Knocking on Japan's Doors

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Knocking on Japan’s Doors An analysis on why Commodore Perry succeeded in opening Japan’s doors. In 1852, United States president Millard Fillmore commissioned Commodore Matthew Perry and the United States Navy for a naval expedition to Japan. The aim of this expedition was to safeguard the welfare of United States’ naval activities in the regions, and also to establish peaceful relations. Since the 17th century, Japan has adopted a Sakoku policy, whereby interactions with foreigners were strictly controlled. No Japanese were allowed to leave the country or build ocean-going ships. Only a minority of Chinese and Dutch traders were allowed to trade in the Tokugawa port of Nagasaki, under strict surveillance. Despite this isolation policy, many foreign powers still tried to approach Japan, albeit without any major success. However, Commodore Perry managed to open up Japan’s doors, and sign the Treaty of Kanagawa with Japan on March 31, 1854. In this essay, I will examine Commodore Perry’s letter to the Japanese Emperor, dated July 7 1853, and other secondary sources, in order to discuss the reasons that allowed United States, specifically Commodore Perry, to succeed where many others had failed previously. United States success in this particular expedition can be attributed to its superior military strength. Commodore Perry arrived in Edo Bay on July 8 1853, with two steamships and two sailing vessels. The steamships were coined ‘The Black Ships’ by the Japanese, because of the black smoke which belched from the funnels. This was a sight never seen before in Japan. The Black Ships had steel-reinforced hulls and an array of weapons. Commodore Perry’s flagship, the USS Susquehanna, measured 78-meter, was the largest and most modern steamship in the world at that time. It simply dwarfed the largest Japanese craft at that point of time, the 24-meter Sengokubane.

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