Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun

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by Rhoda Blumberg

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In 1853, few Japanese people knew that a country called America even existed.

For centuries, Japan had isolated itself from the outside world by refusing to trade with other countries and even refusing to help shipwrecked sailors, foreign or Japanese. The country's people still lived under a feudal system like that of Europe in the

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In 1853, few Japanese people knew that a country called America even existed.

For centuries, Japan had isolated itself from the outside world by refusing to trade with other countries and even refusing to help shipwrecked sailors, foreign or Japanese. The country's people still lived under a feudal system like that of Europe in the Middle Ages. But everything began to change when American Commodore Perry and his troops sailed to the Land of the Rising Sun, bringing with them new science and technology, and a new way of life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This 1986 Newbery Honor book tracks Matthew Perry's expedition to open Japan to American trade. The volume contrasts cultural differences that the Japanese and Americans had to overcome and explains Japanese feudal society; it is illustrated almost entirely with reproductions of period Japanese art. Ages 8-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Blumberg starts off with an intriguing line, "If monsters had descended upon Japan the effect could not have been more terrifying." She is talking about Commodore Matthew C. Perry's arrival in Japan in 1853, an event that had long-reaching consequences for that country and is the subject of this book. Blumberg is a talented writer and uses a lot of colorful language to draw the reader into a story. But this proves to be problematic because one begins to believe that the book is just that�a story�and it is easy to forget that this is supposed to be a more or less historical account of Commodore Perry's experiences in Japan. The first chapter depicts the Japanese as people who had never encountered foreigners before. While it is true that Commodore Perry interrupted an extended period of isolation, Japan had encountered people from other countries. In fact, Portuguese traders, along with Francis Xavier, a Jesuit Missionary, came to Japan in the mid-1500s, and trips to and from China were frequent. Aside from a rather flawed depiction of Japan at the beginning, the rest of the book coasts safely into more historically accurate descriptions of the events. There are many beautiful images of Japanese artists' impressions of Americans. The appendices contain interesting material, for instance, a copy of President Fillmore's letter to the Emperor of Japan. Anyone who reads this book will probably be drawn in by Blumberg's catchy writing style and find it informative. 2003 (orig. 1985), Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books/HarperCollins Publisher,
— Rihoko Ueno
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up Blumberg's book succeeds on two levels. First it is a well-written story of Matthew Perry's expedition to open Japan to American trade and whaling ports. The account is sensitive to the extreme cultural differences that both the Japanese and Americans had to overcome. Especially good are the chapters and paragraphs explaining Japanese feudal society and culture. The text is marvelously complemented by the illustrations, almost all reproductions of contemporary Japanese art, underscoring the unbiased approach of the book. On the second level, the book is a well-researched chronicle of the events of the trip. Blumberg has gone to the original sources to capture the sights, emotions, reactions and even tastes of both the Japanese and Americans. Yet she has not neglected the political and economic importance or mission of Perry's trip. The notes, appendixes and bibliography show a carefully thought out book which holds valuable information for sophisticated readers. There is no better book for students on this historical event. John Buschman, Solanco Senior High School Library, Quarryville, Pa.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.28(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun AER
Chapter OneAliens Arrive

If monsters had descended upon Japan the effect could not have been more terrifying.

People in the fishing village of Shimoda were the first to spot four huge hulks, two streaming smoke, on the ocean's surface approaching the shore. "Giant dragons puffing smoke," cried some. "Alien ships of fire," cried others. According to a folktale, smoke above water was made by the breath of clams. Only a child would believe that. Perhaps enemies knew how to push erupting volcanoes toward the Japanese homeland. Surely something horrible was happening on this day, Friday, July 8, 1853.

Fishermen pulled in their nets, grabbed their oars, and rowed to shore frantically. They had been close up and knew that these floating mysteries were foreign ships. Black ships that belched black clouds! They had never seen anything like it. They didn't even know that steamboats existed, and they were appalled by the number and size of the guns.

Barbarians from out of the blue! Will they invade, kidnap, kill, then destroy everything? What will become of the sacred Land of the Rising Sun?

General alarms were sounded. Temple bells rang, and messengers raced throughout Japan to warn everyone that enemy aliens were approaching by ship. Rumors spread that "one hundred thousand devils with white faces" were about to overrun the country. People panicked. They carried their valuables and furniture in all directions in order to hide them from invading barbarians. Women and children were locked up in their homes or sent to friends and relatives who lived inland, far from the endangeredshore.

Messengers rushed to the capital of Edo (now Tokyo) to alert government officials. Edo, the world's largest city with more than one million occupants, went into a state of chaos the very day the ships were sighted. Women raced about in the streets with children in their arms. Men carried their mothers on their backs, not knowing which way to turn.

Who could control the turmoil? The Emperor Komei was isolated in his royal palace at Kyoto. Although he was worshiped as a divine descendent of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, he was a powerless puppet, responsible primarily for conducting religious ceremonies. During his leisure hours he was expected to study the classics and compose poetry. The Japanese referred to their emperor as "he who lives above the clouds." By law, he was not permitted to leave his heavenly palace unless he received special permission from the government. An emperor's sphere of influence was otherworldly. All down-to-earth decisions were made by shoguns who had been wielding power for more than 700 years.

The word shogun means "barbarian expelling generalissimo." How appropriate at this time! Surely the Shogun would take command!

But Shogun Ieyoshi who occupied the palace at Edo in 1853 was a weakling. No one even bothered to tell him the frightening news. Three days after the ships arrived he overheard chatter about them while enjoying a Noh play that was being performed for him in his palace. The news affected him so badly that he went to bed, sick at heart.

Because the Shogun was inept, his councillors, called the Bakufu, ruled the country. But according to a Japanese reporter, "They were too alarmed to open their mouths." The Bakufu should not have been so surprised. Before reaching Japan the American fleet had stopped at Loo Choo (now Okinawa). Japanese spies stationed there had sent word that American ships were on their way to Japan. Dutch traders had also alerted the Bakufu. But for mystifying reasons, the government did not take these reports seriously until the Black Ships arrived on July 8. After recovering from shock they ordered the great clans to prepare to battle barbarians.

Locked away from the rest of the world, using the Pacific Ocean as its moat, Japan had maintained a feudal society similar to that of Europe during the Middle Ages. There were lords (daimyos), knights (samurai), and vassals who labored in their lord's domain and paid tithes to their masters.

The country had not been at war since it invaded Korea in 1597. That was 256 years earlier. Nevertheless, feudal lords were able to mobilize troops. Men who had never dressed for warfare worked to get rust off spears. They placed new feathers in their families' antique arrows. Tailors were pressed into service so they could fix the silk cords on ancient armor, make warriors' cloaks, and sew cotton skull-caps that would cushion the weight of heavy helmets. Seventeen thousand soldiers were readied for battle.

When the ships moved toward land that first day, Japanese guard boats set out to surround the enemy. But they could not catch up with aliens whose ships were so magical that they steamed ahead against the wind without using sails or oars.

At five o'clock in the afternoon the foreign ships anchored a mile and a half from shore, at Edo Bay. They were less than thirty-five miles from the capital city. Beautiful cliffs, rolling green hills, and, above all, snow-capped Mount Fuji mad a breathtaking scene. After dusk, beacon fires dotted the land, and there was an incessant toll of temple gongs.

That night a meteor with a fiery tail streaked through the sky like a rocket. An omen from the gods! Shrines and temples were jammed. Priests told worshipers that barbarians were about to punish them for their sins.

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun AER
. Copyright © by Rhoda Blumberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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