July 8, 1853: Perry anchors U.S. ships in Edo Bay, the beginning of American Imperialism 161 years ago

July 7, 2014

History item:  On July 8,1853 four black ships led by USS Powhatan and commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, anchored at Edo (Tokyo) Bay. Never before had the Japanese seen ships steaming with smoke. They thought the ships were “giant dragons puffing smoke.” They did not know that steamboats existed and were shocked by the number and size of the guns on board the ships.

President Millard Fillmore, defying H. L. Mencken’s later, crabby, hoax claim of do-little-government, sent Matthew C. Perry to Japan to open Japan as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors, and as a coaling stop for steamships.  For the previous 200 years, Japan had been closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders.   On July 8, 1853, Perry’s small fleet sailed boldly into restricted waters of Japan and anchored.

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama.  Nimitz Museum, Annapolis

Delivering the American presents to the Emperor of Japan, at Yokohama. A. O. P. Nicholson image, 1856 publication, “Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan” – artist not identified (Washington, A. O. P. Nicholson, 1856); Nimitz Museum, Annapolis. A list of the presents can be seen at a link near the end of this post; some of the gifts, such as the model of the steam engine, can be identified in this picture.

After some contretemps, which included Japan’s telling Perry to go to Nagasaki instead (where a military party was probably waiting) and Perry’s shelling a few buildings on shore, the Emperor accepted the letter from President Fillmore.  Perry told the Emperor he would return the following year for an answer.  Perry returned on March 8, 1854, and within a month concluded the Convention of Kanagawa, opening Japan to trade from the west.  Generally unheralded, this may have been one of the more important pieces of U.S. diplomacy in history, especially considering the dramatic rise of Japan as an economic and military power, on the basis of the trade Commodore Perry demanded Japan engage in.

We should make special note of the chain of events over the following 85 or so years, culminating in World War II in the Pacific.  Had Fillmore not sent Perry, had the U.S. not insisted Japan open itself to the world, would there have been an attack on Pearl Harbor, and war in the Pacific?  Alternative histories we’ll never see.  But see the discussion at Salon, in 2014, about this topic (conveniently leaving out Millard Fillmore’s role), “What sparked Japan’s aggression during World War II?”


Documents below the fold 

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry's flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname,

Steam frigate U.S.S. Susquehanna, Matthew Perry’s flagship; the black hull won this small fleet a nickname, “the Black Ships.” Japanese Woodcut, from the University of Indiana


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Starry, starry night over Mt. Fuji

June 7, 2014

Time exposure of Mt. Fujiyama in Japan, from the south. Who was the photographer?

Time exposure of Mt. Fuji in Japan, from the south via @SciencePorn  Photo by Prasit Chansareekorn

[Photographer and National Geographic protested use of the photo by “Science Porn;” to see the photo, check it at the National Geographic site, it’s well worth the click.]

As best I’ve determined, the photographer is Prasit Chansareekorn, of Thailand.  Obviously an amazing photographer.  We might also presume the star over the summit is Polaris.

Thai photographer Prasit Chansareekorn

Thai photographer Prasit Chansareekorn

Fujiyama is the single most-visited tourist spot in Japan. (“Fujiyama” translates to “Mt. Fuji.”)  It’s the tallest mountain in Japan, at 3,776 meters (12,380 feet).  In Japanese, there is a special word for a sunrise viewed from the mountain:  Goraiko.  About 200,000 people climb the mountain every year.

It’s an active volcano, though its last eruption was 1707.  Vulcanologists discuss the possibility the mountain is overdue for an eruption.

Who would be in the best spot to get a photo of such an eruption?  What would van Gogh have made of this view?

Remembering VJ Day, the end of World War II – August 15, 1945

August 15, 2013

August 15, the Ides of August, hosted several significant events through the years. In 1945, the Emperor of Japan put his voice on radio to announce Japan would unconditionally surrender to the Allies, ending World War II in the Pacific.  Here is an update of an earlier post I wrote on the day, with a few additions and updates.

August 15, 2013, is the 68th anniversary of “Victory Japan” Day, or VJ Day. On that day Japan announced it would surrender unconditionally.

President Harry Truman warned Japan to surrender, unconditionally, from the Potsdam Conference, in July. Truman warned that the U.S. had a new, horrible weapon. Japan did not accept the invitation to surrender. The announced surrender came nine days after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and six days after a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The actual surrender occurred on September 2, 1945, aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Harbor.

