These wares have traditionally been referred to as 'Nagasaki' wares (on the analogy, perhaps, of 'Imari' porcelain which was shipped through and not made in Imari), but the late Dr. Oliver Impey of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, demonstrated convincingly by means of an 1864 business directory that at least some 'Nagasaki' lacquers were actually made in Kyoto,1 demonstrating a link between Japan's old capital and the shipping industry of New England more than half a century before U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry's celebrated 'opening' of Japan in 1853-4. A recent exhibition at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, drawn from the Peabody Essex collections, included a number of these export lacquers and explores the part played by Pacific whaling in forming early Japanese-American relations, presenting a body of evidence which reminds us that for the United States as for Europe, we should interpret the events of the mid-19th century as less a climactic act of enforced enlightenment and more a decisive stage in a gradual process of mutual discovery that can be traced back to the arrival of the first Europeans in 1543.
1 Oliver Impey, Sasaya Kisuke, Kyoto 'Nagasaki' Lacquer and the woodworker Kiyotomo, Oriental Art, vol. XLIV no. 2 (Summer 1998), pp. 28-32