Black Ships (in Japanese: 黒船, kurofune,
Edo Period term) was
the name given to Western vessels arriving in
Japan in the 16th and
In 1543 Portuguese initiated the first contacts, establishing a trade
Goa to Nagasaki. The large carracks engaged in this
trade had the hull painted black with pitch, and the term came to
represent all western vessels. In 1639, after suppressing a rebellion
blamed on the Christian influence, the ruling Tokugawa shogunate
retreated into an isolationist policy, the Sakoku. During this "locked
state", contact with
Japan by Westerners was restricted to Dejima
island at Nagasaki.
William II of the Netherlands
William II of the Netherlands urged
Japan to open, but was
rejected. On July 8, 1853, the
U.S. Navy steamed four warships into
the bay at
Edo and threatened to attack if
Japan did not begin trade
with the West. Their arrival marked the reopening of the country to
political dialogue after more than two hundred years of self-imposed
Trade with Western nations would not come until the Treaty
of Amity and Commerce more than five years later.
In particular, kurofune refers to Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and
Susquehanna of the Perry Expedition for the opening of Japan,
1852–1854, that arrived on July 14, 1853 at
Uraga Harbor (part of
present-day Yokosuka) in Kanagawa Prefecture,
Japan under the command
United States Commodore Matthew Perry. Black refers to the black
color of the older sailing vessels, and the black smoke from the
coal-fired steam engines of the American ships. In this sense, the
kurofune became a symbol of the ending of isolation.
Brooklyn Museum – Commodore Matthew Perry's "Black Ship"
1 First kurofune ships: nau do trato
2 Gunboat diplomacy
3 See also
6 External links
First kurofune ships: nau do trato
Portuguese black carrack in Nagasaki, in the early 17th century.
In 1543 Portuguese traders arrived in
Japan initiating the first
contacts with the West. Soon they established a trade route linking
their headquarters in Goa, via Malacca to Nagasaki. Large carracks
engaged in the flourishing "Nanban trade", introducing modern
inventions from the European traders, such as refined sugar, optics,
and firearms; it was the firearms, arquebuses, which became a major
innovation of the Sengoku period—a time of intense internal
warfare—when the matchlocks were replicated. Later, they engaged in
triangular trade, exchanging silver from
Japan with silk from China
Carracks of 1200 to 1600 tons, named nau do trato ("treaty ship")
or nau da
China by the Portuguese, engaged in this trade had the
hull painted black with pitch, and the term came to apply for all
western vessels. The name was inscribed in the Nippo Jisho, the first
western Japanese dictionary compiled in 1603.
In 1549 Spanish missionary
Francis Xavier started a
Jesuit mission in
Japan. Christianity spread, mingled with the new trade, making 300,000
converts among peasants and some daimyō (warlords). In 1637 the
Shimabara Rebellion blamed on the Christian influence was suppressed.
Portuguese traders and
Jesuit missionaries faced progressively tighter
restrictions, and were confined to the island of
Dejima before being
expelled in 1639.
Tokugawa shogunate retreated back into a policy of isolationism
Sakoku (鎖国, "locked country"), forbidding contact
with most outside countries. Only a limited-scale trade and diplomatic
relations with China, Korea, the Ryukyu Islands, and the Netherlands
was maintained. The
Sakoku policy remained in effect until 1853
with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the "opening" of
Commodore Perry's superior military force was the principal factor in
negotiating a treaty allowing American trade with Japan, thus
effectively ending the
Sakoku period of more than 200 years in which
Japan had been permitted to the Dutch, Koreans, Chinese,
and Ainu exclusively.
The sight of the four ships entering
Edo Bay, roaring black smoke into
the air and capable of moving under their own power, deeply frightened
the Japanese. Perry ignored the requests arriving from the shore
that he should move to Nagasaki—the official port for trade with the
outside—and threatened in turn to take his ships directly to Edo,
and burn the city to the ground if he was not allowed to land. It was
eventually agreed upon that he should land nearby at Kurihama,
whereupon he delivered his letter and left.
