by Marcel Thach
In the latter half of the sixteenth century, feudal Japan was unified into one nation through the efforts of three great daimyo: (feudal lords) Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. After the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in1600, Japan was firmly under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu who then proclaimed himself Shogun. What followed was the longest era of peace which Japan had ever enjoyed. This peace was broken in 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Edo (now Tokyo) with four warships. Previously, Japan had been a 'closed country;' no trade was allowed with other nations-save for the Dutch who had enjoyed limited trade with the Japanese since the sixteenth century. After the colonization of China, the Western Powers-America in particular-turned their eye towards Japan and saw a country rich with coal deposits-one which they could colonize and exploit as they had China and other East Asian nations such as India. In 1846, the American Commodore James Biddle landed in Edo Bay and had his request for trade denied. The Americans, however, would not accept denial. Thus, in 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry was sent to Japan with the message that 'the United States...wanted to live in peace and friendship with Japan, but no friendship [could] exist unless Japan [ceased] to act towards Americans as if they were her enemies." Of course, the message also indicated that if Japan denied their request, 'a much larger force' would be sent (Beasley, 2000, 28.)
The Tokugawa Shogunate, not having the power to expel Perry,
was forced to sign unfair treaties. Within a year, Japanese ports were open
to American trade. The other Western Powers soon followed the lead of America.
Consequently, Japan was forced to sign treaty after treaty. This led to a
split of political beliefs in Japan. The new fifteen-year-old Emperor, Mutsuhito
took a firm and clear stand against Western Imperialism while the Tokugawa
bakufu, ('tent government' or 'Shogunate') threatened with destruction
by the West had no choice but to side with the Imperialist powers. Tensions
built and in 1868 culminated in an act known as the Meiji Restoration (the
Emperor took the name Meiji, meaning, 'Enlightened One,') when the Japanese
Court announced the restoration of the Emperor's power. The Emperor had always
been the true leader of Japan, however, since 1192, the Shogun had been the
de facto ruler of Japan (Newman, 378.) The Tokugawa Shogun was then deposed
and the Emperor was made the head-of-state in Japan once more. Regardless,
the fall of the Tokugawa bakufu is directly related to Western Imperialism;
it presented the Tokugawa bakufu with challenges it could not handle.
The Imperialist Powers created a situation which forced the bakufu
to reverse its sakoku ('closed country' or isolationist) policies by
defeating China in the First Opium War. The Perry Expedition forced the bakufu
to sign treaties which the Japanese Populus did not favour. Moreover, it forced
Japan to sign the Unequal Treaties which led to a split between the Imperial
Court and the Tokugawa bakufu. This split resulted in the creation
of an anti-bakufu, anti-West slogan around which the Japanese population
could rally. The West also forced the bakufu to take a strong stance
against those who were anti-Western, thus creating the shishi. Finally,
the Richardson Affair united the two shishi factions of Choshu and
Satsuma, creating an effective resistence to the Shogunate.
In the early nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution resulted in the creation of steamships. These ships allowed for faster transportation throughout the world. As such, they began to penetrate Asia. After Britain conquered Java, they gained ambitions of holding a trade monopoly in Asia. In 1808, the HMS Phaeton, a British ship, entered Nagasaki. They attempted to trade with Japan and, when they were turned away, they threatened to bombard the city (Turnbull, 158.) Further British penetration occurred in 1817 and 1818 at Uraga, in 1824 in Hitachi, and in the same year, a British ship landed on the island of Takarajima-this specific incident resulted in a conflict between the British and the Japanese. The British, when turned away, fired upon Japanese officials, wounding several of them. The bakufu, furious at this, declared in 1825 the Uchi-harai-rei ('No Second Thought Edict.') The Uchi-harai-rei stated that "any foreign ships which violated Japanese waters would be attacked and driven off without a second thought" (Turnbull, 158.) More importantly, with the Uchi-harai-rei, the bakufu made anti-foreignism part of if its foreign policy. This created a substantial amount of problems for the bakufu after 1842.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Britain had slowly begun to expand its influence in Asia by trading with China. A number of Chinese goods became wildly popular in Britain; mainly, tea. The Chinese government, however, wished to be left in isolation and, thus, passed a law stating that only bullion could be exchanged for Chinese goods (Palmer, 650.) While the British, at first, reluctantly agreed to these terms, they soon found it to be too expensive as the demand for tea in Britain increased. For their part, the Qing dynasty in the early nineteenth century was dealing with a number of rebellions as the Qing were failing to maintain order in China. In 1800, the White Lotus Society revolted. In 1813, the Heavenly Reason Society also revolted and nearly seized Peking (now modern day Beijing) (Palmer, 649.) The British, seeing a weakness in the Qing dynasty, attempted to bypass the aforementioned law. Opium, in the 1840's, grew in vast quantities in three places in the world: the Ottoman Empire, Northern China, and in the Bengal and Malwa provinces in India which was possessed by the British. Thus, the British solved their problem by smuggling tons of Opium into China which it traded for Chinese goods and tea (Palmer, 650.) "This trade...produced, quite literally, a country filled with drug addicts" (Hooker, 13.) After 1836, this drug trafficking became illegal in China. However, the flow of Opium only increased. Very few drug cartels of the modern day can come close to matching the England of the nineteenth century in terms of criminality (Hooker, 13.) Lin Tse-hsu, the Chinese Imperial Commissioner at that time wrote to Queen Victoria stating that
