The Info List - Black Ships

--- Advertisement ---

The Black Ships
Black Ships
(in Japanese: 黒船, kurofune, Edo Period
Edo Period
term) was the name given to Western vessels arriving in Japan
in the 16th and 19th centuries. In 1543 Portuguese initiated the first contacts, establishing a trade route linking 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. In 1844, 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
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 isolation. 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
Uraga Harbor
(part of present-day Yokosuka) in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
under the command of United States
United States
Commodore Matthew Perry.[1] 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 4 Notes 5 References 6 External links

First kurofune ships: nau do trato[edit]

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 via Macau.[2] Carracks of 1200 to 1600 tons,[3] named nau do trato ("treaty ship") or nau da China
by the Portuguese,[4] engaged in this trade had the hull painted black with pitch, and the term[5] 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
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
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. The Tokugawa shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
retreated back into a policy of isolationism identified as 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.[6] The Sakoku
policy remained in effect until 1853 with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the "opening" of Japan. Gunboat diplomacy[edit] 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 trading with 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.[7] 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.[8] The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa, Perry returned with a fleet of eight of the fearsome Black Ships, to demonstrate the power of the United States
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
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.[7] 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 between 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
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.[8] 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 waka form):

Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to Japan
in 1854.

泰平の Taihei no

眠りを覚ます Nemuri o samasu

上喜撰 Jōkisen

たった四杯で Tatta shihai de

夜も眠れず 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",[9] which premiered in 1940.[10] See also[edit]

Treaty of Shimoda Pallada French Military Mission to Japan
(1867-1868) Gunboat diplomacy Dutch missions to Edo Manifest destiny Sakoku Unequal Treaties United States
United States
Korean Expedition of 1871 Pacific Overtures Madama Butterfly, a representation of the roughly the same times in a European perspective


^ "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 2011.  ^ 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 2010-05-31. 


Arnold, Bruce Makoto (2005). Diplomacy Far Removed: A Reinterpretation of the U.S. Decision to Open Diplomatic Relations with Japan
(Thesis). University of Arizona.  [1] 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 Eyes." ]

External links[edit]

Black Ship Festival celebrating the arrival of the Blackships and the opening of Japan
to the world. New National Theatre To