Commodore Matthew Perry and the Opening of Japan

In 1635 Japan secluded itself from the rest of the world with the enactment of the Sakoku Edict. The Japanese people were forbidden to leave the nation’s borders and trade was strictly limited, only a few specific ports were allowed to accept certain foreign trade ships. For nearly two hundred years Japan was successful in its plans to be an isolated island nation, but the tales of stranded U.S. sailors, the nation’s strategic location, and its rumors of natural resources led the U.S. to make efforts to open up the country to commercial and diplomatic relations.

When Commodore Matthew Perry first arrived, they believed that they had to show their willingness to use their military might, thus arriving with a small squad of U.S. naval ships. Along with a show of strength, Commodore Perry brought gifts meant to impress the Japanese emperor, ranging from shows of their superior technology to their wines and liquors. More importantly, Commodore Perry possessed a letter by the U.S. President addressed to the Japanese emperor. With Perry’s show of force the island nation agreed to accept said letter. This marked the first time a Western nation established any sort of relation with the secluded Japan. Perry would later return with a larger naval fleet and Japan accepted the U.S.’s demands. As stipulated in the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed on March 31, 1854, Japan would open two ports for U.S. trade and refueling. In addition, the treaty stated that any other agreements/rights given to other foreign nations would also be given to the U.S., guaranteeing that they would always have some sort of relation with Japan. Furthermore, Japanese diplomats visited Washington D.C. in 1860 in order to further negotiate the expanding trade with the U.S. The European nations soon took notice of the relations between U.S. and Japan and they too began to establish their own treaties and agreements with them. Unlike China, Japan chose to let these foreign powers into their nations willingly rather than have that door forced open through military might.

Now that Japan was no longer isolated, contact with the West soon made Japan realize how their nation was so behind technologically in comparison to these foreigners. The nation now had access to many new technologies as well as new ways of thinking.In the Meji Restoration Japan underwent massive modernization in order to catch up to their Western rivals. This modernization would soon prove to be a success as the nation saw itself rise as an economic and military powerhouse in the Asian continent.