Scrolls Offer Eyewitness Accounts of Japan's Historic 'Opening'

March 20, 2013
Image of Japanese scroll
Paintings depict interactions between Americans and Japanese.

Friends of the Dilena Takeyama Center are invited to a panel discussion that will explore a rare set of Black Ship scrolls paintings depicting Commodore Matthew Perry's historic visit to Shimoda, Japan, in 1854.

The program will be put on by the Japan Society of Northern California on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at the Public Policy Institute of California (Bechtel Conference Center), 500 Washington St., Ground Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m., with the program to follow at 6:00 p.m., and concludes with a reception with light refreshments. Admission is $15 students, $20 members, $25 general. Online registration is available at www.usajapan.org.

The event will feature Abbot Daiei Matsui, a historian from Ryosenji Treasure Museum in Shimoda, and Melissa Rinne, associate curator of Japanese art at the Asian Art Museum, who will discuss the images and the depicted experiences between the American sailors and the people of Shimoda.

The Black Ship Scroll marks a time in history when Japan “opened” its doors to the outside world after more than two centuries of living in seclusion. The Japan Society of Northern California originally received a set of Black Ship Scroll paintings as a gift over half a century ago. Cut from what was originally a single handscroll, this collection of 27 individually mounted images provide eyewitness accounts by an anonymous Japanese artist of the day-to-day activities the American sailors experienced in Shimoda, at work and at play.

After suffering water damage in 2009, each image was meticulously brought back to life over the course of a 3-year restoration process by Head Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu of Studio Sogendo. In 2012, after the restoration was complete, the Japan Society sold this set of paintings to the Asian Art Museum.

The Asian Art Museum has exhibited the Black Ship Scroll paintings on multiple occasions – once in 1995 for Japan Society’s 90th birthday, again during the 150th anniversary of Perry’s mission to Japan, and most recently in 2010, for the exhibit “Japan’s Early Ambassadors of San Francisco, 1860-1927.” They have also been exhibited at the State Capitol in Sacramento, and at the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga.

In its announcement, the Japan Society said it felt that this important collection deserved to be made available to scholars and to the public through a museum or other repository that allows for full access to the public. With the scrolls now in the hands of the Asian Art Museum, a global audience will eventually be able to view the collection online. The Japan Society hope that this will further research and appreciation of the long and fascinating history of U.S.-Japan relations.