The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa, Perry returned with
a fleet of eight of the fearsome Black Ships, to demonstrate the power
United States navy, and to lend weight to his announcement that
he would not leave again, until he had a treaty. In the interim
following his previous visit, the
Tokugawa shogunate had learned about
the staggering destruction of the Chinese fleet by a handful of
British warships in 1841 during the First Opium War, and about China's
subsequent loss of Hong Kong to British sovereignty. The shogunate
realized that—if they wished for their country to avoid a similar
fate—they would need to make peace with the west.
After a roughly a month of negotiations, the shōgun's officials
presented Perry with the Treaty of Peace and Amity. Perry refused
certain conditions of the treaty but agreed to defer their resolution
to a later time, and finally establishing formal diplomatic relations
Japan and the United States. The eight ships departed, leaving
behind a consul at Shimoda to negotiate a more permanent agreement.
The Harris Treaty was signed with the
United States on July 29, 1858,
and within five years of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity,
Japan had moved to sign treaties with other western countries.
The surprise and fear inspired by the first visit of the Black Ships
are described in this famous kyōka (a humorous poem in 31-syllable
Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to
Japan in 1854.
Nemuri o samasu
Tatta shihai de
Yoru mo nemurezu
This poem is a complex set of puns (in Japanese, kakekotoba or "pivot
words"). Taihei (泰平) means "tranquil"; Jōkisen (上喜撰) is the
name of a costly brand of green tea containing large amounts of
caffeine; and shihai (四杯) means "four cups", so a literal
translation of the poem is:
Awoken from sleep
of a peaceful quiet world
by Jokisen tea;
with only four cups of it
one can't sleep even at night.
There is an alternative translation, based on the pivot words. Taihei
can refer to the "Pacific Ocean" (太平); jōkisen also means
"steam-powered ships" (蒸気船); and shihai also means "four
vessels". The poem, therefore, has a hidden meaning:
The steam-powered ships
break the halcyon slumber
of the Pacific;
a mere four boats are enough
to make us lose sleep at night.
Kurofune ("The Black Ships") is also the title of the first Japanese
opera, composed by Kosaku Yamada, "based on the story of Tojin Okichi,
a geisha caught up in the turmoil that swept
Japan in the waning years
of the Tokugawa shogunate", which premiered in 1940.
Treaty of Shimoda
French Military Mission to
Dutch missions to Edo
United States Korean Expedition of 1871
Madama Butterfly, a representation of the roughly the same times in a
^ "Perry Ceremony Today; Japanese and U. S. Officials to Mark 100th
Anniversary". New York Times. July 8, 1953.
^ Charles Ralph Boxer (1951). The Christian Century in Japan:
1549–1650. University of California Press. p. 91.
GGKEY:BPN6N93KBJ7. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
^ Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (1993). The Portuguese empire in Asia,
1500–1700: a political and economic history. University of Michigan:
Longman. p. 138. ISBN 0-582-05069-3.
^ Rodrigues, Helena. "Nau do trato". Cham. Cham. Retrieved 5 June
^ M. D. D. Newitt (1 January 2005). A History of Portuguese Overseas
Expansion: 1400–1668. New York: Routledge. p. 13.
ISBN 978-0-415-23980-6. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
^ Ronald P. Toby, State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in
the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford
University Press, (1984) 1991.
^ a b Nishiyama, Kazuo (2000-01-01). Doing Business With Japan:
Successful Strategies for Intercultural Communication. University of
Hawaii Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780824821272.
^ a b Beasley, William G (1972). The Meiji Restoration. Stamford
University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0804708150.
^ "'Black Ships' opera". New National Theatre Tokyo.
^ "Simon Holledge's interview with Hiroshi Oga citing the premiere of
the 'Black Ships' opera". Archived from the original on
Arnold, Bruce Makoto (2005). Diplomacy Far Removed: A Reinterpretation
of the U.S. Decision to Open Diplomatic Relations with
University of Arizona. 
Perry, Matthew Calbraith (1856). Narrative of the expedition of an
American Squadron to the
China Seas and Japan, 1856. New York: D.
Appleton and Company. [digitized by University of Hong Kong
Libraries, Digital Initiatives, "
China Through Western Eyes." ]
Taylor, Bayard (1855). A visit to India, China, and
Japan in the year
1853. New York: G.P. Putnam's sons. [digitized by University of
Hong Kong Libraries, Digital Initiatives, "
China Through Western
Black Ship Festival celebrating the arrival of the Blackships and the
Japan to the world.
New National Theatre To