My latest column in theDaily Yomiuri in Japan--on Pres. Obama, Commodore Perry, and the new Asia:
SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / Soft power evolution from Perry's day to Obama's
Roland Kelts / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Less than a week before U.S. President Barack Obama touched down in Tokyo last Friday, I took the train to Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, the tiny port city at the tip of the Izu Peninsula famous today for its beaches, seafood and hot springs. But 156 years ago, Shimoda earned fame for another reason: It was the landing site of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry and his Black Ships, a squadron of four military vessels equipped with threatening cannons and aiming to open Japan to international trade.
At the time, Japan's Tokugawa shogunate had successfully shut the nation's shores to the world for nearly 300 years. Perry, with his technologically advanced hardware and a letter of peaceful intentions from U.S. President Millard Fillmore, succeeded in his mission. The first Japan-U.S. treaty was signed, and Japan opened to world trade, partly in response to Western technological prowess, and partly in reaction to the press of what we now call globalization.
Today, Shimoda is a quiet place, and I was warmly welcomed by smart hotel clerks who helped me visit the area's major historical monuments and museums. My hotel room overlooked the ocean. The food was excellent, and a hot spring was offered at no extra cost on the top floor, with a picture-perfect view of the Pacific.
Among the displays of early encounters between the Japanese and Americans, I focused on the graphics--numerous mangalike watercolor portraits of big-nosed, hairy-faced Americans with long legs and vast heads of wild hair wandering amid lean, spindly-legged Japanese. One sequence is particularly memorable: American soldiers laughing at a display of Japanese strength, featuring two sumo wrestlers grappling on a beach, and a subsequent portrait of a sumo wrestler flipping an American soldier over his shoulder--eliciting laughter from all on hand. [more HERE, and co-hosted by 3:AM magazine HERE]
US Commodore Perry bowing before the Tokugawa shogunate/Samurai, circa 1853.
US President Obama bowing before Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, circa 2009.