Black ships and Samurai: Japan and the US, 1853
March 14, 2004 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Black ships and samurai In 1853 four ships under Commodore Perry anchored off the coast of Japan against the wishes of the Japanese. According to historian John Dower, "This initial encounter between the United States and Japan was eye-opening for all concerned, involving a dramatic confrontation between peoples of different racial, cultural, and historical backgrounds. We can literally see this encounter of "East" and "West" unfold through the splendid, yet little known, artwork produced by each side at the time." This beautiful exhibition includes many examples of this artwork, juxtaposing scenes of the encounter from Japanese and American artists' points of view. (Part of MIT's open courseware initiative.)
posted by carter (18 comments total)

 
Carter, you just rocked my weekend.
Thank you for this most excellent link.
posted by Busithoth at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2004


Fabulous. Thanks
posted by marvin at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2004


[this is extremely good]
posted by Grod at 9:24 AM on March 14, 2004


Excellent! Thanks.
posted by azazello at 9:44 AM on March 14, 2004


awesome wow, thanks! it's like a travelling online exhibition :D

fascinating stuff that sorta 'reveals' theirs and ours respective national chracters! to be fair tho, there should be a version put together by japanese historians as well :D

i like how 'In the American record, these first encounters come across as almost dream-like.' contrast with the japanese depictions of minstrel shows and an amusing account of 'An American sailor ingratiating himself with prostitutes...'
like: 'Japanese graphics had a cartoon quality, and some were deliberately humorous—again, something never seen in the sober American illustrations... Japanese artists catering to a popular audience had long engaged in exaggeration and caricature. Their purpose was to entertain, ...'

whereas: 'With but one exception, they chose not to illustrate subjects that provoked moral indignation among some members of the mission (and delighted more than a few crewmen), such as prostitution, pornography, and public baths...'
but what's funny, as vincent vega would say, are the little differences :D
manjiro: "expressing affection between men and women in public (in this regard, he found them 'lewd' and 'wanton')."

preble: 'a box of obscene paintings of naked men and women, another proof of the lewdness of this exclusive people.'
wish there were more on the dutch in dejima tho!
posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2004


This is a great exhibit. Unfortunately, being so cool, it reveals the weaknesses of online galleries: I wanted to get closer, see more detail.

Also, translations of the japanese captions would have been awesome.

Nevertheless, this was one of the coolest things I've seen online in a while. Thanks for the find, carter.
posted by Hildago at 11:10 AM on March 14, 2004


Fascinating. Thanks, carter.
posted by pyramid termite at 11:25 AM on March 14, 2004


In 1853 Commodore Perry's ships arriving in Japan with "not a visible sail among them" wouldn't be so unlike a flying saucer landing in New York's Central Park today.
posted by stevis at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2004


The period of art has always reinforced the belief that European art was far more advanced for roughly 300 years.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:55 PM on March 14, 2004


Brilliant link. Thanks.
posted by squealy at 2:03 PM on March 14, 2004


Great link!
posted by vorfeed at 4:09 PM on March 14, 2004


awesome!!! thanks, carter.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:42 PM on March 14, 2004


The period of art has always reinforced the belief that European art was far more advanced for roughly 300 years.

I have no idea what this means. Could you enlighten me? (As far as I know, Japanese art was just as "advanced," whatever that means, but had gone in different directions from a different starting point.)
posted by languagehat at 4:46 PM on March 14, 2004


This is actually part of an MIT OpenCourseWare Course: 21F.027J: Visualizing Cultures.
posted by bkdelong at 6:49 PM on March 14, 2004


...and if you want the short version of the above URL, it's http://blackshipsandsamurai.mit.edu. This course will be n+1 times better once I have a chance to embed metadata for every image - but that will take a bit more time. I think the cool thing about that course, (at least for the one hosted on the MIT site), is that all the images are distributed under OCW's liberal Creative Commons license.
posted by bkdelong at 7:18 PM on March 14, 2004


I have no idea what this means. Could you enlighten me? (As far as I know, Japanese art was just as "advanced," whatever that means, but had gone in different directions from a different starting point.)

European and American artists certainly thought they could learn something from Japanese Artists. Van Gogh, Whistler, et cetera.

I'm not really sure how one form of the same art can be more advanced than another. Either something is an adequate artistic expression, or it isn't.

I assume The Fire You Left Me meant that the westerners painted more accurate representations of what they saw.

Which, actually, now that I think about it, might mean he's part right, because the reason the American painter went along wasn't to create works of art, but to create a record of what he saw. In this sense, technical accuracy is better. Nowadays, we wouldn't send a painter, we'd send a film crew, because we're a hundred and fifty years more advanced than Commodore Perry. The painter in this sense was a piece of recording technology for which there doesn't appear to be an equally advanced Japanese counterpart.

But that's not the same as saying that American art was more advanced than Japanese art -- because we're not talking about art anymore.

So yeah, I have no idea what he was saying either.
posted by Hildago at 7:31 PM on March 14, 2004


Very nice. Thank you.
posted by vacapinta at 9:31 PM on March 14, 2004


This may be my favorite link ever.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:56 AM on March 15, 2004


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