Saturday, April 30, 2016

Perry Expedition and the Opening of Japan (Part 1): Perry's United States

Commodore Matthew PerryAn expedition sent to open Japan from two hundred years of isolation to fulfill the economic and political wants of the United States. Explore the United States and its intention for sending Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan.

Perry Expedition (1853 - 1854) was sent by the United States of America to open Japan for humanitarian, economic, and political purposes through the use of classic gunboat diplomacy. From Norfolk, Virginia, Perry set sailed for Japan with the objective of delivering a letter from the American President, which asked its Emperor to end its close door policy and treat foreigners humanely. Perry's presence in Japan and the Treaty of Kanagawa signed on March 31, 1854, caused a divide within the Shogunate resulting to further to the decline of the Tokugawa and eventually leading to its downfall. Perry Expedition precipitated the rise of modern Japan.

Commodore Perry’s United States

Commodore Perry’s United States of America was a budding power. Although it faced social and political divide, it boasted a growing economy and an expanding territory. And in the international stage, it stood as a giant in the Americas and intended to expand further to other regions.

Domestic social issues rattled the United States during the middle of the 19th century. The issue of slavery divided the country to anti-slavery northern states and anti-slavery southern states. For a decade the issue continued to intensify until the Civil War broke out in the 1860’s.

Although slavery divided the country, the north and south divide showed America’s strong economic structure. In the North, manufacturing industries boomed while the South’s agriculture flourished built sadly on slave labor. With two important sectors performing well, the United States walked on a path towards becoming the largest and strongest economy in the world.

The United States also boasted an expanding territory less than a century after gaining independence in 1776. Within that period the United States more than doubled its size. And by 1850, its lands connected the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. This expansion of territory came as result of American idea of Manifest Destiny.

The Manifest Destiny defined America’s role as a civilizing agent – the so-called white man’s burden. This Social Darwinist idea defined the United States’ expansion westward, waging war against “savage” Native Indians and even against neighboring Mexico. In particular, the war with Mexico brought the world’s attention as it resulted to its acquisition of large territories from Mexicans, including the large and rich state of California. California gave the United States access to the Pacific and connected American interest to the Asia Pacific region.

Economic opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region were immense. China trade offered huge profits. In addition, the trade also expanded America’s interest in the Sandwich Islands and its equally priced sandalwood. Other than trade with China, whaling in the Pacific was profitable. American ships hunted whales for their wax to make candles and oil for lightning. These two industries made the United States so interested in the region.

In 1850, a new President lived on the White House – President Millard Fillmore. His presidency was characterize by continuing rift between the Pro-Slavery South and Anti-Slavery North. Many defined his presidency as uneventful in the domestic front. However, in foreign affairs, Fillmore invigorated American foreign policy by promoting American interest in Asia-Pacific and Latin America. In Asia, specifically, he expanded American presence in China. And with the expanding activities in China and the Pacific Ocean, he set his sights on Japan.

American Interest and Reasons for the Expedition

There were several reasons for American interest on Japan. Economy and diplomacy played a major role in the sending of the expedition. But humanitarian and simple curiosity also had their share as well. All of these provided the reason to dispatch an expedition to the Land of the Rising Sun.

United States saw fruitful economic benefits from opening Japan. As China trade and whaling industry grew, more and more American ships passed by Japan as it laid in the middle of their commercial route. It was near the jet stream that helped sailing vessels travel faster. Also, it had plenty of whales in its seas. The advent of coal powered steam-driven ships, reports from the Dutch indicated existence of coal in Japan; and with its location, it sat as a perfect coaling station for American ships. The Islands also offered wide variety of oriental goods that matched China’s. And so, the Americans viewed Japan as a perfect coaling station and an alternative source for highly priced exotic eastern products.

Political and diplomatic implications interested the United States. With the rise of American traffic in Japanese seas, as a result, news of shipwrecks and castaway sailors in Japan rose.  However, news spread of Japanese officials terribly treating Americans ships and mariners. Japanese cannons fired upon American ships coming close to their shores, while sailors drifted unintentionally to their coast faced imprisonment under horrific conditions. If American ships returned rescued Japanese sailors to Japan, they faced hostility. American traders, whalers, mariners, and even American navy officer lobbied for an expedition to change Japan’s attitude. And for Washington, the growing clamor must be addressed immediately.

Prestige and elevation of the United States profile in the international stage if it succeeded in opening reclusive Japan was also a motivation. They looked at an expedition as a fulfillment of Manifest Destiny in the other side of the world. Moreover, it would also bring huge prestige in diplomacy and history to be the first country to sign a treaty of friendship when other countries, like Russia, Britain, and the Netherlands failed to do so. The United States had much to gain in its diplomatic standing.

Other than political and economic reasons, humanitarian reasons justified the American expedition. They wanted to improve treatment of sailors and ships washed or wrecked in Japanese shore. They wanted the Japanese to respect international ships passing by their seas just as a civilized and responsible country would.

Lastly, Americans were also curious about Japan. For two hundred years, Japan shut its doors closed to the outside world and making it in the west known as Tierra Incognito or the Unknown Lands. Bits of information about the country only got out from the Dutch and Chinese who stayed with blessings of the Japanese government in the island of Dejima in Nagasaki. Due to the scant amount of information about the country, Japan mystified many adventurist westerners. And so, by sending an expedition, many curiosities would be answered. 
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