History: How Japan Turned West

To "drive out the barbarians," the nation learned their ways

When Commodore Matthew Perry entered Edo Bay aboard the steam frigate Susquehanna just 130 years ago this summer, most of the awestruck Japanese had never before seen such a vessel, much less a whole flotilla of what they called "the black ships of evil mien."

Deliberately self-isolated for more than two centuries from the upheavals of the "barbarian" outside world, they lived in an almost medieval state. The turmoil of the industrial revolution was all but unknown to them. The shogun's court at Edo received...

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