chapter  2
Naval Career, 1882–1920: From Student to Naval Academy President
Pages 35

Japan as an island nation had naturally developed considerable naval expertise. By the early seventeenth century, just prior to introducing an isolationist policy which effectively closed Japan to outside influence, its naval technology was in no way inferior to the maritime powers of the West. Indeed, there were even early efforts to construct a national navy. The decision to ban the construction and even possession of ocean-going craft and the instructions to put to death any sailors landing on Japanese soil was to effectively destroy that naval tradition. In the early seventeenth century, given the nature of ship technology, this presented no threat to Japan from Western powers. However, by closing Japan to all but the small Dutch settlement at Deshima, the 200 years’s isolation of Japan meant that it missed out on the great advancements in maritime science and the result was that the waters around Japan increasingly were transformed from a shield into a highway along which the great Western maritime powers could threaten and even attack Japan. By the mid-nineteenth century the Shogunate was increasingly helpless in the face of continued approaches by Western maritime powers and the result was that Bakufu’s weakening control of internal affairs resulted in them permitting the various domains to develop Western-style vessels and training and the Bakufu itself, faced with what was effectively a domestic naval arms race, inevitably made efforts to develop a national navy for both internal and indeed external security purposes. The army could draw on the samurai tradition but the emerging domain and national navies would have to train officers and men from scratch and naturally leaned heavily on foreign powers initially and naturally started with the Dutch.1