While the name Matthew Calbraith Perry may not ring a bell for a majority of Americans, he is a widely known historical figure in Japan, the kind everyone learns about in school. This is because he played a leading role in the opening of Japan, then in strict self-seclusion, which led to its rapid modernization and brought an end to the days of the samurai.
In Perry’s birthplace of Newport, two monuments were erected in his honor, one in Eisenhower Park and another in Touro Park. The latter, standing in front of the infamous Newport Tower, is merely a run-of-the-mill statue at a glance, but it serves as an unlikely cultural bridge between Rhode Island and Japan.
On the pedestal of the statue, a bas-relief by Richard Morris Hunt depicts Commodore Perry’s year-long negotiations with the Tokugawa shogunate. Next to this sculpture stands the Temple Lantern, gifted by the Japanese government in 1954 to celebrate the centennial of the arrival of Perry’s “Black Ships” to Japan and its subsequent opening to the West.
In a case of an unintentional pun, such temple lanterns are traditionally called tōrō or tourou in Japanese, depending on how one romanizes it—almost the same name as the park it stands in.