In 1854, an American group led by Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open its ports to foreign merchants, and this was a very important step in Japanese history because Japan had been closed to the West for 200 years.
So, for 200 years, Japan had just traded within itself. Japanese people just traded among different cities in Japan. But now, this American group came and forced Japan to open its ports to foreign merchants.
So, now, it was going to have all these different countries bringing goods to trade with them, and there were going to be a lot of changes for Japan. At first, the Japanese people were not pleased with this development, and they blamed the Tokugawa shogun, who was the military leader of this period. And the military would’ve been the people to keep out some American group that was trying to force their way in. So, the military failed at keeping the Americans out, and that’s why they were blamed by the Japanese for this happening.
In 1867, the shogun resigned. So, it took a while after he was blamed for this, but eventually, he did resign, and Emperor Mutsuhito declared that he was now in charge. And during Emperor Mutsuhito’s reign, a lot of things changed. The Japanese capital was moved from Kyoto Edo, and it was renamed Tokyo. The ensuing period in Japanese history is known as the Meiji period, and there was a lot of industrialization during this time, there was a lot of learning, there was a lot of interaction between Japan and lots of other foreign countries.
During this time, the feudal system was abolished. So, this system, where you had a lord who had vassals who worked his landform. So, different lords are put in charge of different plots of land, those lords divided their land up into other plots, and named new lords below them. If you were reporting to a lord, you were a vassal. If you held vassals, you were a lord. And a lord could be both a lord of some land, and a vassal to someone else. So, it’s kind of a confusing system, but it was how the land was handled. And during the Meiji period, the feudal system was abolished.
Western ideas became popular. For 200 years, the West had been kept out. So, now that the Western merchants were allowed in, they were definitely going to have an influence on Japan. And these Western ideas became popular, so much so that Japan would send students out to lots of different countries around the world to learn how things were done there, and come back to keep the empire up to date, and running as well as any of the other countries. Now that the West was allowed in, Japan wanted to be one of the top countries.
And the samurai had their land rights revoked and were eventually eliminated altogether. So, the samurai were the military group that worked underneath the shogun, and they were like nobles in Japan. So, they were like people who held land like the lords. And they were just called samurai, and they were given the status because of their military background. And so, the samurai would have land, and they would dole it out to their vassals. So, they were part of the feudal system. So, once the feudal system was abolished, the samurai was also abolished. They were eliminated. There were no more nobles that were called samurai. Now, some of the nobles from the period before Emperor Mutsuhito were carried over, those that had been loyal to him. And it proved helpful and faithful, were given noble positions, but they were called something different. They weren’t called samurai anymore, and they weren’t given land like they were in the feudal system. So, a lot of things changed there.
And then, late in the 19th century, Japanese leaders began to turn their attentions to expansion onto the Asian continent. So, Japan went to being closed off for 200 years, invaded by the American group and forced to open its ports to foreign merchants. It evolved, it had somewhat of an industrial revolution, the citizens went out into the rest of the world to learn how things were done there. The feudal system was abolished, and a new government was established. And with all of this, Japan grew even more so to where it wanted to turn full circle and start expanding onto other continents.