For Class Discussion
On March 31, 1854, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa that established a "permanent friendship" between the two nations. This treaty signaled the opening up of the Empire of Japan to foreign visitors and trade.
Japan had been closed to the outside world for 250 years after self-imposed isolation beginning in the 17th century by the Tokugawa Shogunate--Japan's military leaders. The Dutch were the only foreigners allowed to into Japan, but only once a year. During this period of time, Japanese people were forbidden to travel abroad, while foreigners were forbidden to enter Japanese waters. If one was shipwrecked by accident, those foreigners were jailed and some were be killed.
Class Discussion Question: Why do you think the Japanese wanted to isolate themselves from the outside world?
The reasons for the Japanese isolationistic policies were primarily due to the military threats from European nations and the influence of European and American people who spread Christianity and cultures different from the Japanese. The Japanese knew how the Western military dominated many countries, including nearby China.
The empire of Japan flourished at this time, so its leaders did not see the need to establish relationships with the outside world. However, this all changed in 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo (now Tokyo) Bay. Others, including Americans, tried to open Japan, but were quickly turned away. Perry’s arrival surprised the Japanese because he came with armed warships and was determined to deliver a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor proposing a treaty.
Class Discussion Question: Why do you think the U.S. wanted to "open up" Japan?
The United States primarily wanted to use Japan as a location for steam ships to restock their coal supply on journeys in the Pacific. The U.S. also wanted to establish regular trade with Japan. Perry's diplomatic skills encouraged the Japanese to accept the President's letter and requests to the Emperor. The Americans show of military strength in Edo Bay worried the Japanese. Ultimately, the persistency of Commodore Perry and the Japanese willingness to compromise produced the Treaty of Kanagawa. It established a permanent friendship between the two countries, and opened up Japan for the first time in 250 years.
Class Discussion Question: After Commodore Perry left, what do you think happened to Japan? Research the answers.