When the “Black Ships” approached Japan in 1852 the Japanese were wary, but Commodore Matthew Perry and his crew weren’t going to take no for an answer. Despite prior hesitance, a treaty was quickly established that would open trade between the U.S. and Japan. So how did this man so easily do what no one had been able to do before?

Sailing in with four steam frigates, known to the Japanese as the “Black Ships” Matthew Perry was on a mission to succeed. Having carefully studied past expeditions to Japan, he was well prepared.

When he arrived they ported in Uraga Harbor, and presented the Shogunate representatives with a white flag and a warning. It stated that if the Japanese were to use force, he and his crew would annihilate them.

While it has been said that the show of strength made by Perry in his presentation to Japan was key to sealing their agreement, their actual reaction was far from impressed.

The group that greeted Perry included the top representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate and their translator, a man named Chen Lee. He was in his 30’s with a wife and son to go home to.

Lee was hard working and highly intelligent; having studied worldly cultures, he was fluent in nine languages. When Perry arrived he was not eager to meet him. The Japanese had long been uninterested in opening their borders to foreigners, why should now be any exception?

When Perry landed and brought them a threat, Lee and the representatives were highly displeased. Taking it to the Shogun Emperor, they discussed their distaste for the rude man. His funny clothes and ugly friends were a joke. The Emperor requested that his representatives and the translator return to where the Americans were harbored.

While Matthew Perry may not have been a vision of diplomacy, he was also not stupid. He was well aware that the Japanese were not going to give in easily; after all, they hadn’t so many times in the past. But he had a trick up his sleeve, or rather, in his pocket.

As the Shogunate group made their way back to Perry and his men, Lee pondered the evening ahead of him. His wife was annoyed about their son’s behavior lately, and her cooking wasn’t what it used to be. He wasn’t sure if his son was excelling well enough in his studies, and was worried about his abilities to find a wife and continue the family name. Just as the stress that was life started to overwhelm him, they reached Uraga Harbor.

Perry and two colleagues greeted the men. While discussing the problems the Shogun Emperor had with the American’s proposal, Perry did something the Japanese had never seen before. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small box and a match, and from the box pulled an odd, cylindrical device. The representatives inquired as to what it was so Lee asked.

“Here,” Perry said, and handed one to him. He had lit one side of it with fire and was motioning as though he should suck from the other end. Lee lifted the strange filled tube to his lips and inhaled. A coughing fit immediately ensued as the cigarette found a new customer. Lee couldn’t get enough. Confused by the foreign objects, but melting under the effect, it washed over him. Calm. He hadn’t felt that in quite some time. He had to know what these were.

Perry explained to him that they were cigarettes, and went on to profess their wonders. It was superfluous, however; Lee was already hooked.

Perry’s plan was going perfectly. Not pressing the matter, he informed them that they’d be leaving in the morning for China, and requested that they stop by before returning to America, to see if the Emperor would reconsider. The representatives didn’t understand how that would help but agreed.

Within a day Lee couldn’t wait for the American’s return. He was shaking, fidgety—he needed another cigarette. When the Americans returned he approached the Emperor with what he knew would need to be said in order for trade to open with the U.S. The Emperor agreed, and a treaty was signed. All for a pack of cigarettes.