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The Black Ships

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The Black Ships (in Japanese, : kurofune) was the name given to four ships, Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga, and Susquehanna, under the command of United States Commodore Matthew Perry that arrived in 1853 at Uraga Harbor (part of present-day Yokosuka) in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The word "black" refers to the black smoke from coal-fired power plants and the black color of these American ships.

Commodore Perry's superior military force enabled him to negotiate a treaty allowing American trade with Japan, ending a 200-year period of Japanese isolation.

The following year, at the Convention of Kanagawa, Perry returned with seven ships and forced the shogun to sign the "Treaty of Peace and Amity", establishing formal diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. Within five years, Japan had signed similar treaties with other western countries. The Harris Treaty was signed with the United States on July 29, 1858.

The surprise and confusion these ships inspired are described in this famous kyoka (a humorous poem similar to the 5-line waka):

たいへいのTaihei no
ねむりをさますNemuri wo samasu
じょうきせんJokisen
たったしはいでTatta shihai de
よるもねむれずYoru mo nemurezu

This poem is a complex set of puns (in Japanese, kakekotoba or "pivot words"). Jokisen () is the name of a costly brand of green tea containing large amounts of caffeine, and shihai means "four cups", so a literal translation of the poem is:

Awoken from sleep
of a peaceful quiet world
by Jokisen tea
with only four cups of it
no more sleep possible at night

However, jokisen () can also be translated as "steam-powered ships", and shihai can also be used to refer to four vessels. The poem has a deeper meaning, which is:

The steamships
break the peaceful slumber
of the Pacific
a mere four boats are enough
to make us lose sleep at night.

See also

External links

zh:黑船

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