An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853. JAPANESE REPORTS ON FOREIGNERS.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.
An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.

The Race to Open Japan

An early illustrated manuscript copy of privately disseminated official reports from the months following Russian and American bellicose missions in July & August 1853.

Black, gray, blue, red, yellow & green wash illus. throughout. 64 leaves. Large 8vo (230 x 160 mm.), decorative wrappers (a few wormholes expertly repaired), new stitching. [Japan: late Edo].

The opening of Japan to trade was a goal of many European nations from the 17th century onwards. All attempts fell short until 1853, when the United States instigated negotiations to open the island nation. These manuscript reports contain confidential Japanese observations on the near-simultaneous American and Russian efforts to initiate commercial relations with Japan. The Russian Empire was wary of the United States extending its influence to the Pacific Rim, and upon learning that President Fillmore had sent Commodore Perry to end Japanese isolation, the Russians prepared an expedition led by Vice Admiral Euphimius Putiatin. The Americans disembarked at Kurihama in July 1853, while the Russians appeared off Nagasaki a month later. This collection of reports — produced by eyewitnesses and those involved in the negotiations with both the Americans and Russians — presents Japan’s perspective on the two nations vying for geopolitical supremacy in eastern Asia. Such accounts were compiled in multiple copies and sent throughout Japan to the principal fiefdom lords to keep them apprised of the tumultuous and profound challenges precipitated by the arrival of foreign warships.

The first section of this manuscript (35 leaves) is a set of contemporaneous reports on Perry’s first expedition to Japan. After tense negotiations, the Japanese received the Americans at a hastily constructed reception hall on the beach of Kurihama. The first two leaves contain ink sketches of American musical instruments, flags, an umbrella, drums, and a sheathed sword displayed at Kurihama. The fourth leaf has color illustrations of additional instruments and weapons. Subsequently, we find two consecutive double-page detailed renderings, the first showing the area around Kurihama and Edo Bay, with fortifications and the reception hall noted; and the latter a close-up of the reception hall, which is surrounded by Japanese security forces. This second illustration gives us information on the number of attendees and the names of key representatives.

The next two illustrations, also double-page, contain drawings of about 350 Japanese representatives from an array of fiefdoms (their banners are hand-colored, and notable officials are labelled), followed by a closer view of American troops, flanked by several Japanese negotiators — Nakajima, Hasebe, and Shimosone — who presumably helped compile the original report.

On the following opening is an assortment of hats worn by the American and Japanese representatives. Facing this page and on the following page are two rather bizarre renderings of an American diving suit, which we assume was seen by the Japanese on board one of the American ships. The text around the first drawing provides thorough explanations of the suit, its composition, and its capabilities. We have not seen such a drawing in any of the materials we have handled. Institutions such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Library, the Library of Congress, Brown University, and Yale University do not seem to have similar illustrations.

The end of this section, devoted to the Americans’ landing near Uraga, depicts four armed soldiers in their uniforms. The illustrator highlights the headwear, which the Japanese interpreted as the distinction between ranks. Adjacent to these figures are notes and measurements of the American equipment. On the next opening, a finely executed rendering of the wooden supports for one of the Japanese odaiba (defensive artificial islands) is accompanied by measurements, notes on the wood employed, and construction notes.

The following 13 pages provide a detailed briefing on the United States, its government, resources, military ships, etc. Then we find a list of the American expedition’s leaders, including Perry and others, whose names and ranks are transliterated into confusing katakana characters that we are unable to decipher. Each rank’s uniform is meticulously reproduced. The scribe has also included the estimated manpower of the American expedition. The section on the Americans ends with a simple illustration of a ship and its anchor, with an oar at the bottom.

The second section of this manuscript consists of reports on the first Russian visit by Putiatin in August 1853. It begins with two vivid, scaled-down views of islands and towns on the way to Nagasaki, with a red ink line that seems to delineate the path of the Russians as they proceeded. Several pages later, a Russian banner is depicted.

Next is a list of Japanese representatives who participated in the opening discussions with Putiatin near Nagasaki, most from the local Fukuoka clan. It is followed by an inventory of supplies that the Japanese provided to the Russians. We then find a detailed report compiled by the Japanese on what is known about the Russian Empire. After the report, a striking illustration of two large, rounded buildings and a number of Russians and Japanese is used to represent the Russian climate and way of life. The image is seemingly based on the many accounts given by shipwrecked Japanese sailors who had spent considerable time in Russia. On the next double-page opening, the illustrator has rendered a map of Russia combined with a calendar. Within the circular construction, several figures are seen in various parts of Russia. One of them points to the North Star.

The final portion of our manuscript provides most interesting descriptions of the four Russian ships that appeared off Nagasaki, the Pallada, Diana, Vostok, and Olivutsa. We learn the category and size of each ship, and the number of crew. Following this, we find the names of three Japanese translators: Shimura, Namura, and [Tanemura?]. This part of the manuscript concludes with accounts of the meeting and early interactions between the two sides. On the final two pages are descriptions of a comet sighting in 1807 and previous meetings of Russians and Japanese. The Russians stayed until late November and returned to Nagasaki twice more for discussions on a trade treaty. Japan and Russia eventually signed the Treaty of Shimoda on 7 February 1855, nearly a full year after the Treaty of Kanagawa between the United States and Japan, ratified on 31 March 1854.

In excellent condition; these are riveting contemporaneous Japanese manuscript accounts of the United States’ and Russia’s race to pry open Japan to trade.

Minuscule worming to several leaves; a few small wormholes on the wrappers are expertly repaired.

❧ For more on Russia’s three expeditions to Japan, see W. McOmie, “The Russians in Nagasaki, 1853-54 – Another Look at Some Russian, English, and Japanese Sources,”in Acta Slavica Iaponica, 13, 42-60 (1995), which is available online through Hokkaido University. See also 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: $12,500.00

Item ID: 7380