Convention of Kanagawa

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Convention of Kanagawa
Japan–US Treaty of Peace and Amity
Japanese copy of the Convention of Kanagawa, ratified 21 February 1855
Signed 31 March 1854 (1854-03-31)
Location Yokohama, Japan
Effective 31 September 1855
Condition Ratification by US Congress and signing by Emperor Kōmei of Japan
Depositary Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan)
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • English
  • Dutch
Treaty of Kanagawa at Wikisource
Japanese woodblock print of Perry (center) and other high-ranking US seamen
Foreigners in Yokohama in 1854

On March 31, 1854, the Convention of Kanagawa (Japanese: 日米和親条約 Hepburn: Nichibei Washin Jōyaku?, "Japan–US Treaty of Peace and Amity") or Kanagawa Treaty (神奈川条約 Kanagawa Jōyaku?) was the first treaty between the United States of America, and the Empire of Japan, then under the administration of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Signed under threat of force, it effectively meant the end of Japan’s 220 year-old policy of national seclusion (sakoku), by opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American vessels.[1] It also ensured the safety of American castaways and established the position of an American consul in Japan. The treaty also precipitated the signing of similar treaties establishing diplomatic relations with other western powers.

The isolation of Japan[edit]

Since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa shogunate pursued a policy of isolating the country from outside influences. Foreign trade was maintained only with the Dutch and the Chinese and was conducted exclusively at Nagasaki under a strict government monopoly. This policy had two main objectives. One was the fear that trade with western powers and the spread of Christianity would serve as a pretext for the invasion of Japan by imperialist forces, as had been the case with most of the nations of Asia. The second objective was fear that foreign trade and the wealth developed would lead to the rise of a daimyo powerful enough to overthrow the ruling Tokugawa clan.[2]

By the early nineteenth century, this policy of isolation was increasingly under challenge. In 1844, King William II of the Netherlands sent a letter urging Japan to end the isolation policy on its own before change would be forced from the outside. In 1846, an official American expedition led by Commodore James Biddle arrived in Japan asking for ports to be opened for trade, but was sent away.[3]

The Perry expedition[edit]

In 1852, United States Navy Commodore Matthew Perry was sent with a fleet of warships by American President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary.[4] The growing commerce between America and China, the presence of American whalers in waters offshore Japan, and the increasing monopolization of potential coaling stations by the British and French in Asia were all contributing factors. The Americans were also driven by concepts of Manifest Destiny and the desire to impose the benefits of western civilization on what they perceived as “backwards” Asian nations. For the Japanese standpoint, increasing contacts with foreign warships and the increasing disparity between western military technology and the Japanese feudal armies created growing concern. The Japanese had been keeping abreast of world events via information gathered from Dutch traders in Dejima and had been forewarned by the Dutch of Perry’s voyage.[5] There was considerable internal debate in Japan on how best to meet this potential threat to Japan’s economic and political sovereignty.

Perry arrived with four warships at Uraga, at the mouth of Edo Bay on July 8, 1853. After refusing Japanese demands that he proceed to Nagasaki, which was the designated port for foreign contact, and after threatening to continue directly on to Edo, the nation’s capital and to burn it to the ground if necessary, he was allowed to land at nearby Kurihama on July 14 and to deliver his letter.[6]

Despite years of debate on the isolation policy, Perry’s letter created great controversy within the highest levels of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Shogun himself, Tokugawa Ieyoshi died days after Perry’s departure, and was succeeded by his sickly young son, Tokugawa Iesada, leaving effective administration in the hands of the Council of Elders (rōjū) led by Abe Masahiro. Abe felt that it was currently impossible for Japan to resist the American demands by military force, and yet was reluctant to take any action on his own authority for such an unprecedented situation. Attempting to legitimize any decision taken, Abe polled all of the daimyo for their opinions. This was the first time that the Tokugawa shogunate had allowed its decision-making to be a matter of public debate, and had the unforeseen consequence of portraying the Shogunate as weak and indecisive.[7] The results of the poll also failed to provide Abe with an answer, as of the 61 known responses, 19 were in favor of accepting the American demands, and 19 were equally opposed. Of the remainder, 14 gave vague responses expressing concern of possible war, 7 suggested making temporary concessions and two advised that they would simply go along with whatever was decided.[8]