Celebrations broke out around the world, wherever U.S. military people were, and especially across the U.S., which had been hunkered down in fighting mode for the previous four years, since the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

I posted some of the key images of the day, earlier (go see), and repost one of my favorites here.

An unnamed U.S. sailor boldly celebrates Japans surrender with an unnamed, passing nurse, in Times Square, New York, August 15, 1945 - Alfred Eisenstadt, Life Magazine

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photo of the Kiss in Times Square, V-J Day 1945.

More and Resources:

Millard Fillmore’s links to March 8: Hurrah! and R.I.P.

March 8, 2013

I awoke from a particularly hard sleep after a night celebrating ten Cub Scouts’ earning their Arrow of Light awards and advancing into Boy Scout troops, to a missive from Carl Cannon (RealClear Politics) wondering why I’m asleep at the switch.

Millard Fillmore died on March 8, 1874, and he expected to see some note of that here at the Bathtub.  This blog is not the chronicler of all things Millard Fillmore, but can’t we at least get the major dates right?

Carl is right.  Alas, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub is avocation, and at times like these an avocation that should be far down the list of avocations.

To mark the date, here is a post out of the past that notes two key events on March 8 that Fillmore had a hand in, the second being his death.  Work continues on several fronts, and more may splash out of the tub today, even about Fillmore.  Stay tuned.

Fillmore died on March 8, 1874; exactly 20 years earlier, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed in Japan, in the process of what may be the greatest and most overlooked legacy of Millard Fillmore’s presidency, the opening of Japan to the world.  Here’s that post:

Commodore Matthew C. Perrys squadron in Japan, 1854 - CSSVirginia.org image

The Black Ships — Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s squadron in Japan, 1854 – CSSVirginia.org image from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston, May 15, 1852 (also, see BaxleyStamps.com); obviously the drawing was published prior to the expedition’s sailing.

On March 8, 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed for the second time in Japan, having been sent on a mission a year earlier by President Millard Fillmore.  On this trip, within 30 days he concluded a treaty with Japan which opened Japan to trade with the U.S. (the Convention of Kanagawa), and which began a cascade of events that opened Japan to trade with the world.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1852 photograph, Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Within 50 years Japan would come to dominate the seas of the the Western Pacific, and would become a major world power.

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: The characters located across the top read from right to left, A North American Figure and Portrait of Perry. According to the Peabody Essex Museum, this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perrys western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).  But compare with photo above, right.  Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

1854 japanese woodblock print of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Peabody Museum: “The characters located across the top read from right to left, ‘A North American Figure’ and ‘Portrait of Perry.’ According to the Peabody Essex Museum, ‘this print may be one of the first depictions of westerners in Japanese art, and exaggerates Perry’s western features (oblong face, down-turned eyes, bushy brown eyebrows, and large nose).'” But compare with photo above, right. Peabody Museum holding, image from Library of Congress via WikiMedia

Then, 20 years later, on March 8, 1874, Millard Fillmore died in Buffalo, New York.

The Perry expedition to Japan was the most famous, and perhaps the greatest recognized achievement of Fillmore’s presidency.  Fillmore had started the U.S. on a course of imperialistic exploitation and exploration of the world, with other expeditions of much less success to Africa and South America, according to the story of his death in The New York Times.

The general policy of his Administration was wise and liberal, and he left the country at peace with all the world and enjoying a high degree of prosperity. His Administration was distinguished by the Lopez fillibustering expeditions to Cuba, which were discountenanced by the Government, and by several important expeditions to distant lands. The expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry resulted in a favorable treaty with that country, but that dispatched under Lieut. Lynch, in search of gold in the interior of Africa, failed of its object. Exploring expeditions were also sent to the Chinese seas, and to the Valley of the Amazon.


Millard Fillmore at 212 – boiling mad?

January 7, 2012

Millard Fillmore was born January 7, 1800. Had he lived, Millard Fillmore would be 212 years old today, very cranky, and looking for a good book to read.  Had each year been a degree Fahrenheit, he’d be boiling!

Millard Fillmore clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore clipart from University of South Florida - Free! Click image to go to USF site.

Would you blame him for being cranky? He opened Japan to trade. He got from Mexico the land necessary to make Los Angeles a great world city and the Southern Pacific a great railroad, without firing a shot. Fillmore promoted economic development of the Mississippi River. He managed to keep a fractious nation together despite itself for another three years. Fillmore let end the practice of presidents using slaves to staff the White House, then called “the President’s Mansion,” eight years before the election of Abraham Lincoln.

Then in 1852 his own party refused to nominate him for a full term, making him the last Whig to be president. And to add insult to ignominy, H. L. Mencken falsely accused him of being known only for adding a bathtub to the White House, something he didn’t do.

