chapter  2
24 Pages

Japan and the West

Japan's modern history is the story of a country in an international environment. The active involvement between Japan and the Western world which began in the 1850s has been so important for both that a consideration of Japan’s place in the world order is an appropriate starting point for any discussion of her recent history. Yet geographical remoteness had earlier assisted the minimizing of contacts even with neighbouring states, and only 150 years ago Japan was one of tne most isolated countries in the world. The legacy of isolation remains of fundamental importance. Japanese society has evolved singular features, which must be understood in the context of a very particular historical development, in which a profound sense of uniqueness, separateness and isolation has been a major element. The shift away from isolation has been variously interpreted. Was Japan recognizing herself as one country among many, balancing domestic priorities and concerns against the demands of the broader international order, opening up and adjusting her internal arrangements to effect a more cosmopolitan perspective? Or was the change a more superficial one in which a crude, but no longer viable, form of isolation was replaced by a more subtle variant, in which the techniques of the West were adopted to preserve and strengthen an essentially unchanged sense of cultural uniqueness and social order, and ensure survival in an unpredictable and hostile world? This ambiguity — not yet fully dispelled — has been of immense importance both to the international community and to Japan herself.