Sunday, April 7, 2013

Someone in a Tree - 19th Century Asia

Hello, again! Here is a kind of fun representation of the song Someone in a Tree, of Pacific Overtures, a musical written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. This show is set in Japan,1853, and  is about some facts that happened  when the Commodore Mathew Perry was sent to Japan to open trade between the United States of America and that country under gunboat diplomacy, told from the point of view of the Japanese

The History behind the Song

By the beginning of the 19th century, most countries in Asia were really isolated. Some of the most important were China, Japan, and Korea. If China was isolated, Japan was even more, and Korea the most of all. When China began to open trade with Western Countries, there were several rebellions, which were all stopped by multi-national forces. This, and other things, made Japan don't want to open trade with western countries.

During that time, Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States, and he was decided to open trade with Japan for getting different commodities, a sphere of influence, and westernizing that country. Therefore, he decided to send commodore Mathew Perry with some ships to Japan, so that he could negotiate with the Japanese and open trade between both countries. He simply said "Speak softly and carry a big stick." This meant that Commodore Perry should speak in terms of peace and try to convince them, but he was at the same time showing off the power of his nation as a warning to those who could oppose him.

Commodore Mathew Perry as depicted by a Japanese artist.

So Commodore Mathew Perry set course   towards Japan, carrying four war steamboats with him. This is now known as the "Gunboat Diplomacy." While using the boats for harming the Japanese wasn't really in Perry's intentions, it was kind of saying "Hey, if you want to be friends with us, that's great; if you don't, well... we have this 4 war steamboats in your port, and it's only a part of our strength."

When Perry arrived in Japan, he thought that he was going to speak with the emperor, but the one who had real power back then was the Shogun, while the emperor was just a figurehead. They weren't conformed with showing off their weapons and technology, but they also decided to show off their wealth. As it says in the song, "Some of them have gold on their coats. One of them has gold." In the song there is also a very important part that says: "They kept drinking cups of tea." Tea was one of the commodities that Western countries were looking for in Asia, so it's pretty relevant.

The Japanese accepted the "terms of conditions" Mathew Perry imposed on them for opening trade between the Japanese and the Americans, and they were finally opened to the west. This generated a series of disagreements in Japan, but not as much as in China, and there weren't any major rebellions. Instead, they saw in the opening to the West an opportunity of getting new ideas.

Japan became a world power after this meeting between two different worlds, and still is nowadays.

About The Song

In  "Someone in a Tree" two witnesses describe negotiations between the Japanese and the Americans. The main characters in this song of the musical are an Old man,a  reciter, a boy, and a soldier. There is an important line that says: "No one knows what happened in the treaty house". So the song gives us the answer to that question from three different points of view: The old man who remembers watching from the top of a tree when he was a boy; the same old man when he was 10 years old; and a soldier that was hiding under the floorboards of the treatry house. So, the old man and the boy tell us what they have seen, and the soldier tells us what he heard while hiding in the treaty house

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