COMMODORE PERRY IN THE LAND OF THE SHOGUN by Rhoda Blumberg

COMMODORE PERRY IN THE LAND OF THE SHOGUN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Whatever they may say about a book and its cover, you can tell at first glance that this handsomely designed re-enactment of the 1853 East-West encounter is a winner. The Japanese illustration on the cover whets anticipation with its man and boy on shore exclaiming over the strange black ship in the harbor. Most of the treasury of pictures inside are from Japanese art of that time, including Japanese sketches of the American visitors. Other drawings, of the Japanese and their ways, are by official artists who accompanied Perry. All are meticulously chosen and seamlessly integrated with the text. If the illustrations accentuate the Japanese view of the meeting, Blumberg's text follows American accounts. Blumberg plays down the threat inherent in Perry's militaristic strutting, and she ignores the expansionist context of his mission. With its background briefing on mid-nineteenth-century Japan's feudal rigidity, and its emphasis on the odd sights and customs that bemused the sailors--women who blackened their teeth and gums; guests who emptied the salt-cellar and sugar bowl into their equivalent of doggie bags--her human-interest account of the historic occasion risks reinforcing a nineteenth-century view of curious foreigners. Aware of this hazard, she explains ""how mistaken Commodore Perry was in his belief that Japan was uncivilized."" And she makes a point of balancing acts of ignorance--so that the sailors have a ""belly laugh"" when a Japanese guest on board drinks a glass of olive oil for wine, but ""the tables are turned"" weeks later when a navy man tastes and buys Japanese hair oil for liquor. So, though one can't deny a sort of King and I sensibility, it is just as hard not to be captivated by the musing details of official pomp and human circumstance on both sides.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1985
ISBN: 0060086254
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard