Monday December 22, 2014
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03-132 Japan Opens to the West I

Monday Dec 22, 2014

Lead: On July 14, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry landed at Kirihama new EdoWan, now known as Tokyo Bay. The Tokugawa Shogunate had taken the fateful step of opening Japan to the West.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In its long history one of the major themes of Japanese life has been the interaction between native and foreign influence. In Japan's early history the dominance of Chinese language, culture, religion, and government was undeniable, but as the centuries passed Japan adapted, modified, or discarded many aspects of Chinese civilization, retaining, however, a lingering suspicion of foreigners. By 1200 Japan's emperor was a highly revered, near religious figure with little practical power. That was held by the shogun, the emperor's supreme military commander. He received his title from the emperor, but in reality, for the most part the shogun controlled the monarch. One of the primary goals of the shogunate was to suppress regional warfare and achieve political stability. Many Japanese saw foreign influence as a threat to the stability of the nation.

Serious European involvement in Japan began in 1543 when Portuguese tradesmen established trading centers in the southern islands. These merchants were soon followed by churchmen, led by Francis Xavier, among the greatest of modern Roman Catholic missionaries, who had already helped establish Christianity in India and Malaya. Initially tolerated, even supported by local officials in Kyushu, the Jesuit missionaries were quite successful in winning converts. Perhaps as many as 500,000 became "kirishitan" in a half-century of open evangelism. Peasants welcomed the new religion as an alternative to social oppression, Japanese merchants saw Christianity's growth as a means of stimulating a rich trade with Europe, and the shogunate at first saw the new faith as a counterweight to the political power of Buddhism. Eventually the government turned against Christianity, seeing it as a disruptive force. Beginning in 1614 the Tokugawa Shogunate began to systematically uproot Christianity and close off the country from European influence. For two centuries Japan seemed to function as if there was no world beyond its coast.

Next time: the wall of separation begins to crack.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is 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 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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