A vividly illustrated scroll, with a number of very rare images depicting Perry’s first expedition to Japan, along with a comprehensive list of supplies & gifts provided by the Japanese to the American squadron. COMMODORE PERRY’S FIRST EXPEDITION.
A vividly illustrated scroll, with a number of very rare images depicting Perry’s first expedition to Japan, along with a comprehensive list of supplies & gifts provided by the Japanese to the American squadron.
A vividly illustrated scroll, with a number of very rare images depicting Perry’s first expedition to Japan, along with a comprehensive list of supplies & gifts provided by the Japanese to the American squadron.

With Many Rare Illustrations

A vividly illustrated scroll, with a number of very rare images depicting Perry’s first expedition to Japan, along with a comprehensive list of supplies & gifts provided by the Japanese to the American squadron.

Scroll (247 x 5315 mm.) on paper, painted with ink & brush, using several shades of wash, including black, gray, reddish brown, & pale brown. [Japan: ca. July 1853 or slightly later].

A rare and very early Japanese account of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s first visit to Japan, in 1853, containing fascinating details on the American interlopers and their initial interactions with the Japanese. We have handled and examined a number of the “Black Ship Scrolls” over the past twenty years and we have not seen most of the images and views found within our scroll. The anonymous artist of this scroll has faithfully depicted the Americans and their equipment. The illustrations also convey the earliest impressions of the Japanese in the face of Western technology, such as steamships, large naval cannons, modern firearms, etc.

What makes this scroll so unusual is the number of scenes that seem to be unique and the spontaneous, rough quality of the drawings. Our artist was not at all highly skilled. Many later “Black Ship Scrolls” were clearly produced in large numbers by professional and accomplished Japanese artists for the American export market as souvenirs. This scroll seems to have been rendered immediately during or after Perry’s first expedition and before set scenes were “canonized” by later artists.

The scroll comprises the following scenes:

–American musical instruments for the Navy’s band, including a flute, brass horn, cymbal, and drums, plus the hilt of a sword.

–Two American rowboats, one filled with sailors rowing. The adjacent text provides measurements and the terms for many parts of these vessels.

–A large and quite striking depiction of Perry’s flagship, the Powhatan, a steamship with sizeable cannons and portholes for other cannons. Perry’s chambers are noted in the center of the ship. Dimensions are also provided. The text next to the ship indicates that there are six cannons, 500 sailors, and coal-powered sidewheelers. The artist has rendered a menacing smokestack with orange flames and black smoke billowing above.

–American sailors marching at Kurihama, the designated meeting place selected by the Japanese. “General Perry” is marked amongst them, as well as a few of his officers. At the head of this procession, led by a band, is a crudely copied American flag.

–The American route along the beach at Kurihama to the reception hall. The purpose of this illustration is to mark which domain was responsible for guarding which section along the route. The Ido and Toda clans were the primary groups charged with defending this area. The majority of their forces consisted of infantry, with a contingent on horseback. There is also a list of weapons carried by the troops.

–The newly constructed reception hall on the beach of Kurihama, where the Japanese received the American forces. Again, the artist has recorded the path of the Americans from the shore to the hall. We see a number of Japanese dignitaries and soldiers awaiting Perry and his troops. Text adjacent to the Japanese ships on the left side of this image indicates that 74 Japanese vessels were deployed for this event. The manuscript text at the top of this image, above the Japanese banners, shows which entities were in charge of security: the Hikone and Oshi domains. We learn that Toda Izu no kami and Ido Iwami no kami were present as the Japanese representatives. Another note states that more than 1000 Japanese officials and soldiers participated.

–A bird’s-eye view of Kurihama, the reception hall, and Uraga Bay, where the Americans first appeared in their “black ships.” Several American warships and a large number of Japanese vessels are depicted here. Once more, the Japanese security responsibilities are clearly indicated, highlighting the areas protected by the Hikone, Hosokawa, and Kawagoe clans.

–A view of the reception hall and the surrounding area, which shows why this locale was strategically chosen by the Japanese. If matters escalated to violence, the Japanese could easily entrap the American contingent.

Added at the end of this scroll is later text prepared to supplement the illustrations. The first part is a briefing with basic information about the United States of America. It mentions previous encounters with this country, how far it is from Japan, the contents of the letter sent from President Fillmore to the emperor of Japan, and the names of the officers of the first expedition (Buchanan, Adams, and Perry). Subsequently, there is a day-by-day report on American activities. Next, we find an inventory of welcoming gifts from the Japanese, which includes: lacquerware, inkstone boxes, desks, bookcases, flowers, fine silk fabrics, rice, chickens, daikon, various vegetables and confectioneries, etc.

The final addition to our scroll is a later report dated “Kae 7” (early 1854) that describes Perry’s second expedition. It mentions eight American “black ships,” the officers, two translators ( one Japanese and one Dutch, referring to Anton Portman), and the attendees of the meeting between the Japanese and American representatives. Next to this passage, the menu of the meal served at the negotiations is recorded. The final section of this scroll documents the death and burial of a 24-year-old American, most likely Private Robert Williams. The artist has recreated Williams’s tombstone.

A compelling and very early Japanese account of Perry’s expeditions with rare imagery. Scrolls and manuscripts about this period in Japanese history are most uncommon, especially in excellent condition, as is the present example. A few small expert repairs at beginning of scroll.

❧ 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: $17,500.00

Item ID: 6983