Breaking Open Japan Analysis

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At first glance, the end of Japanese isolation in 1853 seems straightforward. The Americans, under the leadership of Commodore Matthew Perry sailed to Japan with their fleet of black ships. They were the ones to convince Japan to open its ports to foreign trade. However, a closer inspection of events complicates that narrative. Commodore Perry’s arrival is a historical event that has been written about in a variety of ways. In order to understand the opening of Japan, the closing of Japan must first be discussed. At the time of the American expedition to Japan, power in Japan was not in the hands of the Emperor. The Emperor was a largely symbolic leader. The Shogunate, headed by a military commander called the shogun, dictated policy. The …show more content…

Tone and word choice serves to create a compelling narrative. The very first chapter draws the reader in with a description of the ‘black ships’ sailing in Edo Bay. One chapter recounts a delightful little story in Abe Masahiro’s childhood. Supposedly, when he was just a boy, Abe admired the goldfish in the pond of his father’s colleague. And when he refused the offer to take the fish home, his father counseled him on the wisdom of refusal. It is almost impossible to say if the story happened the way it is said to have happened, if it even happened at all. Either way, this is exactly the kind of tidbit the average person loves to read about. It is an intimate detail, one that make the reader feel like they are getting special glimpse into the past. Writing history like this makes history more real and more relatable. The trade-off is that it also makes history a little less objective. Additionally, Feifer did something the other books did not. He examines the legacy left behind after Perry’s arrival, specifically, the impact of Japanese remembrance of the opening. Feifer posits that as a whole, Japan was humiliated when it was forced open the way it was. The title chosen, Breaking Open Japan, seems to support this hypothesis. Under this assumption, Japan was treated in much the same way China. The Japanese were made and the resultant shame had to be collectively buried. But that perspective has the same weakness that all psychohistory carries. It presumes too much, invites too much

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