March 14, 2004

Black Ships & Samurai

On July 8, 1853, residents of Uraga on the outskirts of Edo, the sprawling capital of feudal Japan, beheld an astonishing sight. Four foreign warships had entered their harbor under a cloud of black smoke, not a sail visible among them…

Black Ships & Samurai is a fascinating exhibit on the Web, brought to us by some folks at MIT. It chronicles Commodore Perry’s year-long mission, which brought Japan into wider contact with the rest of the world.

Inlcuded in the online exhibit is an amazing representation of the “Black Ship Scroll,” painted by a Japanese artist in 1854. The virtual scroll is supplemented by quicktime movies which provide some translation and allow you to follow the scroll from beginning to end. One interesting bit tells of how Perry himself was perceived by the Japanese as “almost demonic” and a “hairy barbarian” in contrast to the otherwise sympathetic portrayal of the foreigners.

The family and I are frequent visitors at the Newport Black Ships Festival in Newport, RI, which is a yearly celebration of this historic meeting. We skipped it last year (I can’t remember why) but I don’t think we will this year. The dates haven’t been announced, but it’s usually mid-July. Who’s up for the Taiko drum show (and picnic, if they do it the same way they did 2 years ago)? I could be convinced to make sushi for the occasion.

This made me wonder what was going on last year in July. Remember this goofy guy? Phoot!

Posted by James at March 14, 2004 12:59 PM
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