President Fillmore’s letter to the Emperor of Japan, delivered July 14, 1853
Japanese reply to the President’s letter
Commodore Perry’s letter to Senior Councillor Hayashi,
March 10, 1854
Fillmore’s letter to the Emperor of Japan
(presented by Commodore
Perry on July 14, 1853)
President of the United
States of America
to his Imperial Majesty,
THE EMPEROR OF JAPAN Great
and Good Friend!
I send you this public
letter by Commodore Matthew C. Perry, an officer of the highest rank in the
navy of the United States, and commander of the squadron now visiting Your
imperial majesty's dominions.
I have directed Commodore
Perry to assure your imperial majesty that I entertain the kindest feelings
toward your majesty's person and government, and that I have no other object
in sending him to Japan but to propose to your imperial majesty that the
United States and Japan should live in friendship and have commercial
intercourse with each other.
The Constitution and laws
of the United States forbid all interference with the religious or political
concerns of other nations. I have particularly charged Commodore Perry to
abstain from every act which could possibly disturb the tranquillity of your
imperial majesty's dominions.
The United States of
America reach from ocean to ocean, and our Territory of Oregon and State of
California lie directly opposite to the dominions of your imperial majesty.
Our steamships can go from California to Japan in eighteen days.
Our great State of
California produces about sixty millions of dollars in gold every year,
besides silver, quicksilver, precious stones, and many other valuable
articles. Japan is also a rich and fertile country, and produces many very
valuable articles. Your imperial majesty's subjects are skilled in many of
the arts. I am desirous that our two countries should trade with each other,
for the benefit both of Japan and the United States.
We know that the ancient
laws of your imperial majesty's government do not allow of foreign trade,
except with the Chinese and the Dutch; but as the state of the world changes
and new governments are formed, it seems to be wise, from time to time, to
make new laws. There was a time when the ancient laws of your imperial
majesty's government were first made.
About the same time
America, which is sometimes called the New World, was first discovered and
settled by the Europeans. For a long time there were but a few people, and
they were poor. They have now become quite numerous; their commerce is very
extensive; and they think that if your imperial majesty were so far to
change the ancient laws as to allow a free trade between the two countries
it would be extremely beneficial to both.
If your imperial majesty
is not satisfied that it would be safe altogether to abrogate the ancient
laws which forbid foreign trade, they might be suspended for five or ten
years, so as to try the experiment. If it does not prove as beneficial as
was hoped, the ancient laws can be restored. The United States often limit
their treaties with foreign States to a few years, and then renew them or
not, as they please.
I have directed Commodore
Perry to mention another thing to your imperial majesty. Many of our ships
pass every year from California to China; and great numbers of our people
pursue the whale fishery near the shores of Japan. It sometimes happens, in
stormy weather, that one of our ships is wrecked on your imperial majesty's
shores. In all such cases we ask, and expect, that our unfortunate people
should be treated with kindness, and that their property should be
protected, till we can send a vessel and bring them away. We are very much
in earnest in this.
Commodore Perry is also
directed by me to represent to your imperial majesty that we understand
there is a great abundance of coal and provisions in the Empire of Japan.
Our steamships, in crossing the great ocean, burn a great deal of coal, and
it is not convenient to bring it all the way from America. We wish that our
steamships and other vessels should be allowed to stop in Japan and supply
themselves with coal, provisions, and water. They will pay for them in
money, or anything else your imperial majesty's subjects may prefer; and we
request your imperial majesty to appoint a convenient port, in the southern
part of the Empire, where our vessels may stop for this purpose. We are very
desirous of this.
These are the only objects
for which I have sent Commodore Perry, with a powerful squadron, to pay a
visit to your imperial majesty's renowned city of Yedo: friendship,
commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our
We have directed Commodore
Perry to beg your imperial majesty's acceptance of a few presents. They are
of no great value in themselves; but some of them may serve as specimens of
the articles manufactured in the United States, and they are intended as
tokens of our sincere and respectful friendship.
May the Almighty have your
imperial majesty in His great and holy keeping! In witness whereof, I have
caused the great seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, and have
subscribed the same with my name, at the city of Washington, in America, the
seat of my government, on the thirteenth day of the month of November, in
the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-two.
Your good friend,
Translation of Japanese
Reply to President Fillmore’s Letter
The return of Your
Excellency as Ambassador of the United States to this Empire has been
expected according to the letter of his majesty the President, which your
excellency delivered last year to his majesty the Emperor of this nation. It
is quite impossible to give satisfactory answers at once to all the
proposals of your government.
