A North American: Portrait of Perry


Commodore Matthew C. Perry entered the port of Yokohama in 1853 with an intimidating fleet of steam warships, in order to compel Japan to open up after nearly two centuries of restricted foreign contact. The Japanese people became increasingly exposed to Western culture as new trade agreements prompted cross-cultural interaction. The influx of unfamiliar technology and customs gave rise to anxiety as well as awe among the Japanese people, whose curiosity about the external world is evident in the detailed depictions of foreign subjects by ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) artists. With the arrival of Perry, Yokohama-e (pictures of Yokohama) depicting the commercial trading port that he opened became extremely popular. As the painters frequently based their sources on secondary material as well as eyewitness accounts, misconceptions about foreigners were common. In this portrait of the commodore, the whites of his “blue eyes” are painted blue instead of the pupils.

Last updated: February 23, 2012