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Modern history of Japan

The Dutch were the only western nation to be allowed to trade with Japan during the Edo period. They used the trading post of...Read More >>The Dutch were the only western nation to be allowed to trade with Japan during the Edo period. They used the trading post of Dejima, built in the bay of Nagasaki, from 1641 until 1853. In this view, Dejima is in the foreground. Just out to sea is a large Chinese junk (left) and two Dutch ships (right).From the 1630s, the ruling Tokugawa shoguns shut Japan down for more than 200 years. Few foreign visitors were allowed in and no Japanese were allowed out. Nearly all trade and contact between Japan and foreign nations was closed down. Although Japan was cut off from the rest of the world, there was peace. Warlike nobles were kept in their own castles. The emperors lived quietly in their palace in Kyoto. From the mid-19th century, Japan started to come out of its isolation. The first half of the 20th century saw a period of aggressive military expansion for Japan as it sought to build a large foreign empire. This period came to an end in 1945 with Japan's defeat in World War II.



Statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate

The Edo period

From 1600 to 1868, Japan's shoguns belonged to the Tokugawa clan. They ruled from Edo castle, so these years became known as the Edo period. In the early years of the shogunate, trade with European countries grew, and Christianity began to become popular. The shoguns saw Christianity as a threat to stability. They also wanted to take total control over foreign trade. In the 1630s, the shoguns enacted a series of laws, called Sakoku, which forebade foreigners from entering Japan and Japanese citizens from leaving. Trade was permitted only with the Netherlands, China and Korea, and this was controlled by the shogun.

In 1634 a small artificial island was built off Nagasaki to house foreign traders. It was called Dejima. Until 1853, it was the only place in Japan where foreigners were allowed to live.

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