Following Perry's footsteps: Part I, Shimoda

As an American living in Japan, I have always felt a deep interest with the heritage of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and it formally began some 150 years ago at the small port town of Shimoda.  It was here that Commodore Perry steamed into harbor with his black ships and demanded the opening of Japan's borders, ending the centuries-long policy of sakoku, or closed country.

Shimoda has not forgotten its important place in Japanese history; rather, it embraces it, with regular tours of replica black ships around the bay, a small museum detailing the arrival of the Americans, and numerous shops offering themed cookies, prints, and other merchandise for the enterprising tourist.
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Two essential stops in Shimoda are at the harbor where the black ships make their rounds (my daughter loved the sight of the ships zooming around the bay), and the Ryōsen-ji temple which was where U.S. and Japanese government representatives signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and which served as the first consulate for the United States in the early years of the formal relationship between the two countries.

Shimoda is best visited in the spring time to enjoy the blossoming and fragrant flowers, though if you wait until the early summer, you can enjoy the vast ajisai, or hydrangeas, that flank the narrow pathways and trails throughout the town.

If you are the festival-going type, you will not want to miss the Black Ship Festival that occurs annually in late May.  In addition to the black ships that are common to the bay, the U.S. Navy always sends a vessel down to Shimoda, and bands and festival-goers alike crowd the streets in parade in celebration of the friendship between the U.S. and Japan.

P.S. (for the history buffs) Okinawans will clarify that Commodore Matthew Perry's first stop in Japan was at Uraga on the main island of Okinawa; however, the American naval officer's first stop in what was at that time considered Japanese sovereign territory was at Shimoda, since Okinawa was not formally annexed by the Japanese government until later in the 1800s.