Japanese History Lesson! History Related to Foreigners in Japan | Guidable Japan

Japanese History Lesson! History Related to Foreigners in Japan

By Yae Jan 18, 2019



Do you know how foreigners came to Japan? If you look around every city in Japan, there are many foreigners from many other countries that are living in Japan, and even more, foreigners are visiting Japan as tourists these days. It’s becoming a common sight to see foreigners anywhere you go in Japan, but have you ever thought about when the first time that foreigners arrived in Japan was?

This article will discuss how and when foreigners initially arrived in Japan in the first place. If you know more about the relationships between foreigners and Japanese people, you may see Japan differently than ever before. Let’s see the history and connection between foreigners and Japanese people through this article.


1. The History of Foreigners in Japan



It`s a very famous story among people that Matthew Calbraith Perry from the United States was the person who first came to Japan in 1853. However, before we talk about his first visit to Japan, you should know many foreign ships have tried to come to Japan over 50 years before Matthew Calbraith Perry came to Japan (Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in entering Japan at the time).

Here are the significant facts of foreign ships that have come to Japan as follows:


1. Adam Laxman who was in the Russian Army tried to come to Japan Nemuro in Hokkaido in 1772.

2. Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov who was the Diplomat of Russia decided to come to Japan Nagasaki in Kyushu in 1804 to request importing business.

3. An American ship with a Japanese castaway tried to reenter Japan, but the Japanese Shogunate refused and attacked. This incident was later called “Morrison Incident”.


In the year 1825, Japanese shogunate established “Order for the Repelling of Foreign Ships” to try to push away foreigners who attempted to reach Japan except for Nagasaki by firing cannons.

In the year 1844, the Netherlands King tried to persuade Japan to end Japan`s national isolation, but the Japanese shogunate still refused to open the country at that time.

As you can see, there were many opportunities where foreigners tried to come to Japan for various deals, but the Japanese Shogunate were holding a stubborn stand-off in refusing to accept foreigners at all costs.

Matthew Calbraith Perry then became the key person who made the turning point to make a connection between the United States and Japan at a later point in time.

Let’s see how Matthew Calbraith Perry opened Japan`s history into the next chapter.


2. How Perry Opened Japan to the Rest of the World



Matthew Calbraith Perry who was in the United States Navy tried to come to Japan to negotiate and to end the national isolation on July 8th, 1853 because the United States wanted to use Japan for the following reasons:


1. Ask Japan to become a supply base for whaling ships, because whale oil was often used as fuel in the United States at the time.

2. Ask Japan to become a transfer hub to go from the United States to China by steamship at that time.


The Japanese Shogunate had refused every foreigner up until this point, but Matthew Calbraith Perry was relentless. Since it took about half a year to come all the way from the United States to Japan, Matthew Calbraith Perry researched as much as he could about Japan to ensure the success of negotiations and not to any waste of his time while visiting Japan in this long trip. He was already aware of the failed attempts of other foreigners before him to enter Japan, and according to the technique he used he decided to try to come into Japan from Yokosuka in the Kanagawa prefecture instead of using Nagasaki and threatened Japan by firing cannon.

The Japanese Shogunate was already aware of Matthew Calbraith Perry’s attempt to enter Japan because of the information provided by the Netherlands but couldn’t predict that he would show up off the coast of Uraga in Kanagawa prefecture. Moreover, the United States Navy ships led by Matthew Calbraith Perry showed up with not only one ship but four ships, including two large steamships which were considered the largest in the world at the time.

Those two steamships left an impression on the Japanese people, calling them “black ships” since they were painted black to preserve the materials, such as iron even though the ships were made out of wood.

Matthew Calbraith Perry requested to end isolation to the Japanese Shogunate and tried to make new contracts. After the request to Japan, Japan decided to wait to reply until the next year.  Matthew Calbraith Perry then left Japan, but instead of going back home to the United States, he waited nearby in Shanghai, China. He came back to Japan to negotiate again with the Japanese Shogunate for the contracts by leading an additional three ships with a total of 7 boats to try to overwhelm the Japanese Shogunate.

According to plan, the Japanese Shogunate finally accepted the idea of ending isolation and made a new contract with Matthew Calbraith Perry called “Convention of Peace and Amity between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan”.

It seems the never-give-up tactics used by Matthew Calbraith Perry have paid off and the success of making new contacts with Japan have been etched in history.


3. The Life of the First Foreigners in Japan



After making the contract of “Convention of Peace and Amity between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan” with Matthew Calbraith Perry, the triumphant story spread quickly to other countries, and the British grand fleet and Russian army also came to Japan to negotiate for ending isolation. The Japanese Shogunate accepted to make contact with the same conditions with England, Russia, and the Netherlands afterward.

