YANKEES IN THE LAND OF THE GODS: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan by Peter Booth with Korogi Ichiro Wiley

YANKEES IN THE LAND OF THE GODS: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, Wiley (Empires in the Sun, 1982) presents an often discerning take on ""the central metaphor"" of the edgy US-Japanese relationship: Japan's opening to the West by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. In tracing how and why ""black ships"" of Perry's East India Squadron ended more than two centuries of isolation from Westerners (except the Dutch) imposed by Japan's shogunate, Wiley underscores how America's ""acute myopia"" about Japan can be linked ""directly to the illusions of racial superiority that inflamed the minds of the great missionary imperialists of the nineteenth century and persists today."" Under cover of pressing for better treatment of shipwrecked American whalers, Perry--depicted here as a martinet of an old sea dog--sought to achieve the real goals of his mission: limiting British influence in the Far East and seeking coal depots for a transpacific steamship line, which Congress was in no mood to contemplate. This set the stage for an almost classic case of culture shock: the swaggering Americans, flushed by their Mexican War victory, displaying their naval might in an effort to remove long-standing barriers versus the reticent Japanese, frightened by the fate of China after the Opium War, yet grimly determined to drive the Yankee barbarians away and preserve their ancient heritage. Wiley has made adroit use of several first-person accounts, particularly Japanese (many translated by Ichiro), in following the often Byzantine negotiations. The Perry trip, he shows, caused near-panic among the Bakufu, Japan's sophisticated yet slow-moving bureaucracy, and within ten years destabilized the shogunate. Wiley also skillfully foreshadows the ironies that have filled US-Japanese relations since this event. But in underscoring American prejudice and condescension, he is blind to the same failing in the Japanese, who believed theirs was ""the land of the Gods."" Astute about the Japanese end of these Pacific overtures, but beware the hackneyed presentation of the Yankee imperialists.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking