NEWPORT, R.I. - President of the Naval War College Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup honored Japanese-American relations by attending Newport’s 27th annual Black Ships festival, a tribute to a voyage 150 years ago that opened Japan to the world.
The festival, which kicked off July 19, commemorates the landing of U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry in Shimoda, Japan in 1853. The landing of Perry, a Newporter, was the first step in opening Japanese ports to American ships, establishing policy for treatment of shipwrecked sailors, and forming subsequent commerce and cultural bonds, and the festival celebrates those ties. A treaty was signed in 1854.
Adm. Wisecup emphasized the importance of Commodore Perry’s landing.
“The tie of the U.S. Navy to this ceremony and this occasion is direct,” he said, adding that the historic event established peace and friendship between Japan and the U.S.
During the ceremony, Wisecup and Captain Goka, of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, jointly laid a wreath at the base of a monument to Commodore Perry in Touro Park, Newport. Several other wreaths were placed at the base of the monument, with each wreath placed by one American and one Japanese person together.
A number of Newport and Shimoda municipal officials attended the ceremony. The mayor of Newport and city council members attended, alongside R.I. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and a representative from the Rhode Island governor’s office.
There were many cultural celebrations throughout the weekend. From Taiko ceremonial Japanese drums to a meet-and-greet with Sumo wrestlers, there were a variety of events to celebrate Japanese culture.
After Friday’s ceremony, Paiva Weed said the celebration was an important part of Newport and state history, in part because Commodore Perry’s landing marks an occasion of unity among government, military, and business.
“It’s one of those unique celebrations of our history where all three of those sectors come together,” she said. “And in these economic times, it’s important that we remember our history.”
Spencer Viner, president of the Japan-America Society which organized the event, received a phone call from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, on behalf of President Barrack Obama, sending Washington’s condolences.
Viner’s office also received a letter from Yukio Hatoyama, the ex-Prime Minister of Japan. Hatoyama resigned as Prime Minister a few months ago, following domestic political hiccups.
Viner had invited Hatoyama to attend, who apologetically explained “this invitation overlapped with the period when…it became necessary for me to step down from my position as Prime Minister of Japan,” the letter said. “Due to the confusion that followed, I found myself having missed to respond to your letter with proper timing.”
In the letter, Hatoyama called Commodore Perry “a man of great renown in Japan” and said his landing was an important achievement in Japan’s history, because it opened the country to the outside world.
By Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs