The Black Ship Scroll
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1854
Handscroll; ink and color on paper
Gift of Mrs. Walter F. Dillingham, in memory of Alice Perry Grew, 1960
Under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858), American sailors landed their ships in Yokosuka Harbor and forced the Japanese government to immediately open its ports for international trade in 1853. The inscription reads:
The Americans submitted a petition for permission to patronize the harlots in Shimoda. The authorities agreed and notified the brothel-operators of Shimoda, who were delighted at the prospect and passed this news on to the harlots. Unexpectedly, however, the harlots unanimously pleaded with their masters, saying, among other things: “We are, to be sure, ill fated, engaged thus in an ignoble profession. Nevertheless, we have never made any contract saying we should go so far as to sleep with foreigners!” The surprised brothel-owners were greatly distressed at this and, after meeting in consultation, secretly reported the girls’ complaint to the Americans.
Needless to relate, the Americans were greatly crestfallen – just like, one might say, men returning empty-handed from a mountain loaded with treasure. In the midst of their desperation, however, one of the Americans, hearing this, exclaimed: “All right, all right, we don’t have to sleep with the girls. Only let us have the pleasure of drinking with them in the banquet room.” And when this proposition was explained to the brothel-keepers, they conveyed it to the harlots, who unanimously agreed.
After that, when the harlots had come into the banquet room to serve sake, one of the Americans opened up a big parcel and, bringing out a bolt of fine purple woolen cloth, gave it to the harlot who was serving him. The harlot received this with great joy, and thereafter treated the man with special kindness and much sake until he returned to his quarters that evening. The harlot thereupon took the matter greatly to heart and the following idea popped into her mind: “I get this precious treasure only for serving him drinks. If I gave him my body too, what limitless profits might be mine!”
-Trans. Oliver Statler, The Black Ship Scroll
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