1/3/12 - the arrival of commodore perry brings civil war

In today's excerpt - the unexpected arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1853 ended centuries of Japanese isolation and brought a realization as to how far behind the world their technology had fallen—they had nothing but swords to counter the cannons and guns of the Americans. The Japanese acquiesced to a treaty with the Americans, but the outrage and humiliation resulting from this treaty led to fifteen years of civil war, brutal murder and assassinations within Japan. During these times, "mobs gathered in the large cities, including Edo (Tokyo) itself, carrying Shinto images, visiting shrines, dancing half-naked in the streets, having sex in public, and raiding wealthy houses, while shouting in a state of quasi-religious ecstasy: 'It's okay, it's okay, anything we do is okay' ":

"The [House of] Tokugawa (also known as the Tokugawa Bakufu or simply the Bakufu) ruled Japan more or less peacefully for two and a half centuries. To maintain this peace, the Bakufu had strict­ly enforced a policy of national isolation since 1635. But the end of this halcyon era approached as the social, political, and eco­nomic structures of the outside world underwent major changes. The British colonies in North America declared independence in 1776. The remnants of feudalism in Europe were obliterated by the French Revolution in 1789 and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars. The nineteenth century heralded the age of European and North American capitalism and, with it, rapid advances in science, indus­try, and technology. The development of the steamship in the early part of the nineteenth century served the expansionist purposes of Western nations. Colonization of Asian countries by European powers surged. In 1818 Great Britain subjugated much of India. Through the Treaty of Nanking, which ended the first Opium War in 1842, the British acquired Hong Kong.

"The foreign menace reached Japan on June 3 of the sixth year of the era named Kaei—July 8,1853, on the Gregorian calendar. It was on that day that Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy led a squadron of heavily armed warships into Edo Bay, off the shogun's capital, eventually forcing an end to Japanese isolation and inciting fifteen years of bloody turmoil across the island nation. Perry car­ried a letter from President Millard Fillmore demanding a treaty between the United States and Japan. After months of stormy and unprecedented debate among samurai and daimyo [the warriors and their feudal lords] both within and outside the Tokugawa camp, and even including members of the general populace, the authorities eventually yielded to Perry's gunboat diplomacy. In March 1854, the first year of the era of Ansei, Japan relinquished its policy of isolationism and signed the so-called Treaty of Peace and Amity with the Americans. Similar treaties with England, Holland, France, and Russia followed. Two ports were opened—one at Shimoda, not far from Edo; the other at Hakodate, on the far-northern island of Ezo.

"Samurai throughout Japan were outraged over the humilia­tion they suffered at the hands of the foreigners. The situation was tersely explained by one who rose above this outrage in order to deal with the unprecedented and pressing dangers facing Japan. 'Since the time that the American warships arrived at Uraga in 1853, public opinion became divided between the advocates of war and peace, so that a decision could not be made either way,' Katsu Kaishu wrote four decades later, in a brief chronicle of the origin and downfall of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Kaishu was an ex­pert swordsman who never drew his sword on an adversary. He was a philosopher-statesman, founder of the Japanese navy, and, during those dangerous times, probably the most valuable personage in the entire Edo regime. 'At that time the Bakufu decided to open the country, and gradually did so. There were many people, including feudal lords, who resented this. They said that the Ba­kufu was forced by the barbarians to open the country because of its cowardice and weakness, and that this was why the Bakufu submitted to this humiliation. They no longer believed in the Ba­kufu. There was heated argument everywhere. People were killing foreigners, and assassinating government officials."


Romulus Hillsborough






Copyright 2005 by Jeff Cohen


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