The famous "Black Ships" commanded by American Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Edo Bay (now known as Tokyo Bay) in 1853, the first Western ships to enter Japan in more than 200 years. The Black Ships were the literal "gunboats" in Perry's "gunboat diplomacy," which forced Japan to open her ports and trade with the West.

Painting by Kinuko Y. Craft, National Geographic
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    On July 8, 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry entered the waters of what is now Tokyo Bay, Japan, with four armed steamships. Perry’s show of military strength forced Japan to open its ports to trade with the West for the first time in more than 200 years.
    Actually, Japan was not entirely isolated before Perry steamed into Tokyo Bay. Under a policy called sakoku, trade was simply extremely limited. China, the Netherlands, Korea, the island kingdom of Ryukyu, and the Ainu people could each trade with a single Japanese port. Japan strictly forbid any trade with the U.S.
    Perry and his so-called “Black Ships” are usually regarded as an example of “gunboat diplomacy”—the pursuit of foreign policy with the threat of naval power. The Japanese were not familiar with steamships and, according to some accounts, thought the Black Ships were “giant dragons puffing smoke.” The heavily armed ships intimidated the inferior Japanese military and allowed Perry to demand to meet with government officials. He brought gifts for the emperor, including a working model of a steam train, a telescope, and a telegraph.
    Today, Black Ship festivals in both Japan and the United States celebrate the opening of Japan to the West.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    bay Noun

    body of water partially surrounded by land, usually with a wide mouth to a larger body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: bay
    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    emperor Noun

    ruler of an empire.

    forbid Verb

    to disallow or prohibit.

    foreign policy Noun

    courses of action or thought that guide a nation's relationship with other nations.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    gunboat diplomacy Noun

    pursuit of foreign policy with the threat of military power.

    inferior Adjective

    of lower quality.

    intimidate Verb

    to fill with fear or dishearten.

    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    kingdom Noun

    type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.

    Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom
    military Noun

    armed forces.

    naval Adjective

    having to do with a government's navy, or military ships and crew.

    port Noun

    place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.

    Encyclopedic Entry: port
    regard Verb

    to consider or pay attention to.

    telegraph Noun

    system of communication involving devices connected through electrical wires.

    telescope Noun

    scientific instrument that uses mirrors to view distant objects.

    threat Noun


    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    U.S. Navy Noun

    military branch whose mission is "to maintain, train, and equip combat ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas."

    West Noun

    having to do with the developed nations of Europe and North America.