Commodore Perry's 1853 Japanese Expedition: How Whaling Influenced the Event that Revolutionized Japan


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Virginia Tech


In July 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry illegally entered Tokyo Bay with a fleet of four American warships and challenged Japan's isolationist position towards the United States. This radical diplomatic effort concluded with a return voyage a year later and ended Japan's self-imposed isolation from the Western world.

Historians, in an attempt to explain the motivations behind Perry's voyage, cite an American commercial desire for Chinese trade as the main reason behind the Japanese Expedition's dispatch. This historical perspective ignores the important economic and political influence the whaling industry played in spurring American politicians to confront Japanese isolationism.

It is incorrect to assert that whaling, and not America's desire to gain access to China, was the main reason behind the 1853 Japanese Expedition. This paper's objective is to understand how whaling influenced Perry's mission. It should be read as a supplement to current historical scholarship concerning America's decision to send a naval force into Japanese waters.



whaling, Perry, commerce, Pacific Ocean, Japan