Sample Essay 2

Did Admiral Perry Visit Japan in Peace in 1853?

Leading his four ships into Edo (Tokyo) Bay, historians ask whether Admiral Perry visited Japan in peace in 1853. Some historians say that Perry and his crewmen visited Japan in peace because of the gifts he bore and initial acts he displayed, but these same gifts were stored warships and weren’t granted to the Japanese until after they complied to the treaty. Another way to see peace in his coming is through President Fillmore’s proposal letter to the Emperor of Japan, although Perry’s letter doesn’t reflect the “kindest feelings” Fillmores’ does.  Likewise, journals wrote by American witnesses of this event are great evidence of how patriotic Commodore Perry seemed in the opening of Japan’s borders, but they are one-sided, white-supremacist, Christian views.  The question as to whether Admiral Perry visited Japan in peace is answered through his weight on gunboat and cultural diplomacy, the aggressive proposal letter he personally wrote to the Emperor, and through young America’s biased views on Japan’s values. GOOD, CLEAR THESIS (to a question clearly asked in title)

You must know, Commodore Perry was not the first to make the attempt to befriend Japan. With support from the government on America’s second overture, the U.S. Navy used an intimidating amount of men and “gunboat diplomacy” to force Japan to break their century-long policy of sakoku, what their isolation revolved around. Perry and his crewmen, consisting of four vessels upon the delivery of the proposal letter, grew into a six-ship fleet with more than 100 mounted cannons in 1854. If Perry was trying to accomplish peaceful, this isn’t it. Japan, excluding themselves since the seventeenth century, didn’t have any technology that compared to any of America’s technology, much less Perry’s steamboats, so there would be no need for so many men or weaponry. It’s important to realize that the arrival of the squadron in 1853 was unexpected and unwelcome. Naive President Fillmore addressed his letter to the Emperor of Japan with “great and good friend”, all while showing ignorance as the leadership of Japan at the time was Tokugawa Shogunate.

Moreover, both Fillmore and Perry wrote letters to the Emperor of Japan, Perry penned two versus Fillmore’s one, those of which have separate tones, diction, and proposals. To begin, Fillmore displays his deep set of respect for Japan’s choice by stating, “if your imperial majesty is not satisfied that it would be safe altogether to abrogate the ancient laws which forbid foreign trade, they might be suspended for five to ten years, to try the experiment… if it does not prove as beneficial… then the ancient laws can be restored..”. Continuing with regards to levels of respect, Perry characterizes Japan’s policy by calling it “unwise” and “impractical”. A policy that they have sworn by for many centuries is spit on by a foreigner that is pleading for their resources. On July 14th, 1853, Commodore Perry delivers a white flag to the Emperor with, “if you still disagree, we would then take up arms arguing against divine principles”. Perry claims, “victory will be naturally ours” and furthers saying, “you will put up the white flag that we have recently presented to you”. All in all, regardless of Fillmore’s kind letter, Perry’s intentions are clear in his written words—if Japan chose not to open up, he would’ve made them.

In order to reflect on the activities Perry and his crewmen participated in in Japan, we must be aware of the biased views Americans had going over there. Perry and his crewmen believed they could bring Japan to America’s level of civilization through commerce, religion, and republican government even though Japan is known to have expelled foreigners from doing some of the same things in 1639. America had labeled Japan as “barbarous”, “under civilized”, and “childlike”, America being “her” elder guardian (Commodore 183). Commerce was the answer to civilization in Perry’s eyes, but this was only the first cultural value they were going to impose on Japan. Furthermore, Japan had the practice of Christianity banned for two centuries when the expedition arrived, which is why it doesn’t make sense that Perry and his crewmen thought that they might convert, especially after the backlash of England’s efforts. To this day, Japan majority has never converted, but after the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed, a few preachers in America connected the treaty with the spread of Christianity (Commodore 184).

Lastly, one cannot ignore that the Japan expedition was part of the young America that had won a rebellion against Britain just seventy years ago, that created their own republican government, and that stapled their white supremacist ideals in writing of their constitution. So, coming to Japan, their ideals regarding race and government were thought as superior to those of Japans’. At the time, Perry cynically offered the protection for “these poor creatures [the Japanese]… from the oppression of their tyrannical rulers” and hoped that “something might be made of them” (Commodore 185). In the end, Bernard John Bettelheim, British missionary and expedition translator, proclaimed that Perry and his crewman “have forgotten” that the expedition was meant to be “a friendly mission” (Commodore 186).

All in all, Commodore Perry grants peace and gifts for Japan but not without the expense of their forced compliance. Japan—intimidated by advanced weaponry, threatened by Perry in pen, and judged unfairly by the white and racist men—signed the Treaty of Kanagawa in vain.


“Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan.” World History Encyclopedia, edited by Alfred J. Andrea and Carolyn Neel, vol. 15: Era 7: The Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914, ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 533-534. Gale Virtual Reference Library, /doc/CX2458802961/GVRL?u=txshracd2487&sid=GVRL&xid=65ffa23f. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018. << Just Use Encyclopedias for Supplementary Purposes

Fillmore, Millard. Letter to the Emperor of Japan. 13 Nov. 1852. Accessed 27 Oct 2018.

Keith, Jeffrey A. “Civilization, Race, and the Japan Expedition’s Cultural Diplomacy, 1853-1854.” Diplomatic History, vol. 35, no. 2, Apr. 2011, pp. 179–202. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2010.00945.x. Accessed 03 Nov 2018.

Perry, Matthew C. Letter to the Emperor of Japan. 07 July. 1853. Accessed 27 Oct 2018.

Perry, Matthew C. Letter to the Emperor of Japan. 14 July. 1853. Accessed 27 Oct 2018.

Preble, George Henry. “The opening of Japan; a diary of discovery in the Far East, 1853 – 1856.”  Szczesniak, Boleslaw ed. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press. 1962. Accessed 03 Nov 2018.

Speiden Jr., William. “Timeline of the 1852-1855 Voyage of the U.S. steam frigate Mississippi.” Library of Congress. Accessed 03 Nov 2018.

U.S. Department of State. “Milestones: 1830 – 1860.” Office of the Historian. milestones/1830-1860/opening-to-japan. Accessed 01 Nov. 2018.