20th Century Japan
The End of Japan’s Isolation
At five o’clock in the afternoon of July 8th 1853, commodore Perry’s East India Squadron consisting of two steam frigates and their accompanying sloops anchored of Uraga, just down the bay from the shogun’s capital at Edo.
Sent by President Millard Fillmore, Perry had been ordered to effect the "opening" of Japan to foreign trade. He was also to make provision for coaling and watering facilities for American whalers. Ten years earlier, Commodore James Biddle had anchored off Japan to negotiate good treatment for shipwrecked American sailors. He had been dismissed with insults by the shogunate.
When discussions with the shogun’s officers stalled, Perry returned the following year with eight ships (one-fourth of the U.S. Navy at the time). The firepower represented a threat that nothing in Japan could resist. This much the Edo officials knew, for they had received reports of the horrific bombardment of Chinese cities some years earlier.
To further demonstrate the West’s technological superiority, Perry – a great showman in his way – brought along a complete miniature railway, which his engineers set up and operated, as well as a telegraph line, which was set up temporarily between Yokohama and Kanagawa. Both items the Japanese found fascinating. Complete guided tours of the ships were also given, with interpreters providing detailed explanations of their engines and guns.
After a complex series of discussions, interspersed with ceremonial parades and banqueting, the decision came down from Edo castle to the Japanese negotiators on the beach. The once all-powerful shogunate agreed to conclude a treaty with the "red-haired barbarians". Japan’s two-hundred-year-old policy of antiforeign seclusion was over.