There are those who smuggle opium to seduce the Chinese people and so cause the spread of the poison to all provinces. Such persons who only care to profit themselves, and disregard their harm to others, are not tolerated by the laws of heaven and are unanimously hated by human beings. His Majesty the Emperor, upon hearing of this, is in a towering rage. He has especially sent me, his commissioner, to come to Kwangtung and together with the governor-general and governor jointly to investigate and settle this matter...How can you bear to go further, selling products injurious to others in order to fulfill your insatiable desire? (Harper Collins, 266-69)
Lin also enacted laws which allowed for the execution of Opium
traders. The British were furious and declared war on China in 1839. The Chinese
were completely out-gunned. In 1842, the defeated Chinese were forced to sign
the Treaty of Nanking. The treaty demanded British extraterritoriality-all
British citizens in China were subject to British, not Chinese laws-and five
ports were gained for the British: Canton, Shanghai, Foochow, Ningpo, and
Amoy. Furthermore, the Chinese were forced to cede Hong Kong to the British
(Hooker, 14.) Japan was not unaware of this. "While the most assiduous
Westerner could learn nothing of the internal affairs of Japan, an educated
Japanese could, if he wished, arrive at some idea of the French Revolution,
or know who was president of the United States" (Palmer, 545.) News of
China's defeat spread quickly to Japan. The bakufu, fearing that an
attack on a foreigner as permitted in the Uchi-harai-rei might result
in a war with the West, relaxed the edict. This created a large problem for
the bakufu. The Uchi-harai-rei had created a strong anti-foreign
sentiment in Japan. The complete reverse in foreign policy antagonized the
bakufu in the eyes of the same anti-foreigners which the bakufu
had encouraged. As has been stated, however, the bakufu had no choice
but to issue the Uchi-harai-rei as the West had threatened the sakoku
policy of the Shogunate. The West's destruction of China also left the bakufu
with little choice but to relax the aforementioned Edict. Had the Shogunate
not, Japan might have shared China's fate. Thus, Western Imperialism was responsible
for creating an anti-bakufu sentiment in Japan which had not previously
existed. This anti-bakufu sentiment would prove critical in the collapse
of the Tokugawa bakufu.
Once the United States won the 1848 Mexican-American war and had acquired most of the Oregon Territory, the transcontinental expansion of the United States had been completed. The spirit of Manifest Destiny had not subsided, however, and America desired to expand its influence and territory into the Pacific. "The acquisition of California gave the United States valuable ports from which to launch its Pacific trade" (Bragdon, 382.) The weakness of the Chinese government due to the First Opium War has been illustrated, however, in the years between 1842-1850, (the year in which American sailors began to visit Asia en masse) China was further weakened by the horrors of the Taiping Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion was an internal affair; save for the few Christian ideals which the Taipings had learned from missionaries and that the leader of the Taiping believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus, the Rebellion occurred because of political events in China-Christian nations were not involved. The Taipings' grievances were issues such as poverty, extortion, and corruption in the Qing government. In the Taiping's war against the Qing government, twenty million people were killed-the entire population of Great Britain at that time (Palmer, 649.) Thus, the Americans met little resistence when they began to enter China. The Chinese were actually more amiable to the Americans than to Europeans as the Americans were not interesting in annexing any of China (Bragdon, 383.) American ships which wished to sail to or from China needed to refuel and resupply themselves; Japan's location made it the ideal location for such. America also sought to gain trade rights in Japan as a bonus. It was with these desires that President Millard Fillmore sent Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan. In 1853, Perry sailed into Edo Bay with 4 warships and demanded to speak to the Emperor. Perry, having been denied such a meeting, left a message from the President for the Emperor:
These are the only objects for which I have sent Commodore Perry, with a powerful squadron, to pay a visit to your imperial majesty's renowned city of Edo: Friendship, commerce, a supply of coal and provisions, and protection for our shipwrecked people (Bragdon, 383)
The message also indicated that if Japan denied their request,
'a much larger force' would be sent (Beasley, 2000, 28.) For a year after
Perry left, the bakufu debated possible courses of action. Most officials
in the bakufu were conservative and hoped that Perry would not return.
