Perry’s Second & Decisive Visit to Japan

Two finely illustrated scrolls depicting Commodore Perry’s second and decisive visit to Japan, with a focus on American technology and products.

Two scrolls, measuring 290 x 6540 mm. & 290 x 6870 mm. Ink, brush, & wash in various colors, on paper, newly & expertly backed. Japan: ca. 1855.

These two vividly illustrated contemporary scrolls recount Commodore Matthew Perry’s second expedition to Japan from the perspective of the Japanese. A large number of the scenes are devoted to American machinery and technology, which the Japanese had never seen before, such as a small-scale train locomotive, a telegraph transmitter, a freestanding steam engine, a furnace, and a cannon. Executed shortly after Perry and his squadron departed, these scrolls also contain portraits of Perry and his chief of staff, Henry A. Adams, along with detailed renderings of American sailors, their uniforms, and practical American products, including knives, hammers, saws, pistols, rifles, swords, etc.

In the first scroll, the initial scene shows five of Perry’s warships off the coast of Japan. This view is dated 17 January 1854 and is rendered from the perspective of Koshiba, a village near Yokohama. The subsequent scene is a close-up of three rowboats filled with American sailors on their way to shore. Each boat carries a large American flag and one is equipped with a cannon at its bow.

Next are renderings of four Americans in full uniform, with their ranks noted in Japanese. The Japanese were especially fascinated by the decorative aspects of these uniforms, for example the epaulettes (or shoulder-pieces), which denoted ranking officers. One of the figures has drawn his sword, and the others look prepared to unsheath theirs at a moment’s notice. The figure in a gray uniform is labeled as a “musician” in Japanese.

The scene that follows features two large and detailed portraits of high-ranking American officers on the expedition, one of whom is “Atamusu” (Adams). It is not stated who the other is, but to the right a caption reads, in Japanese: “United States of America, portrait of an Admiral.” This is most likely a representation of Commodore Perry.

Depicted next are four examples of American ornate headwear, two of which appear to be worn at formal ceremonial occasions. There are Japanese captions detailing the materials and colors.
The following scene illustrates one of Perry’s offerings, a small-scale functional locomotive and its tender to hold coal. It is a highly detailed depiction of the engine, something the Japanese had never seen before. The front of the train is separately shown and reads: “Norris Works 1853.”

The artist then depicts a telegraph machine (in Japanese: Erekitere setecarafu). Next to it, explanatory text provides an account of the telegraph’s capabilities. As a demonstration, the Americans had placed two machines more than a kilometer apart and transmitted messages. The text attempts to describe the functions of parts of the machine, labeled A-D. We know of no other depiction of a telegraph machine in other “Black Ship Scrolls.”

Subsequently, we see the train tracks Perry had brought to use with the locomotive, with Japanese measurements. To their left we see a freestanding steam engine, with Japanese-style ornaments. The adjacent label, “Hayashi daigaku no kami,” refers to Hayashi Akira (1800-59), known to the Americans as Prince Commissioner Akira, who had previously studied foreign cultures and was the chief representative in the negotiations with Perry.

The final section shows the firearms and gunpowder flasks (“Colts Patent”) that the Americans also gave to the Japanese, as a sign of friendship. They are annotated with Japanese measurements, and the flask is depicted from several angles.

The second scroll commences with the caption, in Japanese, “Illustration of Two Foreign Ships, Furansu [France].” One is a large illustration of a foreign vessel without cannons, accompanied by observations on the sails. Next is a group of six maritime flags, for England (“Ekirisu”), Holland (“Dachu”), France (“Fuushishe”), United States (“Amerika”), and possibly Spain (“Shibashen”) and Portugal (“Horiki”). Then a rowboat, “used by fifteen foreigners to land,” is shown in detail, with measurements.

This is followed by a long series of depictions of American-made tools and other products, including knives, saws, weights, chisels, hoes, axes, hammers, pliers, measuring sticks, anchors, a grindstone, sails, barrels, a furnace to heat up cannonballs, chimneys, a rifle, a cannon, etc.

The next section is devoted to studies of American sailors. There are seven detailed figures in total, with their ranks listed from right to left: captain, assistant captain, officer, lieutenant, private, gunner, and “boy.”

Subsequently, with the date written as “7 March 1854, 4 o’clock,” the artist illustrates five of Perry’s warships from the village of Koshiba, the same location as the earlier depiction. There is text in red ink labelling two islands — Kamejima and Hotojima — just behind the American steamships. A number of smaller boats with American flags are nearby.

Next, we see another portrait of Adams, this one much larger and quite arresting with the gold epaulettes and blue uniform.

The present scrolls are in fine condition and expertly backed with modern paper. Two small tears are expertly repaired.

A slightly later manuscript has been pasted at the beginning of the first scroll. It is a text extracted from a contemporary Hong Kong newspaper article from March 1860 regarding the Sakuradamon Incident. In this “incident,” Ii Naosuke, an influential politician open to ending Japanese seclusion, was assassinated on 24 March by a group of conservative samurai.

❧ See Renata V. Shaw, “Japanese Picture Scrolls of the First Americans in Japan” in The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Vol. 25, No. 2 (April 1968), pp. 134-53.

Price: $25,000.00

Item ID: 6609