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Commodore Perry's Opening of Japan: A Blessing or a Precursor to the Attack on Pearl Harbor?

Commodore Perry's Opening of Japan: A Blessing or a Precursor to the Attack on Pearl Harbor?
Commodore Matthew Perry struggled for months in Japan, negotiating a treaty between the United States of America and Japan, trying to gain access to at least one of Japan’s ports.  Commodore Perry was successful and after returning home he was regarded as a hero for “opening up Japan” and creating the treaty.  Even though it might not have seemed like it at the time, Commodore Perry’s actions had many negative consequences, including the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Prior to the “opening of Japan,” Japan was an isolated country (meaning nothing was imported or exported except for a few Dutch and Chinese ports (from U.S. Navy Museum)), and in our quest to expand our territories and gain places to trade with, Japan was the perfect location.  That’s when Commodore Perry was assigned to go to Japan with his fleet of American steamships to negotiate with the Shogun of Japan to open ports to American ships.  After the Japanese saw the size of the ships and realized that the fleet had more arms than the entire country did, they agreed to let Perry see the Shogun (John Walsh, 2004).

    Perry was successful in his mission and the U.S. was granted access to two ports in Japan (which were very beneficial for trade between Japan and the U.S., refueling our ships, and allowing us to have better access to China and other East-Asian countries) (John Walsh, 2004 and U.S. Navy Museum).  This access to two of Japan’s ports was both supported and opposed.  Many Japanese people felt that Japan should allow trade and grow economically and gain land – both of which could be accomplished by opening Japan to trade and foreign countries.  Other Japanese people felt that Japan was a powerful country the way it was and didn’t need to open itself up to other countries.  They felt they should keep Japan running the way it had been running for the past 250 years – as an isolated country.  This was the Shogun’s opinion, because he wanted to stand up for the isolationism laws his ancestors put in place more than 250 years prior.  However, because Japan could not defend itself against the massive amount of arms the Americans had, the Shogun had to succumb to Perry’s demands. 

    As it turned out, the opening of Japan’s ports helped Japan in many ways.  Japan began trading with other countries, increasing its economic wealth and gaining new technology, like weapons.  Humiliated by America because Japanese weapons could not compete with American weapons, they began improving their military and national technology.  After Japan developed more sophisticated weapons and machines, they began to expand and gain more territories, and also gain alliances.  Japan grew in size and power very fast and with great momentum. (Jacqueline Laks Gorman).

It wasn’t just the humiliation caused by America to Japan that created tension between the two countries.  Japan had agreed to allow America to have two Japanese ports.  Those ports allowed for the trade of oil, steel, and iron from America to Japan to take place.  However, when Japan started expanding its territories, America stopped supplying those items to Japan in order to slow their progress.  Also, while Japan and China were fighting, America sided with China and supplied arms and aid to China when it was needed.  Japan saw this as an abuse of the treaty (even though Japan had used the treaty to gain so much power in the first place) and an unfair decision, since Japan and America had agreed to become “friends” in the treaty Commodore Perry arranged many years prior (Jacqueline Laks Gorman).

Trying to gain more territories in the Pacific and show America that it was no longer the weaker nation, Japan planned to attack Pearl Harbor, an American port in Hawaii where they kept many battleships and planes.  Commodore Perry and his ships had forced Japan to succumb to the treaty because Japan had no way to defend itself if they engaged in battle.  However, now the Japanese wanted to prove to America they were no longer the weaker and inferior country (Jacqueline Laks Gorman).

Even with all the benefits Japan received from the treaty, it still felt like it need to take revenge on America for treating Japan the way it did during and after the treaty.  Japan felt as though America had taken advantage of it and now, with Japan’s new technology, Japan felt like it had a good chance of taking revenge on America.  So that’s what Japan did (unfortunately for them, Japan’s plan didn’t work).



"Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan." Online Magazine and Writers' Network. Web. 11 Oct. 2010. <>.

"Pearl Harbor: A Primary Source History." Google Books. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. < harbor vs. commodore perry&source=bl&ots=p-8bb5BjJz&sig=MqsIrHn-ceykwxG7XeAaQz6bFng&hl=en&ei=G_S8TO3tCYG78gbRh_CqCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCsQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

"Perry & Opening of Japan." Naval History and Heritage Command. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. <>.