As Antony said of Caesar, the good was interred with his bones — but Millard Fillmore doesn’t even get credit for whatever evil he might have done: Fillmore is remembered most for being the butt of a hoax gone awry, committed years after his death. Or worse, he’s misremembered for what the hoax alleged he did.

Even beneficiaries of his help promoting the Mississippi River have taken his name off their annual celebration of the event. Fillmore has been eclipsed, even in mediocrity (is there still a Millard Fillmore Society in Washington?).

Happy birthday, Millard Fillmore.

Millard Fillmore, free clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore, free clipart from University of South Florida

Millard Fillmore was a man of great civic spirit, a man who answered the call to serve even when most others couldn’t hear it at all. He was a successful lawyer, despite having had only six months of formal education (a tribute to non-high school graduates and lifelong learning). Unable to save the Union, he established the University of Buffalo and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. During the Civil War, he led the local militia in support of the war effort, many rungs down from his role of Commander-in-Chief. And, it is said of him that Queen Victoria said he was the most handsome man she had ever met.

A guy like that deserves a toast, don’t you think?


Japan and U.S. team up on new topographic map of the world

December 9, 2011

This will strike a note of joy in the heart of every Boy Scout and every orienteer in the world:  The U.S. and Japan have teamed up for new, super-accurate topographic maps.

Here’s the NASA press release:

RELEASE : 11-351

NASA, Japan Release Improved Topographic Map Of Earth

WASHINGTON — NASA and Japan released a significantly improved version of the most complete digital topographic map of Earth on Monday, produced with detailed measurements from NASA’s Terra spacecraft.

The map, known as a global digital elevation model, was created from images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, instrument aboard Terra. So-called stereo-pair images are produced by merging two slightly offset two-dimensional images to create the three-dimensional effect of depth. The first version of the map was released by NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in June 2009.

“The ASTER global digital elevation model was already the most complete, consistent global topographic map in the world,” said Woody Turner, ASTER program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With these enhancements, its resolution is in many respects comparable to the U.S. data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), while covering more of the globe.”

The improved version of the map adds 260,000 additional stereo-pair images to improve coverage. It features improved spatial resolution, increased horizontal and vertical accuracy, more realistic coverage over water bodies and the ability to identify lakes as small as 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in diameter. The map is available online to users everywhere at no cost.

“This updated version of the ASTER global digital elevation model provides civilian users with the highest-resolution global topography data available,” said Mike Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “These data can be used for a broad range of applications, from planning highways and protecting lands with cultural or environmental significance, to searching for natural resources.”

The ASTER data cover 99 percent of Earth’s landmass and span from 83 degrees north latitude to 83 degrees south. Each elevation measurement point in the data is 98 feet (30 meters) apart.

NASA and METI are jointly contributing the data for the ASTER topographic map to the Group on Earth Observations, an international partnership headquartered at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, for use in its Global Earth Observation System of Systems. This “system of systems” is a collaborative, international effort to share and integrate Earth observation data from many different instruments and systems to help monitor and forecast global environmental changes.

ASTER is one of five instruments launched on Terra in 1999. ASTER acquires images from visible to thermal infrared wavelengths, with spatial resolutions ranging from about 50 to 300 feet (15 to 90 meters). A joint science team from the United States and Japan validates and calibrates the instrument and data products. The U.S. science team is located at JPL.

NASA, METI, Japan’s Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center (ERSDAC), and the U.S. Geological Survey validated the data, with support from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and other collaborators. The data are distributed by NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., and by ERSDAC in Tokyo.

Users of the new version of the ASTER data products are advised that while improved, the data still contain anomalies and artifacts that will affect its usefulness for certain applications.

Data users can download the ASTER global digital elevation model at:



For more information about NASA’s Terra mission, visit:


– end –

New topographical map of Earth from Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) of Japan and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

New topographical map of Earth released October 17, 2011, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) of Japan and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)


Radiation dose comparison charts from XKCD

March 20, 2011

No, there’s no humor in this thing — just good, solid information.

XKCD put together a chart that shows in geometric terms how various radiation doses work. With a tip of the pen to Bob Parks, the chart notes that cell phones don’t count here because cell phones don’t put out ionizing radiation, the type that causes cancer, but just radio waves.

The chart won’t be easy to read here — click on the image and go to the XKCD site for a bigger, more readable image:

Radiation Dose Chart from XKCD

Radiation Dose Chart from XKCD

It’s a good, clear graphic in its full size.  Go see.

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