Although a change is most
positively forbidden by the laws of our imperial ancestors, for us to
continue attached to ancient laws, seems to misunderstand the spirit of the
age. Nonetheless we are governed now by imperative necessity. At the visit
of your excellency to this Empire last year, his majesty the former Emperor
was sick and is now dead. Subsequently his majesty the present Emperor
ascended the throne. The many occupations in consequence thereof are not yet
finished and there is no time to settle other business thoroughly. Moreover
his majesty the new Emperor at his succession to the throne promised to the
princes and high officers of the empire to observe the laws; it is therefore
evident that he cannot now bring about any alterations in the ancient laws.
Last autumn at the
departure of the Dutch ship, the superintendent of the Dutch trade in Japan
was requested to inform your government of this event, and we have been
informed in writing that he did so.
The Russian ambassador
arrived recently at Nagasaki to communicate a wish of his government. He has
since left the said place, because no answer would be given to whatever
nation that might communicate similar wishes. We recognize necessity,
however, and shall entirely comply with the proposals of your government
concerning coal, wood, water, provisions, and the saving of ships and their
crews in distress. After being informed which harbor your excellency
selects, that harbor shall be prepared, which preparation it is estimated
will take about five years. Meanwhile commencement can be made with the coal
at Nagasaki, by the first month of the next Japanese year (16th of February
Having no precedent with
respect to coal, we request your excellency to furnish us with an estimate,
and upon due consideration this will be complied with if not in opposition
to our laws. What do you mean by provisions and how much coal will be
Finally, anything ships
may be in want of that can be furnished from the production of this Empire
shall be supplied; the prices of merchandise and articles of barter to be
fixed by Kurokawa Kahei and Moriyama Einosuke. After settling the points
before mentioned, the treaty can be concluded and signed at the next
Seals attached by order of
the high Gentleman
(signed) Moriyama Einosuke
Commodore Perry’s letter
to Senior Councillor Hayashi, March 10, 1854
United States Flag Ship
At anchor off the Town of
Edo Bay, 10 March 1854
To His Highness,
etc. etc. etc.
In reply to the
communication of your highness, which was brought to me yesterday by
Kurokawa Kahei, and the chief interpreter, Moriyama Einosuke, I hasten to
remark that it has given me the greatest satisfaction to learn from its
contents, that the imperial government of Japan has at last awakened to a
conviction of the necessity of so altering its policy with respect to
foreign nations, as to consent to an interchange of friendly intercourse
with the United States.
Though the propositions
set forth in the communication of your highness furnish strong evidence of
the enlightened spirit with which the imperial commissioners are disposed to
meet the suggestions which I have had the honor to submit, they fall far
short of my anticipations, and I do not hesitate to say that they would not
satisfy the views of the President.
I cheerfully accede to
those of the propositions of your highness which offer to guarantee kind
treatment to such vessels of the United States as may hereafter visit the
parts of Japan, or be wrecked upon its coasts with protection, and suitable
hospitality to the people who may belong to them.
Also, that provisions and
other supplies shall be furnished to them and payment received for the same.
Also, that American
steamers shall be supplied with reasonable quantities of coal, and at fair
and equitable prices.
These are all very well so
far as they go, and can be incorporated in the treaty which I shall expect
to make; but my instructions require me to look for an intercourse of a more
enlarged and liberal character, and I feel assured that the Imperial
government, in consideration of the spirit of the age, and with the full
knowledge of my strong desire to conduct my mission in peace and friendship,
will no longer hesitate to enter with cordiality into a treaty that will be
mutually honorable and advantageous to both nations.
The convenience of the
immense and growing commerce of the United States in these seas will
require, certainly, as many ports of resort in Japan as are specified in the
treaty with China, and these must be free from any restrictions not
recognized, by the usages of free and independent nations.
In a word, I again
earnestly urge upon your highness the policy of fixing upon some written
compact that will be binding as well upon the citizens of the United States
as the subjects of Japan.
It would be needless in me
again to express the sincerest desire of my heart to bring these
negotiations to an amicable and satisfactory termination; nor will I again
allude to the importance of such an issue, important as well to save time as
to prevent the necessity of sending from America more ships and men, and
possibly with instructions of more stringent import.
I have the power and the
wish to meet the Imperial commissioners in all good faith, believing that
there can be no more favorable time than the present to settle all the
questions under consideration in such manner as will bring about a good
understanding between two nations, whose geographical positions, lying in
comparative proximity, would seem to enjoin, as a measure of wise foresight,
a mutual interchange of those acts of kindness and good will which will
serve to cement the friendship happily commenced, and to endure, I trust,
for many years.
With the most profound
(signed) M. C. Perry
East India, China, and
And Special Ambassador to
[Ref.: U.S. Senate, 33rd
Congress, 2nd. Sess. (1854-55): Executive Documents, vol. 6, pp. 137-9]