Since Japan decided to the end its isolation, the different cultures and interactions with foreigners have influenced Japanese people in many beautiful ways and caused many of the following events:

Since Japan decided to end isolation, the life of foreigners changed Japanese people in many fascinating ways such as follows:


1. Built western-style hotel at Nagasaki in 1862 called “Commercial House”. This triggered Japan to make many western-style luxury hotels afterward such as “Oriental Hotel”, “Hotel Belleview”, “Japan Hotel”, “Hotel de France” and “Nagasaki Hotel” at Nagasaki.

2. The entertainment sport, bowling was founded in 1861.

3. The entertainment sport, the yacht was made in 1861 by the British trader called William Alt.

4. Western food was imported from England, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China, etc.

5. Soft drinks were implemented by the British called Robert Neill Walker in 1904. He established the very first manufacturer company of soft drinks in Japan. At that time, he named the soft drinks company “Banzai cider” or “Banzai lemonade”, related to Japan. This soda was made of sparkling water, sugar and perfume essence, and was a pure taste that amazed many Japanese people and became very popular in Japan.

6. British trader Thomas Blake Glover created railway in 1865 and made running steam train at Oura seafront in Nagasaki. He laid the rails about 600m long and made running Iron Duke steam train built by the British for test running. He dedicated his life to make the success of the steam train for about seven years. Based on his developments, the steam train started running between Shimbashi station and Yokohama station in 1872 as a commercial operation in Japan.

7. Social facilities were made at Nagasaki by foreign residents to rest, the exchange of information, and trying to build friendships such as the following:


・Concerts held by alien warship bands

・Public halls for having dance parties

・Meeting space for business meetings or seminars


8. A Japanese man named Shunnojo Ueno was beginning to making cameras in 1848 in Nagasaki. But his gift, a set of shooting equipment influenced him to create a better camera.

9. The sponge cake “castella” came to Japan in Nagasaki around 1570 by Portuguese missionary, and people say he then trained a Japanese chef on how to make castella cakes. If you travel to Nagasaki, you may see that castella is now the local popular sweet dessert. Besides, the shop called “Fukusaya” and “Bunmeido” are the most popular castella shops from Nagasaki.

Many people never think about all these fantastic developments that were made in contribution with foreigners, Matthew Calbraith Perry has opened up massive events in Japan.


4. Missionaries in Japan



This topic can be very sensitive and is related to sect for many people including foreigners from many other countries, but please use this as a historical reference, and not a religious article.

People say that the very first time a Christian appeared in Japan was 1549, about 470 years ago from now. A Spanish missionary from Basque Country in Spain started a missionary in Japan. He was Catholic and chose Japan as one of the reasons for missionary work when he was 41 years old at that time and came to Kagoshima in Kyushu in 1549.

His decision for having missionary work in Japan influenced many things in Japan afterward such as a few Portuguese words that have been taken as Japanese words as follows:


1. “Kabocha” as pumpkin

2. “Karuta” as Japanese playing cards

3. “Ombu” as piggyback)

4. “Blanco” as swing

5. “Bisquetto” as biscuits

6. “Bateira” as pressed sushi

7. “Botan” as button

8. “Cappa” as raincoat

9. “Coppu” as cup

10. “Juban” as underskirt

11. “Jorro” as watering pot

12. “Miira” as mummy

13. “Pan” as bread

14. “Tabacco” as tobacco

15. “Tempura” as Japanese deep fried food

Many of you might have heard of some above words from your Japanese friends or shops on the streets in Japan. Are you surprised that these are all words that have come from Portuguese?


5. How Do You Feel About the History of Foreigners in Japan



Hopefully, this article was able to depict the many events of how foreigners came to Japan in the first place, how they lived, and eventually created beautiful things in Japan. As this article includes sensitive topics about war and sect, please take these stories as one of the references regarding relationships between foreigners and Japanese people.

Have you ever thought about why you came to Japan or want to come to Japan? There may be many reasons including job transfers, studying abroad, an addiction to Japanese games, a curiosity surrounding Japanese culture, or maybe you just came to see your Japanese friends. But as you can see, Japan has various connections with all of the countries around the world.

It may be interesting to find out what kind of things the Japanese were influenced by foreigners when you’re living in Japan or walking around the streets such as; food, vocabulary, or even fashion. If you observe you can try to spot things that have been influenced by foreign countries in Japan.

There may be many different ways of thinking compared to your home countries when you visit Japan, but hopefully, you will see Japan as unique in its different values and enjoy that difference in Japan.

Every country is different, but we all share one earth.

Let me know in the comments what you think of this remarkable history in Japan!