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Contact with the West Brings Changes in Asia (the East)

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In July 1858 a small fleet of American warships steamed into Tokyo Bay in Japan. The commander, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, had served during the War of 1812 and the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848). Perry’s voyage into Japanese waters did not mean that Japan and the United States were at war. Instead, Perry was bound on a peaceful mission, although it was expected that a show of force would help him to accomplish his purpose. For years American and European ship captains had tried to enter Japanese ports to trade and obtain supplies, but without success, for the Japanese mistrusted Western peoples and Western ways, but the Japanese were impressed by Perry’s steamships (the first they had seen) and by the big guns these vessels carried. The Americans were allowed to land and present their request that Japan begin to trade with the United States. Then Perry sailed away, giving the Japanese time to make up their minds. When he returned some months later in 1854, the Japanese rulers agreed to a treaty whereby American vessels could trade and obtain supplies in two Japanese ports. Within a few years, more generous terms were granted both to Americans and to Europeans. Perry’s voyage showed how keen was the interest of Western nations in trade with Asian countries even in the mid 1800’s. Later, as Western nations became more and more industrialized, the same scramble for trade took place in Asia and the Pacific as in Africa. Countries sought greater trading privileges, or areas which they could control, or outright colonies. There was, however, one major difference between imperialism in Africa and imperialism in much of Asia. In many parts of Africa the colonizing powers could ignore the Africans. Statesmen could sit around the table with explorers’ maps …

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Japan Meets the West 1853-1905

tokyo

The date was July 8, 1853; the place, Yedo, a sprawling collection of wooden houses overlooking an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Yedo, later known as Tokyo, was the chief city of the Japanese islands, off the east coast of Asia. It was larger than London or Paris, but since Japan had been out of touch with the rest of the world for centuries, few foreigners knew it. Yedo was also the residence of an official called the shogun, who theoretically governed the country in the name of the emperor. As they stared out at the bay that day, the people of Yedo could hardly believe what was happening before their eyes. In spite of a strong wind blowing seaward, four black ships were moving steadily toward them, trailing streamers of black smoke. Panic seized the onlookers and they rushed to defend themselves. The strange craft turned out to be warships from a distant land called the United States. They were commanded by an officer named Matthew Perry. Perry had not come to attack Yedo; instead, he bore a friendly letter from the American president to the Japanese emperor. He asked the shogun’s representatives to deliver it and sailed away, promising to come back. The following February, Perry returned, this time with seven black ships. The officials who greeted him enjoy the whiskey and other liquors he gave them and marveled at working models of a telegraph system and a steam locomotive. After a round of parties, talks began between the visitors and their hosts and on March 31, 1954, a treaty was signed between Japan and the United States. Although this treaty opened only two small Japanese ports to American traders, it was of great importance, for it cleared the way for many other treaties between Japan and the …

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Two and a Half Centuries of Unrest in Japan A.D. 1336-1573

zen

Go-Daigo had found refuge in a place in the mountains called Yoshino. Japan now had two emperors, one in Kyoto and the other in Yoshino. Takauji set out to simplify matters. As a first step, he had his puppet, the Kyoto emperor, appoint him shogun. In this way, Takauji became the founder of a new line of shoguns who were called, after their family name, the Ashikaga shoguns. Their shogunate lasted from 1336 to 1573, nearly twice as long as the Kamakura shogunate. Takauji and his successors did not rule anywhere near as firmly as Yorimoto and the Hojo family. They never controlled all of Japan or even much of it. Most of the time, they could not even keep order in the areas they supposedly did control. The Ashikaga shogunate went through three stages. The first stage, from 1136 to 1392, was marked by constant fighting between supporters of the rival emperors. It ended when the shogun lured the Yoshino emperor to Kyoto by promising to let his branch of the imperial family take turns with the other branch on the throne. The Ashikagas broke their promise, for no descendant of Go-Daigo ever became emperor. At least Japan had only one emperor. The middle stage of the shogunate, from 1392 to 1467, was the only time when the Ashikagas really seemed to rule. The last stage, from 1467 to 1573, was disastrous for the family. It began with a ruinous war between two groups of power-hungry warlords. In the fighting, Kyoto was devastated and the shogunate was finished as a force in government. The shoguns hung on to their post for another century, mainly because no one bothered to take it from them. When the last Ashikaga shogun was stripped of his title in 1573, the shogun had become …

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