MIT Visualizing Cultures

Yokohama Boomtown Curriculum, Lesson 07

DBQ: The Changing Relationship between Japan and the West

This lesson is provided as a culminating lesson for the Yokohama Boomtown curriculum. It assumes that students have become acquainted with the unit, its historic content, and the art within it by having completed at least one lesson in the curriculum. Students should have a working knowledge of the opening of Japan by U.S. commodore Matthew Perry in the 1850s (for more information on this event, see the Visualizing Cultures unit Black Ships and Samurai as well as the 1858 Harris Treaty establishing Yokohama as a treaty port.

Document-based questions (DBQs) are widely used at the secondary level to develop student essay-writing skills using analysis, organization, and synthesis. Many DBQs include one or more visual documents. This DBQ asks students to rely solely on visual documents to support their essay response. In order for students of all levels to recognize and perform the process of writing a DBQ response, the actual steps of synthesis and organization are made explicit in this DBQ.

Students construct a response to a DBQ that addresses Era 7 Standard 3E of the national history standards: the student understands how Japan was transformed from feudal shogunate to modern nation-state in the 19th century. Therefore, the student is able to assess the impact of Western ideas….The student is able to explain changes in Japan’s relations with China and the Western powers from the 1850s to the 1890s.

The DBQ focuses on the changing relationship between Japan and the West as reflected in Japanese art between 1853 (the arrival of Commodore Perry) and the 1860s and 1870s (the boom period of the Yokohama treaty port). Students will work across two Visualizing Cultures units—Black Ships and Samurai and Yokohama Boomtown. Students will draw upon visuals from Black Ships and Samurai but they need not have studied that site to undertake this DBQ. They will analyze the messages conveyed in Japanese images from two time periods and then compare and contrast images to respond to the question below:

Document the changing relationship between Japan and the West as reflected in Japanese art between 1853 (the arrival of Commodore Perry) and the 1870s (the boom period of the Yokohama treaty port). How and why did Japanese perceptions and attitudes about the West change from 1853 to the 1870s?

National History Standards

At the conclusion of this activity, students will be better able to:
 • Read and analyze visual texts.
 • Compare and contrast the messages of primary source materials.
 • Understand changes in the relations between Japan and the West over time.
 • Organize and synthesize information.
 • Develop and/or refine the skills necessary to succeed at DBQs.

Time Required
Two class periods

Materials and Preparation
 • Internet access for each student
 • Copies of Handout 07-A for all students
 • Practice Exercise

1. Introducing the content. This DBQ assumes basic knowledge of the “opening” of Japan to Western trade in 1853 and 1854, when the U.S. government sent Commodore Matthew Perry to negotiate with Japan for trading privileges for the United States.

Review the key points of that encounter with students. Bullet points are provided in the Teacher Background Notes. This encounter is the subject of the Visualizing Cultures unit Black Ships and Samurai.

Also, conduct a brief review of student learning from any previous lesson in the Yokohama Boomtown curriculum (Lessons 1–6). Specifically, students should know:
 • The Harris Treaty of 1858 established a range of trade privileges for the United States, including the establishment of American settlements in treaty ports.
 • Several European nations followed suit by negotiating their own treaties with Japan.
 • Yokohama was the largest and most vibrant of these treaty ports, bringing together people of six Western nations, Japan, China, and India.
 • The tradition of capturing everyday life through woodblock prints that could be mass produced and widely distributed had developed during the Tokugawa period. In the Yokohama treaty port of the 1860s and 1870s, woodblock print artists focused on capturing and conveying—primarily to Japanese audiences—all aspects of foreign life and Japanese-Western interaction.

2. The DBQ. Many students will be familiar with the concept and processes of Document-Based Questions. If students are unfamiliar with DBQs, introduce this process of formulating responses to essay questions by analyzing and applying information from a predetermined set of data sources. Inform students that they will follow the process of constructing a DBQ response working entirely from visual sources within the Black Ships and Samurai and Yokohama Boomtown units.

3. Introduce or review the steps to be taken in constructing a response to a DBQ:
 • Analysis
 • Organization
 • Synthesis
 • Generalization
 • Essay-Writing

Inform students that they will be working on answers to this DBQ individually. If the class is new to these skills, or can benefit from guided instruction, stop the students after each section of the DBQ and check their progress with each particular skill.

Note: teachers may choose whether to have the students generate thesis statements and outlines for an essay or write full essays.

Direct students to Handout 07-A, which provides the directions and step-by-step process for developing a DBQ response. Note: the images with which students will work are included in the handout, which can be printed for working offline. However, students will have access to larger, clearer images if they can work online; this option is highly recommended.

Lesson developed by Lynn Parisi.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology © 2008 Visualizing Cultures