The story of Madame Butterfly takes place in Japan in the city of Nagasaki -- Japan's window to the world. This seaport city is located in southwest Japan on the west coast of the island of Kyushu and is the closest Japanese city to mainland China. This beautiful city, from which Cio-Cio-San awaited the return of Lt. Pinkerton atop a mountain overlooking the ocean, is remembered as an unfortunate victim in changing the course of history.
During the 1630s, in an effort to keep order within the country and to keep Japan isolated from outside influences, the Japanese government severed its ties with the rest of the world. All European traders were forced to leave, and no one was allowed to enter. One Dutch ship, only once a year, was allowed to trade at a post established on the tiny island of Deshima in the harbor at Nagasaki.
July 8, 1853 marked the end of Japan's isolation. Accompanied by four American war ships, American Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry arrived at Edo Bay (Tokyo). The United States was concerned about the mistreatment of American sailors who had been shipwrecked on the Japanese islands. Perry presented the Japanese officials with U.S. demands to open diplomatic and trade relations and to ensure good treatment for shipwrecked Americans, and stated that he would return for a reply. Perry re-entered Edo Bay in February of 1854, armed with more warships. The Japanese government, aware of their inability to match the American weapons, signed an agreement with the United States -- ending the isolation of Japan.
This change was revolutionary for Japan. The unequal treaties (which granted foreign powers rights not granted to Japan in return) created hostility among the Japanese. Believing that the military government known as shogunate had failed them, the people forced the shogun to resign in 1867. Imperial power was restored and the emperor regained his traditional powers.
Emperor Mutsuhito, at the age of fifteen, assumed the throne in 1867 as the first Emperor of the Restoration period. He adopted as his title Meiji, meaning enlightened ruler. His 45-year reign stood as Japan's golden age. Utilizing manufacturing methods and new ideas imported from Western worlds, Japan became an industrial and military power by the early 1900s.
During the 1890s, Japan began a policy of imperialistic expansion. By 1919, Japan had become a world power through the expansion of its territory, resulting from three wars: the first Chinese-Japanese war (1894-1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and World War I (1914-1918), securing areas of China, Korea, and islands in the Western Pacific.
Following WWI, Japan was plagued by two decades of social and economic crisis as well as natural disasters. Through these years, a small group of relentless militant nationalists, who proposed to solve Japan's problems by expansion abroad and by reform at home, had been gaining increasing control over the civilian government. By the end of 1938, Japanese armies controlled most of eastern China. Japan sought to unite all of eastern Asia under Japanese control. In 1940, Japan signed an agreement with Germany and Italy strengthening their alliance of aggressive territorial expansion. (Germany, Italy, and Japan made up the "Axis powers" and Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States the "Allied powers.")
World War II had begun in Europe in 1939. Tensions rose between Japan and the United States, which opposed Japan's expansion in Southeast Asia. By 1941, Japan had overrun all of Indochina. In response, the U.S. joined with Great Britain and the Netherlands and imposed a total oil embargo on Japan. This was a devastating blow to the fuel-poor island nation. The only choice the Western nations presented to Japan was withdrawal from China and Southeast Asia. This, however, was not what Japan chose.
Realizing that only the United States had the power to stop Japan's expansion in Asia, Japanese military leaders began to plan for war against the United States. On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
During December of 1941, World War II became a global conflict. The United States, Canada, and Great Britain declared war on Japan. China declared war on the Axis Powers, and Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
With the surrender of Germany in May of 1945, the United States turned its full attention to Japan. American warships hammered Japanese coastal cities while American bombers hit industrial targets. The Americans had also been working on the "ultimate weapon" to end the war -- the atomic bomb.
Albert Einstein, a German-born scientist, had informed President Roosevelt of the possibility of creating a superbomb by splitting the nucleus of an atom. To prevent the Germans from developing such a bomb first, a top secret program known as the Manhattan Project was set up by the U.S. in 1942.
Following the death of President Roosevelt in April of 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman became the 33rd President of the United States. It was not until he assumed the role of the Presidency that he learned about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. The responsibility that befell Truman would change history.
During a conference with Allied leaders Winston Churchill (Britain) and Josef Stalin (Soviet) in Potsdam, Germany in July of 1945, President Truman learned of the successful test explosion of the atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. Armed with these results, the Allied leaders issued a statement to the Japanese threatening destruction unless they unconditionally surrendered. Japan continued to fight.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on Hiroshima, a Japanese city with many war plants. The bomb, known as "Little Boy," was a uranium weapon that exploded with a force equivalent of 12.5 kilotons of TNT killing an estimated 100,000 people. Thousands more died later of injuries and radiation. The U.S.S.R. declared war on Japan two days later. Japanese leaders still made no effort to stop the fighting.
At 11:01 a.m. on August 9, 1945, a second bomb, "Fat Man," fell over Nagasaki's Mitsubishi steel and arms complex. This plutonium bomb was almost twice the size of "Little Boy." Because Nagasaki is cut in two valleys by a mountain ridge that separates the industrial quarter from the rest of the city, it fared slightly better than Hiroshima, but the destruction and number of deaths were still devastating. This was the final blow that made the Japanese leaders realize the futility of continuing the war.
On August 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito (Japan's 124th Emperor in line of Jimmu), announced to his people that Japan had agreed to end the war. September 2, 1945 marked Japan's official surrender and the end of WWII.
For the people of Japan, the atomic bomb created a nightmare of death and suffering, but to the world it brought peace. Six years that marked mankind's greatest tragedy by claiming the lives of 55 million civilians and military casualties and consuming untold wealth had finally come to an end at Nagasaki.
OPERA ON TOUR