Saturday, April 30, 2016

Perry Expedition and the Opening of Japan (Part 11): Effects of the Perry Expedition

Nagasaki Naval Training Center
After signing the Treaty of Kanagawa and ending his second visit to Japan, tremendous change followed. Explore the effects of Perry's expedition to the United States and Japan.

Effects of the Perry Expedition

Perry’s expedition made history. It gave the United States prestige, while Japan struggled to define its future. But most important of all, it formally established one of the most critical relationship in international politics that lasted even to this day.

For the United States, the mission to Japan elevated its status in the Asia-Pacific region. It guaranteed the safety of its sailors and ships in Japanese seas and secured a coaling and resupplying stations for its vessels. It allowed limited trade and contact between the two countries, even though the Japanese, as the first American consul to Japan, Townsend Harris, remarked how they charged exorbitant prices on goods. Lastly, Perry’s effective use of gunboat diplomacy created a firm foundation that resulted to the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Commerce (known as the Harris Treaty) in 1858.

In international affairs, the United States cemented in history its role in reversing the policy of reclusive Japan. Her navy showed to the world its capability to influence a country's policy by flaunting its might just as other European countries did to lesser countries. The United States revealed its potential as a major power in the Asia-Pacific region as a result.

Other countries, as another result of the successful expedition, secured their own treaties of friendship with Japan. On October 14, British Admiral Sir James Stirling sailed to Nagasaki to secure Japanese neutrality and their cooperation in refusing shelter for Russian warships as the Crimean War reached the Pacific. But because of misunderstandings in translation, the Japanese thought the British wanted a treaty of friendship like the Americans did. Stirling, without any instruction or credence from London, signed a treaty, establishing relation between Japan and Great Britain (explore the content), based on the Kanagawa Treaty. On the other hand, the Russian Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin returned to Japan in February 1855 to resume talks with the Japanese that had been unsettled from the previous year. Putyatin secured the Treaty of Shimoda, which provided the same provisions as the treaty with the British and Americans. The Dutch, represented by the head of its Dutch factory in Dejima Donker Curtius, also secured a treaty with the Japanese on January 1856, which expanded the freedom of the Dutch. It released them from the confinements of the tiny island of Dejima. All of these treaties and the future interaction between Japanese and foreigners came following Perry’s expedition.

Meanwhile, Perry returned to the United States in 1855. The United States government recognized his work and Congress awarded him. He became a celebrity and in 1857, with the help of Francis Hawks, a 3-volume narrative of his expedition to Japan was published. By 1858, Perry suffered multiple health complications and on March 4, short of few weeks before the 4th anniversary of the Treaty of Kanagawa, Commodore Matthew C. Perry passed away known as a man who opened Japan and spread America's influence to Asia.

Japan, on the other hand, struggled to define its course after the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa. Japanese, especially the Daimyos, were divided into two ends. One wanted to maintain Japan’s isolation and expel and fight the foreign barbarians, while the other one, found it realistic to trade and open Japan in order to maintain peace. Abe Masahiro, who consented to the Treaty of Kanagawa, garnered criticism from mostly nationalistic Daimyos. Mounting pressure and criticism caused his to resignation in 1855 as chief elder, which equaled to a prime minister. His successor, Hotta Masayoshi, believed in interacting with foreigners to maintain peace and to develop Japan to be strong and remain free and independent. He later on handled the signing of other treaties with Europeans and the Harris Treaty in 1858.

On the other hand, the arrival of the foreigners aroused Japanese interest in foreign knowledge. Many took up the Dutch Learning known as Rangaku in Nagasaki. Many Japanese also started to learn foreign languages such as Dutch and English in addition to studying western sciences and technology. Fascination of western language and knowledge resulted to widespread translation of foreign works. An institution for the translation of foreign books was founded in 1857. Other Daimyos, although extremely nationalistic, accepted western military technology. They used European training regimens as well as technology and science to produce modern guns and cannons to defend the country from foreign incursions. Shipbuilding based on western design flourish. Western navigation techniques were also studied by Japanese mariners. Abe even established a navigation school in Nagasaki that embodied Japan’s desire to learn. The advancement in Japanese shipbuilding and navigation since the Perry expedition was exhibited by the voyage of the Kanrin Maru to the United States in 1859, which brought hundreds of Japanese to San Francisco for a good will visit.

Developments brought by the energized interest on foreign technology led to the strengthening of Japan’s defenses. During the last months of Abe, he convened meetings with Daimyos, scholars, monks, and representatives from the imperial court in Kyoto to discuss the country’s course of action. Although divided whether to open or close the country, all agreed to rearm the country. In 1854, in support of rearming Japan, the Emperor Komei issued an imperial decree, not done since the Tokugawa Shogunate began, allowing to melt bells from temples to produce modern guns and artillery. Production of modern weapons soared, especially in the southern domains of Japan, near Nagasaki. Coastal forts and defences were repaired and rearmed. Modern warships, both sailed and steam driven, were produce. One of them being the Kanrin Maru as stated before.

