Sunday 4 January 2015

insular culture or gunboat diplomacy

As the culture had periodically done several times during the long history of its civilisation, Japan in the nineteenth century had turned inward and had isolated itself from the affairs of the rest of the world and incubated unique and refined art, literature and social etiquette.

This state (sokoku, a closed state, in the political sense) carried on for over two centuries until Commadore Matthew Perry appeared in Edo Bay, the former capital and close to Tokyo, suddenly in 1853 with his dreadnoughts and menacing missive from the US president Millard Filmore, obliging Japan to open its ports to international trade. There was just a little violence and the threatening language of the message, which promised worst of all to be unrelenting, thrust Japan towards engagement in the markets. A different sort of isolationist policy was taking route in America around this time—with the country healing from its own war against Mexico and earlier conflicts with Britain, and recuperation and military-industrial surplus, a militarised and recovering nation already despairing to expand markets—and America was compelled to trounce on this serene and nearly self-sufficient society to find new buyers and new suppliers of raw material.
While I suppose there’s a certain romancing element to uncontacted Japan, they definitely were not ignorant of the outside world, with a select few, government-vetted Chinese and Danish merchants doing brisk-business in a free-trade zone demarcated in the harbour of Nagasaki; they just didn’t care to be part of it. Maybe they conceded just to be rid of this presence, who lingered a lot in the area. Perry went as far as acquiring Taiwan (then called Formosa) as a base of operations, like America had done with Cuba and the Philippines. Once, however, their insular society was infiltrated, the Japanese did not suffer the fate of many other lands under colonialism, having taken the time to study the world at large, and instead excelled on the international stage and appropriated what was imposed upon them.