Perry returned again on February 13, 1854 with an even larger force of eight warships, and made it clear that he would not be leaving until a treaty was signed. Negotiations began on March 8 and proceeded for around one month. The Japanese side gave in to almost all of Perry’s demands, with the exception of a commercial agreement modeled after previous American treaties with China, which Perry agreed to defer to a later time. The main controversy centered on the selection of the ports to open, with Perry adamantly rejecting Nagasaki. The treaty, written in English, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese was signed at Kanagawa, adjacent to the site of the future city of Yokohama on March 31.[8]

Treaty of Peace and Amity (1854)[edit]

English text of the Kanagawa Treaty

The "Japan–US Treaty of Peace and Amity" has twelve articles:

Article Summary
§ I Mutual peace between the United States and the Empire of Japan
§ II Opening of the ports of Shimoda & Hakodate
§ III Assistance to be provided to shipwrecked American sailors
§ IV Shipwrecked sailors not to be imprisoned or mistreated
§ V Freedom of movement for temporary foreign residents in treaty ports (with limitations) .[9]
§ VI Trade transactions to be permitted
§ VII Currency exchange to facilitate any trade transactions to be allowed
§ VIII Provisioning of American ships to be a Japanese government monopoly
§ IX Japan to also give the United States any favorable advantages which might be negotiated by Japan with any other foreign government in the future
§ X Forbids the United States from using any other ports aside from Shimoda and Hakodate.
§ XI Opening of an American consulate at Shimoda
§ XII Treaty to be ratified within 18 months of signing

The final article, Article Twelve, stipulated that the terms of the treaty were to be ratified by the President of the United States and the “August Sovereign of Japan” within 18 months. At the time, Shogun Tokugawa Iesada was the de facto ruler of Japan; for the Emperor to interact in any way with foreigners was out of the question. Perry concluded the treaty with representatives of the shogun, led by plenipotentiary Hayashi Akira (林韑?) and the text was endorsed subsequently, albeit reluctantly, by Emperor Kōmei.[10] The treaty was ratified on 21 February 1855.[11]

Consequences of the treaty[edit]

In the short-term, both sides were satisfied with the agreement. Perry has achieved his primary objective of breaking Japan’s sakoku policy and setting the grounds for protection of American citizens and an eventual commercial agreement. The Tokugawa shogunate could point out that the treaty was not actually signed by the Shogun, or indeed any of his rōjū, and by the agreement made, had at least temporarily averted the possibility of immediate military confrontation.[12]

Externally, the treaty led to the United States-Japan Treaty of Kanagawa, the "Harris Treaty" of 1858, which allowed the establishment of foreign concessions, extraterritoriality for foreigners, and minimal import taxes for foreign goods. The Japanese chafed under the "unequal treaty system" which characterized Asian and western relations during this period.[13] The Kanagawa treaty was also followed by similar agreements with the United Kingdom (Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty, October 1854), the Russians (Treaty of Shimoda, 7 February 1855), and the French (Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and Japan, 9 October 1858).

Internally, the treaty had far-reaching consequences. Decisions to suspend previous restrictions on military activities led to re-armament by many domains and further weakened the position of the Shogun.[14] Debate over foreign policy and popular outrage over perceived appeasement to the foreign powers was a catalyst for the sonnō jōi movement and a shift in political power from Edo back to the Imperial Court in Kyoto. The opposition of Emperor Kōmei to the treaties further lent support to the tōbaku (overthrow the Shogunate) movement, and eventually to the Meiji restoration.

Kanagawa Treaty House[edit]

The Convention was negotiated and then signed in a purpose-built house in Yokohama, Japan, the site of which is now the Yokohama Archives of History.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Perry, Matthew Calbraith (1856). Narrative of the expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, 1856.
  2. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, p.74-77
  3. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, p.78
  4. ^ J. W. Hall, Japan, p.207.
  5. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, p.88.
  6. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, p.89.
  7. ^ J. W. Hall, Japan, p.211.
  8. ^ a b W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration, s.90-95.
  9. ^ "From Washington; The Japanese Treaty-Its Advantages and Disadvantages-The President and Col. Rinney, &c.," New York Times. October 18, 1855.
  10. ^ Cullen, Louis M. (2003). A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds, p. 173-185.
  11. ^ Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan) exhibit.
  12. ^ W. G. Beasly, The Meiji Restoration, p.96-97
  13. ^ Bert Edström, Bert. (2000). The Japanese and Europe: Images and Perceptions, p. 101.
  14. ^ J. W. Hall, Japan, p.211-213.


External links[edit]