Musashi Mix Inq

The Commodore: Pandora’s Box in Reverse

Posted on October 1, 2010

The Commodore, ©MMX

On July 8, 1853, Matthew C. Perry arrived off the coast of Edo. The myth of Japan’s complete isolation referred to the fact that Japan continued to deal with the West on its own terms. Perry was not satisfied with being confined to the port of Nagasaki and sought to communicate with the Shogunate in grander terms than mere trade. It was not until the Commodore was refused these demands that the black ships showed their true diplomatic power: unprovoked shelling of coastal towns.

Commodore Perry wood-block print, 1854

America’s attempt to crack the oyster of the Orient drastically changed the trajectory of Japanese history. Among the exotic items that America gifted to the Emperor, such as a miniature steam engine and cannons, was the creed of expansionism. Despite the relative peace that reigned for centuries under Tokugawa, the Shogunate quickly learned that the only real power a modern nation wielded was not honor nor traditions but rather technology and conquest. Reverse-engineering modernity set Japan on a colonial path that would end where it began: with the atomic destruction of Nagasaki.

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry

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