The United States And Japan Sign The Treaty Of Amity And Commerce

On July 29, 1858, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (the Harris Treaty). Townsend Harris, the first U.S. diplomatic representative to Japan, negotiated the arrangement, which became effective July 4, 1859.

A New York merchant with experience in Asia, Townsend was appointed consul general to Japan in August 1856 and began his assignment shortly thereafter. Harris was not welcomed and was ignored by the Japanese authorities for more than a year. He operated in diplomatic isolation out of the Gyokusenji Buddhist temple in Shimoda.

In 1857 the Japanese government approved Harris' move to Edo (Tokyo); he used the Zenfukuji Temple in Azabu as the U.S. legation. His negotiations with the Tokugawa regime were aided by concessions that the British had already wrought in China. Harris convinced the Japanese that a voluntary treaty with the United States was more advantageous than a forced treaty with the Europeans.

The treaty followed the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, which granted coaling right for U.S. ships and allowed for a U.S. Consul in Shimoda. Although Commodore Matthew Perry secured fuel for U.S. ships and protection, he left the important matter of trading rights to Townsend Harris, another U.S. envoy who negotiated with the Tokugawa Shogunate; the treaty is therefore often referred to as the Harris Treaty. It took two years to break down Japanese resistance, but with the threat of looming British demands for similar privileges, the Tokugawa government eventually capitulated.

The most important points were:

* exchange of diplomatic agents
* Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama’s opening to foreign trade as ports
* ability of United States citizens to live and trade in those ports
* a system of extraterritoriality that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law system
* fixed low import-export duties, subject to international control

The agreement served as a model for similar treaties signed by Japan with other foreign countries in the ensuing weeks. These Unequal Treaties curtailed Japanese sovereignty for the first time in its history; more importantly, it revealed Japan’s growing weakness, and was seen by the West as a pretext for possible colonisation of Japan. The recovery of national status and strength became an overarching priority for the Japanese, with the treaty’s domestic consequences being the end of Bakufu control and the establishment of a new imperial government.