This Day In History: Commander Perry Sails Into Tokyo Harbor (1844)

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On this day in history Commodore Matthew Perry, on behalf of the U.S. government, sails into Tokyo Bay, in  Japan. He is under orders to seek an interview with Japanese officials. Perry was under orders to attack Tokyo if they refused to accept the establishment of diplomatic relations with America.

This was very serious to the Japanese. The society had been closed under the Shogun and all contact with foreigners were forbidden. Only some Dutch and Chinese traders could visit Japan. However, this was confined to the island of Nagasaki and under close observation and with restrictions. Since 1639, Japan had been closed to the world and it had been generally peaceful and prosperous. Japan had closed itself to the world because it feared that outsiders planned to destabilize or even conquer the country. The influence of Christianity was especially a concern for the Shogun, the de-facto military ruler of Japan and was one of the reasons he closed the country to foreigners.

For some time Japanese officials tried to talk to Perry.He forced the Japanese to accept letters from President Fillmore. This meant that  the United States was the first Western nation to establish diplomatic relations with Japan. For the first time since 1639, the country had official foreign relations with another country.  Perry had threatened Japan with military action if they did not establish diplomatic relations with America.

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Postage stamp with Comadore Perry (1953)

The US had been angered by the fact that Japan had refused to help some American ships because of their isolationist policies. The American Commodore had several naval ships and the Japanese feared that he would bombard Tokyo.

Perry returned to Tokyo in 1845.

On March 31, he signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with the Japanese government and this meant that two ports were open up to American traders and merchants. There was also a consulate established.  In 1860 a Japanese diplomat visited the USA. After Perry, many western nations rushed to establish relationships with the Japanese. Many Japanese after centuries of isolation were shocked at the presence of foreigners among them. It led to a great deal of instability and there are even attacks on westerners. However, Japan was opened up to trade and also ideas.

Many Japanese realized that in their isolation that they had fallen behind the rest of the world. They accepted that they would have to modernize. Many more far-sighted people believed that if the country did not modernize that it would become a colony of some western country such as America and Britain.  The modernization process was to bring dramatic changes to Japan and it ultimately led to the fall of the Shogun and a new form of government for the country.

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