Unfortunately, despite Fillmore's friendly words, a year later, Perry returned
to Japan with twice the amount of warships that he had brought in 1863 and
trained their guns upon the city of Edo. The bakufu had no choice but
to sign a series of treaties with Commodore Perry which are known as the Perry
Treaties (Beasley, 1972, 96.) These treaties opened the ports of Shimoda and
Hakodate for trade. The Perry Treaties, dismissed as too conciliatory towards
Japan in Europe, were deemed harsh and unfair in Japan. The Japanese people
blamed both the West and the bakufu. One for its heavy-handedness and
the other for its weakness. Thus, Western Imperialism had given those who
were isolationist a reason to distrust and revile the Tokugawa bakufu.
Furthermore, the Perry Treaties were a foundation which the rest of Europe
could build upon-once they had the chance to.
They did not get that chance until 1858. Increasing tensions between Britain and Russia in 1854 led to a competition over trade rights in Japan. Britain sent Sir James Stirling to Japan in 1854 with the purpose of obtaining a declaration denying Japanese ports to Russian ships. He failed at this as he had an inefficient translator. Stirling's Russian counterpart, Putiatin fared no better (Beasley, 2000, 29.) Instead of attempting to further 'open' Japan, the Imperialist powers were too busy trying to 'close' Japan to their rivals. The Crimean War broke out in 1854 and lasted until 1856. In 1856-57, the British were then occupied with the 'Arrow War' or The Second Opium War. In 1856, the Chinese seized The Arrow, a British Opium Runner. The Chinese government sent her crew to prison and destroyed its cargo of Opium. The British and French retaliated with war. The Chinese, finding themselves in a more difficult situation than the last Opium War due to the Taiping Rebellion, quickly capitulated (Palmer, 651.) In 1858, however, the Imperialist powers returned to Japan. Using the intimidation gained from both the startling victory of China (startling, in Japanese eyes, who view China as the cultural center of Asia) and its superior firepower, the West forced the Tokugawa Shogunate to sign a series of treaties known to Japanese history as the Unequal Treaties. As the name implies, these treaties treated Japan as an unequal, an inferior. They declared that Japan was to have a low tariff on imports and was denied permission to change the tariff in the future without the consent of the Imperialist powers. Furthermore, the treaties called for a foreign minister from every major power (Britain, France, the United States, Russia, and Austria) to reside in Edo. The treaties also called for extraterritoriality in Japan. Lastly, the Unequal Treaties required that four more ports were to be opened: Nagasaki, Kanagawa, (now Yokohama) Niigata, and Hyogo (now Kobe.) Foreigners were also allowed to reside in Edo and Osaka. (Beasley, 2000, 31.) After the signing of the Unequal Treaties, Lord Elgin added a 'most-favoured nation' clause which stated that Britain would automatically gain any privileges thereafter obtained by any other power. The forced signing of the Unequal Treaties led to a split in the Japanese governmental order. The bakufu was forced to support its position of anti-seclusion. The politically active daimyo, however, were vehemently supportive of seclusion and viewed the Unequal Treaties as a result of the bakufu's incompetence (Beasley, 2000, 31,2.) What boosted the daimyo's seclusionist position, however, was support from the Imperial Court. The Emperor, Komei, wrote in his will that he was forced to sign the Unequal Treaties under duress-which, in all likelihood, was true. This split in governmental order was most significant; the Japanese worshiped the Emperor as divine and believed that he had descended directly from the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. The bakufu, however, held no claim to divinity (Newman, 365.) This forced Japanese public opinion against the bakufu which it believed was violating the rights of a God. As has been illuminated, however, this split in public opinion was caused by the forced signing of the Unequal Treaties by Western Imperialist powers.
