Shimoda Story Author:Oliver Statler On August 21, 1856, two years after an American fleet under Commodore Matthew C. Perry visited Japan's port of Shimoda, formal U.S. relations with the Japanese began: a naval vessel arrived at Shimoda, bringing Townsend Harris with credentials as first Consul General to Japan. He had two directives: to establish a consular office and to negotiat... more »e a trade treaty.
Despite the Perry agreement, the Japanese did not welcome the presence of an American consul; they emphatically did not want a trade treaty. The maneuvering of the next sixteen months was complicated--at times dramatic, often amusing. Each side believed it was upholding the values of civilization against an opposing barbarism. Harris, with constant, often unreasonable demands, with threat and bluster, managed to throw all official Japan into turmoil. Perry had unlocked the door to Japan, but Harris opened it.
Harris's role in the negotiations has been familiar to historians through his journal, his copious correspondence, and the diary of his young Dutch secretary-interpreter, Henry Heusken. One of the great virtues of Mr. Statler's account is that he has drawn his story not only from these documents but also from the even more detailed Japanese records. His cast of characters is varied and colorful, from government officers whose careers were irrevocably shaped by Harris's mission, to towns-people whose lives were only incidentally affected by the foreigner in their midst.
Shimoda Story is much more than a chronicle of negotiations. It is both a political and a social history of Japan in the 1850s. It gives a warm and intimate picture of Shimoda, a town of spirited inhabitants--merchants and innkeepers, fishermen and farmers, girls who enticed and entertained the crews of coastal vessels, a town which was, for a few exciting months, the setting for the drama of Japan's reentry into the world after more than two centuries of seclusion.« less