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The Arrival of the Americans and the end of Edo Japan - Post Assessment Activity

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Social Studies +3 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

This collection serves to end the unit on Edo Japan and retake the discussion of how the period fits within the greater scene of world history. In our class, seclusion and openness of countries is an common through line, and so the arrival of the Americans effectively ending the Sakoku period is an important historical milestone. The main goal of this collection is to lead students into this dialectical reflection of how these two countries interacted and what this meant for a Japan that had consciously shut down most trade relations.  The opening lesson on Edo Japan puts in doubt how closed the country really was; this last lesson highlights how Edo Japan had evolved since the edict of 1635, and how it had to open its ports and face the conjunctions of the 19th century's international scene. 

This collection also brings into light reactions on both sides of the American arrival. Images and archives from both Japanese, as well as American witnesses, allow students to understand the motivations coming from East, as well as the West. 


Lesson plan (2 hours) 

1. Provide the students with the resources "4c United States-Japan Treaty single." "Black Ships and Samurai," "Founding Fragments - Commodore Perry," and "Matthew Calbraith Perry." Allow students time to browse at least two topics from the website and play the video "Founding Fragments - Commodore Perry" for the entire class. 

2. Using all the resources in Step 1, lead class through the visible thinking routine "True for who?" While completing this routine, highlight how each country struggles to defend their views. 

At the end of this unit, students have a fairly strong understanding of Japanese national interests. For this reason, the teacher can help provide information of the U.S.'s international stance during the 19th century. While the U.S. plays a background role in our curriculum, we do a quick mention of the Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine, as ways in which the students’ own country emulate cycles of international openness or seclusion. Following this through line, it is necessary to stress the arrival of Commodore Perry to Japan as a thematic intersection. The moment marks both the end of Edo period for Japan, and the United States’ efforts to expand their field of influence.

3. Allow students time to read further into the "Black Ships and Samurai" website. Students can also conduct quick research on the arrival of the Americans in 1853, and Japanese-American relations previous to this date.

4. Provide students a copy of Commodore Perry and President Fillmore's letter to the Emperor of Japan. Use resource "Letters of the Commodore Perry and President Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan (1852-1853)"  Do a close reading of the letters and highlight the main passages. 

5. Present the remaining images and complete a visible thinking routine "Parts/People/Interactions." Allow students to cite the letters in Step 4, as well as the images in this collection. At the end of this lesson, students are able to compare, as well as to question each country’s discourse of seclusion or non-intervention.