As Japan modernized itself and its lords and officials divided, the Tokugawa Shogunate entered its period of decline – known as the Bakumatsu. As the Shogunate further became impotent to guide Japan, nationalists questioned its authority to govern. For over a decade, discontent on the Shogunate rule and its failure to contain the foreigners resulted to samurai rebellions in 1868 in different domains, in particular in Southern Japan. The rebellion, which grew to the Boshin War, aimed to restore imperial power. By the following year, the Meiji Restoration under Emepror Mutsuhito began; and, Japan truly transformed from a backward oriental country to a fusion of modernity and tradition and eastern ethics and western technology. All of which, began from the arrival of the Black Ships that anchored in Edo Bay in 1853.

And as Japan transformed, it remained in contact with the United States. The latter provided inspiration to the former in terms of economic strength and scientific and technological advancements. Both countries had good relations until the World War II when another American warship docked in Edo Bay to witnessed the signing of another treaty that changed Japanese history. Today, Japan and the United States had strong relations, a key pillar in foreign affairs in East Asian and Asia itself.

Summing Up

Perry’s expedition to Japan was a collision of two different worlds. The United States of America, a growing, strong, and outward looking, bumped onto a stagnating, weak, and inward looking Japan. With the achievements of the Americans in territorial expansion, economic progress, and international politics, the United States sought new ventures outside its continent and looked on to the wealth of Asia. Vital to its interest was gaining a station for its fleet of modern steamships, which they saw in form of Japan. Japan, meanwhile, experienced an unprecedented era of peace and economic prosperity even under the conditions of isolation. Nevertheless lack of foreign interaction led to technological stagnation and the long lasting peace had rotten the martial skills of the Japanese. Moreover, the Tokugawa Shogunate started to crack due to corruption and incompetence that made its rule questionable. Not to mention, with the rise of steam technology, the feared westerners, kept out from the country from the 17th century, returned with greater strength and capability than anything the east had witnessed.

Western incursion threatened the two hundred years of isolation by Japan. The Japanese tried their best to keep foreigners out, like shooting foreign ships and locking up castaway sailors. But its actions parked the interest of the United States to reprimand Japan and change its ways with dealing with foreigners. And in 1852, they sent Commodore Matthew Perry ordered to deliver a letter from the President, requesting the Japanese Emperor for trade relations, kindness towards foreigners in trouble, and right to ship to resupply.

As Perry’s black ships anchored in Edo Bay, the two different worlds, oceans and continents apart, met. The modern steamships of Perry brought fear of conflict to Japanese officials like Abe Masahiro. Abe worked to maintain peace, and conceded carefully to the demands of the Americans. He, however, faced a dilemma choosing between opening the country and risk rebellions and closing the country and risk war with the Americans. Reality sank on him and some Daimyos and accepted some of America’s demands. His acceptance resulted to the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854.

Nationalist Japanese hated the treaty and criticized Abe for approving it. Nationalist Daimyos like Tokugawa Nariaki sought war rather than submit in humiliation to the demands of the foreign “barbarians.” But other viewed the reality that no country could remain close forever, and accepted to open the country with the intention of getting the benefits to strengthen the country.

The Perry expedition traumatized Japan. The Japanese succumbed to the demands of the westerners due to their weakness of their country as a whole. They realized that a country as weak as they were would be humiliated and easy to concede. And so they sought to learn from the west and to use it to strengthen the country to gain the respect of the world and to maintain its independence. The Perry expedition contributed to the Japanese thinking of Fukoku Kyohei – a strong economy, strong army – which they saw as a path to defend Japan’s honor and independence. 

The concession given to foreigners and desire to strengthen the country, however, questioned the Tokugawa Shogunate. Its impotence eventually ended its legitimacy and in 1868, succumbed to imperial forces bringing dawn to a new Meiji Era. An era that transformed Japan to a great power. The Perry expedition set in motion events that gave rise to a modern Japan, a country that evaded colonialism and survived wars and rise up as one of the most powerful country in the world.

Explore also:

Beasley, W.G. The Modern History of Japan. New York, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1963.

___________. The Meiji Restoration. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Bolitho, Harold. “Abe Masahiro and the New Japan.” In The Bakufu in Japanese History, edited by Jeffrey Mass and William Hauser. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Craig, Fairbank, and Edwin Reischauer. East Asia: The Modern Transformation. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.

Davis, Geo. Lynn-Lachlan. A Paper Upon the Origin of the Japan Expedition. Baltimore, Maryland: John Murphy & Co., 1860.

Franz, Edgar. Philipp Franz von Siebold and Russian Policy and Action on Opening Japan to the West in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century. Munich: IUDICIUM Verlag, 2005.

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Translated by Eiichi Kiyooka. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hawks, Francis. Narrative of the Expedition of An American Squadron to The China Seas and Japan, Performed in the Years 1852, 1853, and 1854, under the Command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy by Order of the Government of the United States, Volume I. Washington D.C.: A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1856. 

Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Jansen, Marius. The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Murray, David. Japan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896.

Nitobe Inazo. The Intercourse Between the United States and Japan: An Historical Sketch. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins Press, 1891.

Williams, S. Well. A Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan (1853 – 1854) , Edited by F.W. Williams. n.p.: n.p., 1910.

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