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Travels Through Time #14 – Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan, 1853

This episode takes us back to 1853 and the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet of ships into Edo Bay.

History Today | Published in History Today

Reception for Commodore Perry by Japanese Noblemen, c. 1885

Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1853 changed the course of the nation’s history. Long into the 19th century Japan had been regarded by a growing group of Western nations as a ‘hermit kingdom’, known for its stubborn resistance to outsiders. Prior to Perry’s expedition, it was connected to the Eurocentric world of trade and commerce by a Dutch outpost near Nagasaki that was visited by a single ship each year.

Throughout this period of isolation, Japan’s rich and intricate society had continued under the rule of the shoguns. But interference from outside powers was increasingly feared and anticipated. In July 1853 the US government despatched Commodore Perry on a speculative mission to forge relations.

In this episode of Travels Through Time, writer and historian Lesley Downer takes us back to the moment when Perry’s fleet of ships sailed into Edo Bay (present day Tokyo), the tour of the ship taken by Kayama Eizaemon, Police Magistrate of Uraga, and Perry's arrival on shore. Downer describes the collision of two contrasting worlds: the confusion, the power play and the consequences. 

 

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Travels Through Time. Tailored tours of the past. 
Travels Through Time is presented by bestselling historian, Peter Moore. In each episode we are joined by an expert guest, to journey to the time and place of their choice. Enjoy a ringside view of history as never before, with the action described by those who understand it best. Browse other episodes in this series here.

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Further reading: related articles from the History Today archive

The Rise of Japan
Paul Lay
When it comes to rapid world-changing events, the Meiji Restoration has few equals.

Sakoku, or the Closed Country: 1640-1854
Henry McAleavy
In the 1860s a group of the younger Samurai launched the Meiji revolution in the Emperor's name. This event, writes Henry McAleavy, helped convert Japan into a modern country, with Western fashions and techniques imposed upon the national habits of centuries.

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