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Real History in a Fantastical World


            Japan's history even during the Edo period under the strict rule of the Tokugawa shogunate was a rich panoply of color and life and social movement. It was a peaceful time. Culture didn't so much stultify as mature. Though there was little interaction with the outside world, Japan's native culture became rich and deep as people created and explored with what they had.

            The world was changing everywhere in the 19th Century. Steam engines revamped the world in unforeseeable ways as the Industrial Revolution took off. Exploration and consequent exploitation had already led to colonization and trade between European nations and the rest of the world. Political and philosophical revolutions in France and the Americas shook up social norms in unprecedented ways. The forces of religious and cultural imperialism coupled with the desire for trade and riches led to the period of hegemony that resulted in not only Japan's insistence on its isolation but the way it broke out of it.

            Steam engines made ocean-going trade faster. They also altered routes. Commercial vessels no longer had to follow the winds. This meant that the US, at last reaching what it thought was its Manifest Destiny of controlling north America from coast to coast, felt impelled to cross the Pacific quickly and assert dominance over the vast continent of Asia that all the Western powers somehow felt should belong to them.

            What the American steamships needed was a place to provision and a place to refuel.  Japan seemed like an obvious choice.

            In spite of the closure of the country to foreign trade except for the allowed presence of the Dutch to the south and some Chinese and Korean traders to the north, Japan was seen as ripe for conquest and colonization by assorted Western powers. After all, the various Western powers had managed to colonize and control most of Asia. Why not Japan, isolated in the north Pacific? And why not the United States?

            Thus, in 1858, Commodore Perry sailed his black ships into Tokyo Bay and demanded the country open itself up to foreign trade. Japan did not respond either as quickly or as well as it might have and the first treaties were fantastically unfair. This led to the collapse of the shogunate and the restoration of the monarchy as the governing force in 1868. How that all happened, and why, is a study that would fill a library of academic tomes. It wasn't at all easy and internal conflicts and debates continued for decades. Somehow, those were largely kept separate from the dealings with the foreigners. 

            What resulted was this: Japan renegotiated those treaties. Japan refused to become a colony or a puppet state. Japan established diplomatic relations and formed trade relationships throughout the world. By the end of the 19th Century, Japan had established itself as an equal on the world stage and had become a first world power to be reckoned with. How did Japan manage that?

            This very short period was an amazing time for Japan and the Japanese people.  It was a time when anything could happen and often did.  Japan did what no other country did or could have done. 

            This is the world of the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy.

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