Friday July 03, 2015
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03-134 Japan Opens to the West III

Friday Jul 03, 2015

Lead: In the summer of 1853 a reluctant Japan opened its doors to trade with the rest of the world.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Matthew Calbraith Perry was 59 years of age in the year he led the expedition to Japan. He suffered from arthritis and spent much of the voyage in his cabin. He was the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, whose defeat of the British fleet secured Lake Erie for the United States in the War of 1812. Matthew's career included transportation of freed slaves to Africa after the founding of Liberia and combat command during the Mexican War. He had a regal bearing and was a very serious person. This formality stood him well in dealing with the traditionalist Japanese who were reluctant to give up their policy of non-involvement with the outside world.

Japan was ruled by the emperor but actual power was held by his chief military officer, the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi (I-yo-shee). The shogun's chief advisor was Masahiro Abe, a realistic politician with a keen intellect. He led a faction that was opposed to expanded contact with the West, but he recognized that European and American power was so overwhelming that Japan needed to make the best deal it could with the foreigners lest it be abused and carved up as had been China.

While the Japanese government quarreled Perry ignored repeated demands that he leave and began sending surveying ships further up Edo Wan, the ancient name for Tokyo Bay. Finally, after extended negotiations, he came ashore at Kurihama to deliver the letter from President Millard Fillmore. The Japanese still wanted him to leave. Unfazed, Perry promised to return the following year.

In February Perry and a stronger American fleet appeared and Abe forced through the government a decision to open Japan to the Americans. Gifts were exchanged on March 13, 1854. Much resistance and negotiation would follow Perry's departure, but by receiving the dour American shogun Matthew Perry, Japan had reluctantly turned from isolation and begun its journey into the modern world.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmondís School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Iím Dan Roberts.


Blumberg, Rhoda. Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1985.

Fallows, James. "After Centuries of Japanese Isolation, A Fateful Meeting of East and West," Smithsonian 25 (4, July 1994): 20-33.

Totman, Conrad D. Japan before Perry: A Short History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Wiley, Peter Booth. Yankees in the Land of the Gods: Commodore Perry and the Opening 0f Japan. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Copyright 2015 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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