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Friday, December 13, 2013

Earliest Transaction Between US and Japan

Thanks to my pal Vinnie, we all get to see some very interesting historical documents that would normally be the domain of assorted eggheads (I'm not smart enough to be one) and greedy buggers (I'm plenty greedy, but I lack the funds to properly indulge).

We get to see here, a document - one up for sale by Rulon-Miller Books—of what is purported to be a record of either the oldest, or one of the oldest commercial commercial transactions ever between the US and Japan... back to a time when Japan's international borders were officially opened up.. or rather.. just before they were officially opened up thanks to the 'my-cannon-is-bigger-than-your-musket-attitude' of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry when his armed steamboats chugged into Japanese harbors.    

As part of Catalogue 146, Rulon-Miller Books has a statement for supplies taken aboard the Powhatan, the Southampton, and the Mississippi during the Perry Expedition to open the country of Japan.

This intriguing document - a financial statement - is dated "Hakodate, Japan: May 18, 19, 21, 22, 24 and 26, 1854]."

According to the catalogue (and I admit to being confused with the page count), there are a total of 10 leaves. 

Featuring a total of 10 leaves:
eight 9- ½ x 7 inches,
one 9-½ x 14 inches,
one  leaf 9 ½ x 6 inches
one leaf 9 ½ x 5 inches,
They are all folded and sewn in the Japanese manner.

Why are there 11 leaves mentioned, then?
Let's see... a single sheet within a book is called a leaf.
Each side of a leaf is called a page.

So... in this case... the catalogue contains and error. There are either 11 total leaves in this book... of the first measurement should state there are seven leafs @ 9-1/2 x 7 inches.

It sounds weeny - but if you were going to pay US$17,500 - the asking price - you should know exactly what it is you are purchasing. Right?

I'm sure this is an honest error (maybe I've got it all wrong!) but, it should not detract from the fine company that I have heard Rulon-Miller Books is.
Anyhow... back to the actual financial statement from May 1854. This is for Japanese goods and items taken aboard the US ships:  Powhatan, Southampton, and Mississippi.

The catalogue states: Written in neat kanji and hiragana, often with phonetically spelled American words ("totaru" for total, "Mishishippi" for Mississippi), the statement lists supplies taken on board by date, along with prices and a grand total in the amount of 3,684 gold coins and 29 mon, the Japanese currency before the yen.

In March of 1852 Commodore Perry received orders to command the East India Squadron on a mission to establish diplomatic relations with Japan. Perry arrived off the coast of Uraga in July 1853, with a letter from President Fillmore intending to enact a treaty similar to the one the U.S. had with China. Priorities were to establish trade, secure ports at which American ships could procure provisions and to ensure better treatment of American sailors shipwrecked off the coast Japan. 

A treaty would end the long period of isolation that began with Japan's exclusionary policy set in place through a series of edicts and policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1633-1639. After a series of deliberations, Fillmore's letter was accepted and delivered to the Shogun (who was mistakenly thought by the Americans to be the Emperor) and Perry agreed to return the next spring to receive the official response.

In February of 1854 the squadron reentered Japanese waters and on March 8th Perry landed at Kanagawa to receive the Shogun's response. While it became clear that the issue of trade would have to be decided later, Perry was able to secure two ports, Shimoda and Hakodate (to the north in Hokkaido), for use of American ships to refuel and secure provisions, along with assurances that castaways would be treated with kindness and on March 31st the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed.

After a brief stop in Shimoda where Perry met with officials and discussed the supply of provisions that were required by the squadron, the Commodore left in the Powhatan for Hakodate where he arrived the morning of May 17th. On May 18th, officials from the squadron landed and requested that supplies be furnished to the ships according to a fixed tariff of prices.

Anyhow... if you have a spare US $17,500 available, the oldest (probably) financial transaction between the US and Japan can be yours.

Andrew Joseph

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