Nissan Seminar: Gastropolitics in the 1853-54 Perry Expeditions to Japan

Convener(s): Dr Natalia Doan and Professor Sho Konishi

Speaker(s): Dr. Christine Guth, Emerita of the Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art History of Design Program

These seminars will occur live and will not be recorded. Unauthorized recording is strictly prohibited.

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Gastropolitics in the 1853-54 Perry Expeditions to Japan


Scholars in the United States and Japan have investigated many aspects of the Perry expeditions of 1853-54, but little attention has been given to the role of reciprocal banqueting in the political strategies deployed by both negotiating teams. This paper addresses this oversight as the starting point for a broader investigation into the Unites States’ and Japan’s early engagements with each other’s foods and foodways. Food has long framed issues of self and society, and increasingly since the nineteenth century, national identity. Food has agency to act on and on behalf of those who consume it. Commensality, the sharing of a meal, is widely recognized as a mark of social bonding, and may form a basis for forging alliances within and across cultures. American and Japanese officials both understood the importance of political theater and used lavish banqueting as part of their efforts to impress their counterparts with their power, wealth, and civility. Each adopted what they understood to be best practice in international culinary relations. “Gastropolitics”—competition surrounding social interactions involving food—was a critical constituent of the negotiations that culminated in the signing of the Kanagawa Treaty, the first step in Japan’s opening of its ports to American trade and establishing of bilateral diplomatic relations.


Christine M. E. Guth has taught at institutions including Princeton, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and Berkeley. She led the Asian specialism in the Victoria and Albert Museum & Royal College of Art’s Post-graduate History of Design Program from 2007 until 2016. She has written widely about transnational cultural exchange between the United States and Japan. Her publications include Art, Tea, and Industry: Masuda Takashi and the Mitsui Circle (1993) Longfellow’s Tattoos: Tourism, Collecting, and Japan (2004); Hokusai’s Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon (2015) and Craft Culture in Early Modern Japan: Materials, Makers, and Mastery (2021). She is currently researching culinary relations between the United States and Japan from 1854-1920.