150 years ago Japan was still a feudal society ruled by a shogun with lords (daimyo) and knights (samurai) as well as peasant farmers, artisans and merchants. The Emperor lived in Kyoto but had minimal political influence. Buddhism and native Shinto (‘the way of the gods’) combined with ancestral veneration to make a unique religious blend, while Confucianism had a strong influence on society. Only five years earlier a treaty had been signed with America to open the doors slightly to the outside world. For over 200 years Japan’s seclusion had been virtually complete; no foreigner could enter Japan, except for a few Dutch and Chinese traders on a tiny island near the city of Nagasaki. Any Japanese who left the shores of his country, even if by accident, was forbidden to return on pain of death.