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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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