Today's post on the history of Japan begins in 1338 and ends with Commodore Perry's arrival in 1853. While it's perfectly enjoyable on its own, it might be a bit confusing without the previous two chapters: Japan: The Early Centuries, and Medieval Japan. You might want to check these two out before proceeding to today's post.
In general, the Muromachi period was one of great refinements in art and literature, and of the development of Buddhism as a major Japanese political force. For centuries Buddhist monasteries had grown in wealth and power. Buddhist monks, dressed in armor and carrying weapons, often turned the tide of battles with their strong organization and fortified monasteries.
The Japanese watch for the blossoms associated with each season, and for a week or two in April, the cherry blooms. All Japan seems to leave work to appreciate it, and even make pilgrimages to places where the miracle is most abundant. Nowhere has another people shown as much love of nature as one finds in Japan, or shown such care in cultivating gardens and nourishing plants.
St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, brought Christianity to Japan in 1549; and by the end of the century about 300,000 Japanese had converted to Roman Catholicism. Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders began visiting the island with increasing regularity. The shoguns became convinced that Christianity was designed to pave the way for European conquest and colonialism. In 1612, persecution of Christians began and several massacres followed. Europeans were refused permission to land, and a series of laws forbade travel abroad, prohibiting even the building of large ships. Japan had entered its "Enclosed period".
Japan's awakening consciousness of the outside world began in 1720, when shogun Yoshimune repealed the ban of European books and study. The US was particularly anxious to make a treaty and open commerce with the Japanese. In 1853, the American government sent a formal mission to the emperor headed by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, leading a squadron of four war ships and 560 men.
There are a lot of great books on Japan, of course. One that's been especially helpful to me in writing these posts is Japan: Its History and Culture, by W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik. There's also a very enjoyable travel memoir called A Year in Japan, by Kate T. Williamson. Both are available in the Hansisgreat Bookstore, or online at Barnes & Noble.
For my posts on other Nations of the World, click here.