eli5: how did Japan resist and block contact with western colonial powers so successfully compared to other small nations and islands in Asia and the Pacific?

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eli5: how did Japan resist and block contact with western colonial powers so successfully compared to other small nations and islands in Asia and the Pacific?

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By killing them, and then being protected by the US and Britain.

Initially, they killed anybody who left and then came back, or anybody who arrived (except a few portugese a year). Then the US rolled up and forced them to open the country. The US was not interested in having a colony, and wasn’t interested in foreigners blocking their exports to Japan. The British reacted similarly, and both propped up Japan and fended off foreigners while Japan modernized and tried to westernize..

TLDR: Japan made itself very hostile to foreign visitors.

During Japan’s isolationist period it did in fact have contact with the outside world, primarily with the Dutch. But the amount of trade in and out of Japan was restricted.

The amount of trade and when it could happen was tightly regulated. Japan also had a bad trade deficit meaning that it was losing too much Silver and Gold to foreign traders (vs sending out goods)

Japanese ships were forbidden from sailing to foreign countries and Japanese citizens that left the country weren’t allowed to return under penalty of death.

Only specific port cities were allowed to conduct trade with the outside. If a foreign ship tried to arrive at another port they were ignored or their crews killed.

It should be pointed out that one of the primary reasons for the isolation was a reaction to Catholic priests trying to convert Japanese to Christianity. The Catholic Church was sending out large numbers of missionaries at the time. The Japanese ruling class took particular offense to this as it seemed that there was a priest on every European boat.

What finally ended the isolation was Commodore Perry from the US showing up with a fleet. The Japanese didn’t have a significant Navy at the time and Perry threatened them with violence if they didn’t open their borders. “You kill us, and we’ll just keep coming back with more and more ships so you can’t ignore us forever”. But by that point opinion within the Japanese ruling class was changing, knowledge of the outside world and industrialization was getting in and Japan was realizing that it was falling behind rapidly in terms of technology.

Japan was not a small nation back then, it was a well-organised country with lot of people. When the first Westerner arrived in 1450 there was around 10 million people in the country, England as comparison as 2 million at the time.

Wen Japan closes it off from the outside wold in 1650 there is around 25 million people there compared to 5 million in England

Japan is not a small nation, it would be hard and expensive to take control by force. If you look at China they alos hold off the western nations. It is the Opium wars where that first started in 1839 That was the first large war between China and a western power

Japan open up after the Perry Expedition in 1853. IT is in the 19th century the western powers advanced their military enough to have a good chance of waging war against Japan and China. Even if you have a technological advantage you need enough troops to win and transporting enough will be had and expensive so a war before that is quite impractical.

Japan then start to westernize and develop its military quite quickly. In 1905 they won a war against Russia primary at sea, this is a turning point in western military supremasy. Russia really try to win the war with most of the fleet sailing there from Europe and get crushed in the Battle of Tsushima.

Pretenses are extremely important. The opium wars derived from conflicts over trade. Japan had such a total isolationist policy that it was able to avoid giving any major pretense to engage in conflict.

When finally the US came along and forced treaties anyway, many other nations followed suit and forced unequal trade treaties on the japanese.

However unlike other asian nations japan was successful at rapidly modernising and industrialising. Within only a few decades it was a world power rivaling western nations, thus gained the strength to resist any further encroachment.

Indeed 50 years after the americans forced japan to open, the japanese succeeded in utterly crushing Russia in war. At the same time china had just recently lost yet again to the west with the boxer rebellion.

They adapted and learned enough to fight back the first “soft” attempt at colonization in the 1400s and went into hard isolation.

Later when Matthew Perry showed up and basically forced them to open for trade under thread of violence they accepted the conditions, but rapidly modernized. They basically cought up to 100 years of industrialization within 20 years.

After that they cemepted their position by beating the russians.