Instructions: With the readings try to write a reaction using specific examples, if you can, to the following question, What did it mean for a previously isolated Japan to fall into the “Unequal Treaty System” imposed by the U.S. and other Western powers in the 1850s and 1860s? Using specific examples if you can, but thinking what it must have meant to Japanese young people (of your age in many cases) to face the shock of change.
Here is some insight: This week we are looking at the dramatic ‘inflection point’ in Japanese history and culture known as “The Meiji Restoration” which embraces a period of several decades, beginning with the final years of the Tokugawa Shoguns’ rule (known as “Bakumatsu” or “the end of the Tent [i.e. Military] Government”), the coming of the Americans in the person and fleet led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1853-54, the signing of the Treaty of Comity and Commerce in 1858, and the subsequent disintigration of the 250+ year old Tokugawa Bakufu and the emergence in 1868 of a new government ostensibly under the direct rule of the young emperor whose year-period would give the name to an entire era, Meiji 明治 or “Enlightened Government”。
The so-called Harris treaty of 1858 is one example and the Japanese sent a delegation to the US to ratify it. Once the new Meiji Government was established in 1868, replacing the Tokugawa regime after a brief, but quite violent civil war and round of assassinations, in 1871 AFTER THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, a diplomatic mission was sent to the U.S. under the court official Iwakura about which you may read extensively. Your readings this week cover both the treaty era (see Beasley) and the1871 trip to the U.S. (see Duus, Ch. 7). The long-term reaction may be seen in the “America as ‘Civilization'” Chapter 8. You all are asked to read the overview of this period in Ian Buruma, Inventing Japan 1853-1964, Ch. 1 The Black Ships and also to look online at the remarkable Visualizing Cultures “Black Ships” visual history essays at MIT with the same title. The links are within here and may also be found in our Course Materials and our Webliography.