Yankee Surveyors in Imperial Waters – The Perry Expedition to Japan

Admiral Matthew Perry, born 1794 in Rhode Island, is from a sea-going family. During 1809 he was commissioned at the age of 15. He led an expedition to Japan which mirrored Manifest Destiny dynamic expansion in Western America from 1845 to 1860. Additionally, his expedition paralleled the Golden Age of America’s whaling in the Pacific during the 1850s.

Admiral Perry, as a military strategist and diplomat, envisioned a great opportunity in Japan. His expedition had the following goals:
1) develop protection for American seamen, especially those who were shipwrecked;
2) develop maps for travel;
3) expand whaling operation;
4) protect and expand American commerce;
5) attack and deter piracy;
6) explore and collect information; and
7) chart the Pacific basin. The North Pacific was considered the most dangerous region to America, and Admiral Perry developed practical ways to eliminate the danger.

Based on his expedition, he developed maps, wind charts, whaling charts, and nautical charts for the U.S Naval Observatory. He also produced: reef maps, obstacle charts, routes, headland elevation diagrams, sailing instructions, land marks, and treaty ports to enter Tokyo Bay.

Admiral Perry pushed his mission with the Japanese and refused to take no for an answer. He would not leave and was determined to accomplish his mission. When met with representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate, they told him to proceed to Nagasaki where there was limited trade, and he refused. He demanded permission to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the emperor, and threatened to use force if denied. He refused to allow the Japanese on his vessels, refused to sail to Nagasaki, refused to speak with locals, and stated that he was bound by American law to survey Japan’s coastlines, and would send his ships to Tokyo if his requests were denied. Based on his determination the Japanese submitted to his requests.

He treated the Japanese with dignity, appropriate ceremony, and completed his mission without any violence or killing. His success resulted in trade; spreading of Western American civilization to Asia; and various versions of Dutch, Chinese and Japanese treaties. However, the treaties didn’t meet the expectation of America in the long run; none-the-less, both nations benefitted from the expeditions of Admiral Perry.

During his expedition, he changed the names of several ports and places in Japan to match names in American such as: Plymouth Rock, Fillmore Port, Perry Island, Susquehanna Bay, Kennedy Port and Webster Island. The Japanese also built a Bust of Matthew Perry in Shimoda, Shizuoka, Japan in memory of his visits.


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