|Fig.1: Leave me alone...or else!
The state of Japan in the 1500s can be summed up in one word: RUN!!! During this time (called sengoku, or "Warring States" if you want to be less original), independent daimyo (local rulers) with their own collection of samurai and Yu-Gi-Oh cards fought against each other for control of the archipelago. Luckily, the end of the century would produce three statesmen later considered as modern Japan's "Founding Fathers" (which is sort of like the United States' Founding Fathers, without all the awkward slavery). While Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu were not really on the same side, their successive bouts of power would help bring the various factions together to realize the stupidity of war (which usually only occurred after those factions lost a battle). Tokugawa Ieyasu became the final benefactor of all this unity; once victorious over the Toyotomi clan at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, he established Tokugawa rule under the Tokugawa shogunate, complete with Tokugawa t-shirts and Tokugawa foam fingers. While Japan was technically ruled by an emperor, he had been merely a figurehead since the 12th century Genpei War made the shogun (military commander) the real boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho, etc.
|Fig.2: Hasekura Tsunenaga, wearing
his special "Pope-visiting" kimono.
But all of a sudden, Japan snapped. In 1616, the shogunate under Tokugawa Hidetada, son of founder Ieyasu, restricted trade to just a few ports, most notably Nagasaki. In 1622, officials executed many Christian converts and missionaries, sending a message throughout the country that people should knock it off with that Jesus stuff. By 1624, after seeing the hijinx they were causing in the Philippines, the shogun expelled the Spanish from the country (making the Aztec and Inca wish they thought of that). After ignoring several visits, letters, texts, tweets, and veiled threats of invasion from their concerned friends, the Closed Country Edict of 1635 prevented any foreigner from setting foot on Japanese soil without expressed written consent of the shogun or Major League Baseball. It also stated that Japanese couldn't even leave the country, lest they discover that fish could actually be eaten cooked!
The final straw came with the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637; what started as a tax revolt when the loyal daimyo obviously played a little too much Minecraft and wanted to build a castle exclusively from diamond ore, turned dangerous when Christians, sick of all the persecution, joined in. An excessive Japanese force of 125,000 zombie pigmen arrived and crushed the rebellion. The Dutch even provided gunpowder and cannons to the shogun's army, and were rewarded by being allowed to remain on an artificial island off of Nagasaki and trade when Japan "felt like it." The rest of the Europe was told to hit the road, Jack, and dontcha come back no more no more no more no more. Even merchants from China had to keep their distance from new volatile Japan, and were forced to go through middlemen if they wished for their lead-lined Happy Meal toys to make it as a choking hazard to little Japanese mouths.
|Fig.3: Luckily for Japan and their isolationism, they had a pretty good bouncer on their payroll.
|Fig.4: Yo, Buddha's so fat, he can hide
an entire crucifix under his back rolls.
There were several challenges to Japan's seclusion, ranging from vein attempts of merchant ships politely asking to trade, flying a Dutch flag when the sailors weren't even Dutch, and luring the Japanese out to port with Hello Kitty dolls. The breakthrough came in 1853, when American Naval Commodore Matthew Perry, with four frigates under his command, demanded for trade and diplomacy under threat of force (and you thought Jennifer Aniston was the most successful Friend outside of the show). He coerced the shogun to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa, giving extensive trading and visitation rights to the United States; the European powers soon followed suit, and Japan quickly went from a mint-condition still-in-the-box action figure to Fido's favorite chew toy. This created conflict within Japan itself, which is exactly what the Tokugawa had feared from the beginning! Clans sick of the shogunate rallied behind the emperor, whom after a seven-hundred-year power nap was ready to do something governmental for once. This eventually led to a civil war in 1867 between Tokugawa forces and those loyal to Emperor Meiji; though being way more out of shape compared to their samurai foes and needing a sugar break every ten minutes, imperial forces emerged victorious, and Japan was officially open for business.
|Fig.5: Hokusai used Surf! It's super effective!