Hand-drawn double-page map of the Bonin Islands. 61 folding leaves. Large 8vo (268 x 200 mm.), orig. wrappers, stitched, spine backed at an early date with matching paper. [Japan: ca. 1860].
An intriguing manuscript containing early Japanese translations of American reports drafted during Perry’s mission to the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-shima) in June 1853, one month before he sailed into Edo Bay for the first time. It is a fascinating record of America’s colonial and commercial ambitions in the mid-19th century and Japan’s response. The volume’s upper wrapper bears the official seal (onikki kata) belonging to the Keeper of the Diary, the functionary responsible for recording important events on behalf of the bakufu.
We are uncertain how the Japanese obtained these secret American documents and when this manuscript was compiled. Perhaps it was composed after Japan’s 1860 Embassy to the United States, when representatives were sent to Washington to negotiate a treaty between the two nations. Upon the return of Japan’s diplomatic mission, the chief negotiator, Yoshitake Kimura, assigned a linguist, Kudo Iwaji, the task of translating the documents and books they had brought back. He also translated Perry’s Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan (1856); it remained in manuscript until 1912. Iwaji is mentioned twice herein as the compiler of our manuscript volume.
Before Perry’s fateful incursion to Edo Bay in July, he explored the Bonin Islands as a potential coal depot and resupply station for future travel and commerce between the United States and Asia. This manuscript is based on accounts of this expedition written by Anton L.C. Portman (Perry’s Dutch translator) and the American translator Samuel W. Williams (1812-84), an expert in Chinese and Japanese, who are referred to several times in the text. Our high-level Japanese-government-produced report is divided into two sections, based on these firsthand reports by Williams and Portman.
At the beginning of the volume is a two-page manuscript map of the archipelago’s two main islands (Chichi-jima and Haha-jima). The text offers a lengthy history of the islands and the various attempts by Britain and Russia to claim it. It is also filled with very detailed notes on the climate, ecology, natural resources, etc. Portman’s portion has rather scholarly observations on some botanical specimens that were collected.
All of this information on the archipelago would have been extremely useful to the Japanese when they made an official claim to it in 1862. Control of the islands was ceded to the United States after World War II and in 1968 returned to Japan.
In excellent condition. Preserved in a chitsu.
❧ Peter Booth Wiley, Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan (1990), pp. 204-14.
The National Archives of Japan spring 2004 digital exhibition “Gekido Bakumatsu – Kaikoku no shogeki –” [“The end of the turbulent Edo period – Impact of the Opening of the country”] (accessed 11 February 2022) was of great help as we wrote this description.
Item ID: 8050