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first objective through the signing of a Treaty of Friendship that provided
for an exchange of consular officials between Japan and the United States.
The first American consul, Townsend Harris, arrived in Japan in 1856,
and it was he who finally secured a commercial pact. This pact, in addition to providing for the opening of certain Japanese ports to trade, contained a set of stipulations, previously worked out by the Western powers
in their dealings with China, that became known as “the unequal treaty
provisions.” These included the principle of extraterritoriality, or the right
of the Western signatory to try its nationals by its own laws for offenses
committed on Japanese soil; the most-favored-nation clause, which provided that any additional treaty benefit acquired by one Western nation 236 Encounter with the West would automatically accrue to all other nations holding similar treaties;
and the setting of a fixed customs levy of approximately 5 percent on all
goods imported to Japan, a levy that could be altered only with the consent of both parties to a treaty. It was on the basis of the Harris agreement, and especially its most-favored-nation clause, that the principal
European powers also acquired commercial treaties with Japan during the
next few months.
The coming of Perry and Harris brought to an end Japan’s seclusion
policy of more than two hundred years, but it did not resolve differences
of opinion about the policy. There was the question, for example, of the
extent to which Japan should be opened. The Harris treaty specified
only that a few ports be made available to foreign trade over a period of
years. Should the rest of Japan, even the interior, also be opened to foreign merchants, missionaries, and residents, and if so over what span of
time? Some diehards continued to insist that the treaties with the Western
“barbarians” be regarded simply as tactical measures valid only until
Japan could strengthen itself sufficiently to drive the foreigners once again
from the divine land; but other Japanese began to consider more soberly
the sweeping and long-term implications of their new relations with the
The final, chaotic years of the Tokugawa period are fascinating for the
momentous political events that led to the overthrow of t...
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- Spring '13