‘Aliens Invade!’ The Barbarians and the Shogun with Lesley Downer


In 1853 Commodore Perry’s gunboat diplomacy forced an end to 200 years of Japanese isolationist policy. In this talk author Lesley Downer will unpick the many compelling narratives set in motion by the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships, telling the stories from both American and Japanese viewpoints.

Perry’s mission to Japan was underpinned not only by American trade ambition, but also by a desire to bring Western culture to ‘backward’ Asian nations. What then was the Japanese reaction to the minstrel show offered up by blacked-up USN sailors while negotiations took place in Kanagawa? And what was the role of daimyo Shimazu Nariakira, whose well-concealed factory complex, fledgling fleet of steam ships and daguerreotype camera marked him out as the most far-sighted of the shogun’s advisors? Additionally, what were the circumstances behind the sudden deaths of not one but two shoguns following the respective visits of Perry and the first American consul, Townsend Harris?

The talk will be illustrated with contemporary documents and pictures, including woodblock prints of Perry and Harris as seen through Japanese eyes, and American drawings of the Japanese.

Date: Thursday 10 November 2016, 6.45pm
Venue: The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH

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