JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES: Early Encounters 1791-1860 by Alfred Tamarin

JAPAN AND THE UNITED STATES: Early Encounters 1791-1860

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A classic case of too much about too little. ""The First Encounters"" fill almost fifty pages, and consist primarily of intricate ceremonial and trading procedures proving (surprise!) that the Japanese combined contempt for ""the alien barbarians of the West"" with fear of being Westernized; among the curiosa are the experiences of one Ranald MacDonald, who penetrated Japan by posing as a castaway, but not the ""interesting information respecting the country and. . . government"" that a contemporary account credits him with gathering. (Also overlooked is the fate of the rescued Japanese sailors awaiting Perry and passage home; they are left bearing ""the humiliating atmosphere with patience."") Perry's two visits, the first to deliver President Fillmore's proposals, the second to secure an answer and, as it turned out, negotiate the Treaty of Kanagawa (small but significant Japanese concessions), occupy over a hundred pages--ten of which concentrate on the impasse over who will receive the letter where. Revealing, however, and currently relevant, are the arguments in the American press over the advisability of Perry's mission, over forcing ourselves oil the Japanese generally (subsequently Townsend Harris has qualms too), and the conflicting Japanese reactions are also pointed and pertinent. But relegation of Fillmore's letter to the appendix--without a note to thai effect in the text--and omission of Perry's letter, both of which the Japanese take specific exception to, weaken this aspect. The last of the four long sections features Harris as tire first American consul, and while the material has greater interest, it has also had wider dissemination. The Japanese illustrations of Americans, especially Perry, are priceless, but the book is so specialized as to be valuable only to scholars--who'd want tire original journals rather than adaptations of them.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1970
Publisher: Macmillan