House of Councillors, he quoted Meiji era academic (and later under-secretary general of the League of Nations) Inazo Nitobe, who wrote, "I want to become a bridge across the Pacific." President Bush emphasized the friendly relations between Japan and the United States, saying, "That bridge has already been built, not by one man but by millions of Americans and Japanese." In September 2002 in New York, Prime Minister Jun'ichiro Koizumi continued with this theme when he addressed the Council on Foreign Relations, where he stated, "Our two countries, which fought a war only half a century ago, have built an exemplary alliance, based on the Japan-US Security Treaty. The alliance today is the cornerstone for the peace and prosperity not only of the Asia-Pacific region but the entire world."

Commemorative Events Planned in Both Countries
Japan and the United States are planning a number of events to mark the 150th anniversary of relations between them. In May 2003 the Black Ships Festival was held at the original US consulate in Shizuoka Prefecture's Shimoda City to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Commodore Perry. The 2003 Kurihama Perry Festival, meanwhile, will take place on July 12. In Yokosuka City, where the ships first appeared, the Yokosuka Kaikoku Festival will be held for three days beginning August 1. And at the Yokohama History Museum and other museums around the country, a number of special exhibitions will be held on how Japan opened up to the world.

In Commodore Perry's hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, meanwhile, the Black Ship Festival is scheduled for July 17-20, and some people will be coming all the way from Newport's sister city of Shimoda to take part. Also, the Cherry Blossom Festival is planned for the spring of 2004 in Washington D.C. These commemorative events show that the beginnings of the long relationship between Japan and the United States are remembered fondly in both countries even today.

 Page Top

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

Related articles
(May 30, 2003)

(April 16, 2003)

(December 4, 2002)
Drop Us a Line
Your Name

What did you think of this article?

It was interesting.
It was boring.

Send this article to a friend

Go TopTrends in Japan Home

Go BackArts & Entertainment Home