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Breaking Open Japan: Commodore Perry, Lord Abe, and American Imperialism in 1853by George Feifer
Synopses & Reviews
On July 8, 1853, the four warships of America's East Asia Squadron anchored at Uraga, twenty-seven miles south of the Japanese capital, then called Edo. The ships had come to pry open Japan after her two-and-a-half centuries of isolation and after years of intense planning by Commodore Matthew Perry, the squadron commander. Unabashedly imperialist, Perry, his vision grounded in the certainty of American good, was determined to get his way-; largely by prompting fear of his very big guns. <P> Perry's cloaking of imperial impulse in humanitarian purpose was fully matched by Japanese self-deception. High among the country's articles of faith was the certainty of its protection by heavenly power. A distinguished Japanese scholar argued in 1811 that "Japanese differ completely from and are superior to the peoples of . . . all other countries of the world." The superior people nevertheless trembled at the threat of Western domination or even colonizing. <P> So began one of history's greatest political and cultural clashes. <P> In "Breaking Open Japan," George Feifer brings the drama to life as never before. At its heart were two formidable men who in many ways embodied their very different societies: thrusting Commodore Perry and genial, manipulative Lord Masahiro Abe, who as the head of the Shogun's advisory council was Japan's real decision maker and political authority. Providing a fascinating account of "sealed" Japan, Feifer shows that Perry's aggressive handling of his mission had far-reaching, sometimes tragic consequences for that country-; and for the United States-; well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
"This book, a detailed history of Japan from the American fleet's arrival in Uraga Bay in July 1853 to its departure in June 1854, demonstrates how Japan's powerlessness to oppose the imperialist intentions of Commodore Matthew Perry planted a seed of humiliation deep in the Japanese psyche that would have far-reaching consequences beyond opening up the isolated nation for the first time in centuries. Covering the events leading up to and following the visit, including the fall of the Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, veteran author Feifer (The Battle of Okinawa) provides rich insight into dueling Eastern and Western mindsets. The Japanese considered outsiders culturally and morally inferior, like beasts that looked human, and the Shogunate was fearful of European imperialism after observing the partitioning of China in the Opium Wars. The Americans had a similar sense of self-regard, believing themselves ideologically and spiritually superior, and the spread of their power and ideas across the Pacific only right and good. Feifer follows the threads of his tale through to the present day, including the most notorious aftershock of Perry's mission, the attack on Pearl Harbor, masterminded by Admiral Yamamoto Isoruku, who said he joined Japan's navy because he 'wanted to repay Commodore Perry's visit.' The clash of cultures and its legacy are explored thoroughly in Feifer's spirited narrative, making this a must-read for anyone interested in the origin of Japanese-American relations." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
This book revisits the history of the end of Japan's isolationist foreign policy of sakoku in the 1850s, casting a somewhat more critical eye on American imperialist ambitions than many previous American works on the subject, but not finding the Japanese totally innocent in many of the negative consequences for the legacy of the "Opening of Japan." The narrative's focus is structured around the actions of two men: Commodore Matthew C. Perry, whose "Black Ships" were to become a symbol of Western colonialism for the Japanese, and Masahiro Abe, the real power behind Japan's final shogunate. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
On July 14, 1853, the four warships of America's East Asia Squadron made for Kurihama, 30 miles south of the Japanese capital, then called Edo. It had come to pry open Japan after her two and a half centuries of isolation and nearly a decade of intense planning by Matthew Perry, the squadron commander. The spoils of the recent Mexican Spanish-American War had whetted a powerful American appetite for using her soaring wealth and power for commercial and political advantage.
Perry's cloaking of imperial impulse in humanitarian purpose was fully matched by Japanese self-deception. High among the country's articles of faith was certainty of its protection by heavenly power. A distinguished Japanese scholar argued in 1811 that "Japanese differ completely from and are superior to the peoples of...all other countries of the world."
So began one of history's greatest political and cultural clashes.
In Breaking Open Japan, George Feifer makes this drama new and relevant for today. At its heart were two formidable men: Perry and Lord Masahiro Abe, the political mastermind and real authority behind the Emperor and the Shogun. Feifer gives us a fascinating account of "sealed off" Japan and shows that Perry's aggressive handling of his mission had far reaching consequences for Japan - and the United States - well into the twentieth if not twenty-first century.
About the Author
George Feifer is the author of many successful books, including Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa, a New York Times Notable Book; Moscow Farewell, a Book of the Month Club Main Selection; and The Girl from Petrovka, the basis of a Hollywood film. He's written for a wide variety of publications, including the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, and the Saturday Evening Post. He lives in Roxbury, Connecticut.
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History and Social Science » Asia » Japan » General