The Miniature Train [Scroll 7]
Matt Forkin, Brown '06
The seventh panel of the scroll focused on the model train Perry brought for the Japanese. Perry's gifts aimed to foster trade and good relations between America and Japan by displaying the goodwill of the U.S. as well as its technological and cultural power. This fully operational Norris Works, one-fourth scale model train, complete with 350 feet of 18-gauge track,1 engine, tender, and car, represented one of these "triumphs of civilization"2 which Perry used to influence the Japanese. Behind the Yokohama reception hall, the Americans assembled and operated the locomotive for the Japanese officials, some of whom rode by sitting on top of the car.3
This panel showed many friendly interactions between the Americans and Japanese officials. In the left corner, a samurai recorded the scene while others admired the train, track, and smoke. Behind the Japanese artist, an American naval captain and officer interacted with Japanese officials, one of whom appeared to describe his experience on the train.4 The main focus of the panel was a Japanese noble riding the miniature train driven by an American sailor. He gripped the roof of the car with his right hand as his robe flared out in the wind. On the right half of the panel, American officers oversaw the operation of the train, a sailor carried a tool, and another demonstrated what seemed to be a boiler to two Japanese officials, possibly an explanation of the concept behind steam power. In the building, a sailor stole a quick drink. Both the Japanese scroll and the American written accounts described the train and the samurai passenger in much the same way.
From the American point of view, "it was a spectacle not a little ludicrous to behold a dignified mandarin whirling around the circular road at the rate of twenty miles an hour, with his loose robes flying in the wind. As he clung with a desperate hold to the edge of the roof grinning with intense interest."5 The Japanese artist portrayed the train-riding samurai with more dignity than the American writer, yet the basic image and message are the same: the Japanese were impressed, yet apprehensive, about the Americans and their technology. For the Japanese, this train may have embodied their hope for a powerful, technological and modern Japan, but it also represented the end of ancient traditions. For the Americans, the train revealed their interest in trade and interaction between the countries while also demonstrating their scientific superiority and power.6
Perry's train was extremely influential with regard to Japan's view of foreign goods and ideas. The technology impressed the Japanese who soon began to realize how a train system could help modernize, unify, and strengthen their nation.7 It would be approximately twenty years before a substantial amount of track was laid in Japan, but this direct exposure to such technology was a major influence in modernizing the country and opening it to the West.8 Thus the train was an important and influential gift for both nations and takes a significant place here in the scroll.9
- Noel Busch, The Horizon Concise History of Japan (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1972), 107.
- Robert Tomes, The Americans in Japan: An Abridgment of the Government Narrative of the U.S. Expedition (New York: D. Appleton, 1857), 239.
- Steven J. Ericson, The Sound of the Whistle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 4.
- Ibid., 4. "As the rider himself, an official in the shogunate's neo-Confucian academy, described the experience in his diary: "Swiftly, as though it were flying, [the train] circled repeatedly. It was most enjoyable!"
- Tomes, Americans in Japan, 240.
- Ericson, Sound of the Whistle, 4. A note on the presence of trains in Japan: "This was not the first model train to be seen in Japan- that honor belonged to the miniature alcohol-driven locomotive that the Russian admiral E.V. Putiatin had brought with him just half a year earlier and operated on board his flagship to the astonishment of a few Japanese officials, but the American model had a much greater impact, viewed as it was on shore by hundreds of people."
- Ibid., 3. "For the Japanese of Meiji, as for their contemporaries in the West, the steam locomotive was the quintessential symbol of progress and civilization, the very epitome of modern industrial power. The railroad had an enormous impact on Meiji society, revolutionizing the overland transport of people and goods and helping engineer a sense of nationhood.
- EdwinReischauer, Japan, Past and Present (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc, 1960), 131. "The [Japanese] government...opened the first railway between Tokyo and its port at Yokohama in 1872. Although many other lines were built by private enterprise, the main network of railways [was] in the hands of the government."
- Ericson, Sound of the Whistle, 4. "Of all the gifts Perry bestowed on them, his official artist noted, 'the Japanese marveled most at the railroad.'"