I am ashamed to say that though I grew up in the Hampton Roads area, I had not visited the Mariner’s Museum until this past spring. I am not terribly interested in boats or maritime equipment, and so always assumed that there would be nothing of interest for me at the Museum. I could not have been more wrong. Aside from the beautiful ship models of all shapes and sizes, the Museum has all sorts of maritime paraphernalia, from old compasses and teapots to uniforms and interactive exhibits. What I was most surprised and excited about, however, was the Museum’s Asian print collection. Hidden away in storage lies about 100 Asian prints, mostly Japanese, dating from the 19th to the 20th centuries. Though the prints are all connected by a reference to maritime themes, they often vary widely in content. From illustrations of Commodore Matthew Perry, who was the first American to enter Japan in the 1850’s, to descriptions about foreign ships and vibrantly colored pictures of everyday Japanese life, the Mariner’s Museum’s prints give the viewer a glimpse into Japanese history from their perspectives, as well as providing visually appealing pieces of art.
Perhaps the most historically interesting pieces in the print collection are the Japanese prints concerning the arrival of Commodore Perry between 1852 and 1854. Perry’s arrival signaled an end to Japan’s long period of self-imposed isolation, and the technology he brought with him, as well as Western clothing and cultural customs, were new to the Japanese, fostering much interest among them. In order to document these new sights, as well as explain them to the general public, Japanese prints such as the one below were created.