The relative isolation of Japan during the Edo period led to a significant flowering of indigenous culture. Foreign influence remained—the Japanese were fascinated by what they saw as exotic Western culture and science—but it was severely restricted in how it operated. The Japanese people weren't isolated from the outside world completely, but during the Edo period, engagement with foreigners, especially Westerners, was carried out strictly on the basis of national interest. For instance, the Dutch East India Company was allowed to continue trading in Japan, but only from a single port: Nagasaki. This arrangement gave Japan the best of both worlds: it could benefit from trading with the West without being subject to its domination and control. Domestic industry thrived and the country became more prosperous as a consequence.
Although in retrospect, the Edo period can be seen as one of peace, prosperity, and stability, the relative isolation of Japan during this time made it vulnerable to aggressive overtures from the more scientifically and technologically advanced Western powers. Isolation had the additional consequence of strengthening and maintaining a rigid social hierarchy that held back the development of Japan as a commercial and military power. It was somewhat inevitable that at some point a Western power would take advantage of Japan's relative weakness, and so it proved in 1853, when four American battleships arrived in Edo Bay. The United States demanded to trade with Japan, forcing the country to open up to the world. Faced with this stark ultimatum, the Japanese had no choice but to relent, and so began the slow decline of the Edo period.