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Japan

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Submitted By arram95
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Question #1
Ancient Japan throughout history has been regarded as an autonomous and sovereign country, which successfully rid themselves from the influences of the Western world and the Asian mainland before the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. However, considering the origin of the nation’s religion, livelihood, and trade system, this statement may not be as accurate as believed by today’s society. Every civilization is influenced—at least in some aspect—from other empires, even an island (like Japan) isolated from all neighboring domains. Nonetheless, this widespread declaration may be present due to what is known in Japan as the Edo Period, where the Shoguns attempted to separate the kingdom from the rest of the world. By the time the Tokugawa family rose to power in 1603, religion in Japan had already been established. The faiths of Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism were all existent, each being introduced to Japan by different nations. Buddhism, which originated in India, made its way across Asia, reaching Japan in the 6th century from Korea. Japan similarly was exposed to Confucianism by the Chinese not long after the philosophy grew in popularity. Moreover, Christianity arrived in Japan from visiting European countries, first introduced by Portugal in 1543, who were interested in “converting the countrymen to the faith of Christ” (153). Europe managed, by 1614, to have approximately 1% of the Japanese population following Christianity, achieving this by converting the daimyos of regions and allowing them to present the “variation of Buddhism” to their people. Evidently, Japan did not completely close their borders to the rest of the world, considering that three of the main religious beliefs of their people came from other empires. Religion was not the only area where Japan was heavily influenced by surrounding territories, but their entire way of life as well. The focal point of the Japanese diet consists of rice, and the system of wet rice cultivation was not devised in Japan, but in the Asian mainland. Several other foods were brought to Japan from Europe as well, including tempura, tobacco, and even bread! Outside the realm of nutrition, other activities and styles presented from Asia include horseback riding, many forms of art, and even architecture. In fact, even the term Japan came from China, meaning “origin of the sun” (Rodriguez 3). Their writing system, called Kanji, came from adopted Chinese characters, and is still used today. Furthermore, the Europeans brought guns; forty years after these weapons were first attained, Japan had more guns than any other empire on the planet. Trade is another big factor as to why Japan could be considered an open country before Perry’s arrival. When the Europeans arrived in Japan, they not only attempted to spread their beliefs, but also aimed at benefiting economically. European merchants were interested in exchanging silk for the silver the Japanese land had to offer, which they would then use to trade with other Asian nations to acquire certain spices they desired. However, Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi was replaced by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the effect on the entire culture of Japan is worth noting. The policies practiced by the previous Shoguns took a dramatic turn when Tokugawa Ieyasu came into power, which primarily explains the belief of Japan by society as a closed country. Ieyasu opposed Christianity, and in an effort to eliminate it, banned the faith in Christ. In order for Japanese citizens to demonstrate their unfaithfulness to the religion, he required them to step on an image of Christ, and if they refused, they were executed. Ieyasu’s grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu, expanded on Ieyasu’s principles, and established a “stable edifice that lasted for two and a half centuries” by cutting off trade with all other nations, with the exception of the Dutch (440). The Dutch were only allowed to stay because the compliance of the Dutch was “entirely to the satisfaction of the Japanese”; however, they were only allowed to settle on a small island off the coast of Nagasaki, diminishing any interaction not involving business (172). Because of this long era of harmony, Japan fell behind in the “weapon department”: when the United States and British came in the mid-1800s, their artillery was far superior to Japan’s arsenal. Clearly, Japan was not fully sealed from communication and contact with the rest of society. Every nation is influenced by their surroundings, even a geographically isolated island such as Japan. However, they were far more limited in their allowance of foreign relations compared to other kingdoms. Thus, before the Edo Period, Japan should be regarded as an open country; but when the Tokugawa family seized control of the territory, the nation became much more isolated, as they successfully achieved their objective of removing the past external notions which were in place and implementing native philosophies to allow Japan to become self-directed and free of dependence.

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