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Milestones to Pearl Harbor: The "Black Ships" Open Japan

Milestones to Pearl Harbor: The "Black Ships" Open Japan From the early 1600s to the mid-1800s the Pacific island nation of Japan was a closed society. To keep out "dangerous influences," such as European missionaries, foreign ships weren't allowed to enter Japanese ports. Japanese people weren't allowed to leave or to have any contact with the outside world. The nation was ruled by an emperor, who the people believed was descended from the gods. Real political and military power, however, was held by the shoguns. These were leaders of military clans who ruled in the Emperor's name.

Then, in 1853, a small fleet of American warships commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into the bay at Edo (now Tokyo). The "black ships," as the Japanese described them at the time, had come to open trade with other nations. Threatened by the big warships, Japan signed a trade treaty with the U.S. Within five years of Perry's visit, Japan signed trade treaties with Great Britain, Russia, France, and Holland. Japan's long isolation was finally at an end.

Some historians have criticized the U.S. for sending Perry to Japan. They believe it was not America's right to "open" a nation that wished to be left alone.

Why did America decide to go to Japan to open trade? How do you think the Japanese felt? Why did the Japanese stay isolated for so long? Would you have entered Japan?

Treaty - a formal agreement between two or more countries.

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