This split caused the creation of a slogan: 'sonno-joi' ('Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian.') Many daimyo wished for the Emperor to reclaim his former role as head-of-state in Japan-the only way that could be achieved was by overthrowing the Tokugawa bakufu. They desired this because they believed that the Shogun was not actually doing his duties as Shogun. When Minamoto Yoritomo succeeded in winning the Genji War in 1185, he was the de facto ruler of Japan. 7 years later, he took the title of Sei-i-tai-Shogun ('The Commander-in-Chief for the Submission of the Barbarians'.) This title had previously been one of the Emperor's many titles. After its forces had been rendered impotent in the Genji War by Minamoto, it was believed that only Minamoto could subdue the 'barbarians' (Newman, 379.) When the Tokugawa bakufu signed the Unequal Treaties, it seemed to be capitulating to the demands of the West who the Japanese termed 'barbarians.' As such, many thought that the bakufu was no longer capable of fulfilling its task of subduing barbarians. Thus, they wished the Emperor to reclaim that title in order to fulfil joi-the expulsion of the barbarian. The slogan called for nothing less than the deposition of the Shogunate. What 'sonno-joi' did in Japan is similar to what the slogan 'no taxation without representation' did in Revolutionary America: it gave the people a slogan to rally around; it gave them a purpose (Beasley, 1972, 55.) This purpose was anti-Shogunate in nature. The creation of this slogan is the result of the signing of the Unequal Treaties which was forced upon the bakufu by the Western Imperialist powers.
The anti-bakufu sentiment created by 'sonno-joi' created a strong call for governmental reforms, particularly in the Choshu and Satsuma provinces who had never been fully subdued by Tokugawa Ieyasu 250 years earlier (Palmer, 546.) Choshu and Satsuma called for an all-out war with the West in order to fulfil 'joi.' The president of the bakufu's roju (council) was Abe Masahiro was wise enough to see than an all-out war with the West was impossible and foolish. Townsend Harris, the American foreign minister in Japan, (whose very existence in Japan was owed to the Unequal Treaties as has been noted above) demanded that a 'strong hand' be appointed in order to quell the movement. The bakufu's 'strong hand' was Ii Naosuke (Turnbull, 161.) Ii Naosuke was a strong supporter of the bakufu and could trace his lineage back to one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's staunchest allies at the Battle of Sekigahara. Ii Naosuke was far from popular with the Japanese when he was appointed as tairo (Great Councillor.) In 1858, the Shogun, Tokugawa Iesada, died without an heir. The supporters of the bakufu wished for Tokugawa Yoshitomi to become the next Shogun since he supported an anti-seclusionist policy. The supporters of sonno-joi wished for Hitotsubashi Hoshinobu, the son of Tokugawa Nariaki to become Shogun. Tokugawa Nariaki had been killed for suggesting that Townsend Harris be decapitated. Ii Naosuke, acting with the encouragement of Townsend Harris, (who had a particular fondness for his head) abused his legal authority and appointed Tokugawa Yoshitomi as Shogun (Turnbull, 161.) The sonno-joi factions were furious at this. Ii Naosuke, instead of listening to their opinions, went further and quickly suppressed political opposition. Those who criticized his choice of Shogun were publicly executed. This made him quite unpopular. Ii Naosuke was responsible for shifting public opinion towards the sonno-joi factions more than it had already been. Ii Naosuke went one step too far in his zealous annihilation of political opposition: he threatened the Imperial Court with elimination if they did not support the bakufu's decisions. The Imperial Court, powerless since 1192, had no choice but to concede to such threats (Beasley, 2000, 35.) This did not silence opposition as Ii Naosuke had intended, but instead, strengthened it. Ii Naosuke, by threatening the Imperial Court committed two transgressions of samurai tradition. He had gone against the Sovereign, the Emperor, the God of all Gods-worse he had threatened him with death and the institution that he stood for with elimination. He was also complaisant to the strong and tyrannical to the weak. At this time, the daimyo of Choshu and Satsuma began to look for ways to weaken the bakufu's authority over them (Beasley, 2000, 40.) Because of Ii Naosuke's political blunders, sonno-joi supporters became more radical, faced with the abolition of their religious figurehead. A new terrorist group known as the shishi ('The Men of a Higher Purpose') were formed. They savagely murdered Ii Naosuke on the 24 March, 1860. As has been seen, the shishi were formed in response to Ii Naosuke's coup (Turnbull, 162.) Ii Naosuke, however, had been appointed by Western Imperialists. The shishi were to become a strong political force within Japan; they were, however, divided into two major factions: those in Satsuma and those in Choshu. Each distrusted one another and each was convinced that the other was formulating a plan to set up a new bakufu. In 1864, there was an open exchange of blows between the two provinces (Turnbull, 173.) While divided, the Tokugawa could remain in power without fear of the shishi.
It was to be Western Imperialism which would drive Satsuma and Choshu together. The West wished for Edo to account for the rise in terrorist attacks in Japan. The bakufu had claimed that trade with the West had raised the price of food, producing unrest. It was, as has been shown, a complete lie. Rutherford Alcock, the British foreign minister in Japan, originally believed such as well. He convinced himself that the Shogunate's lie was true when another assassination attempt was made on a member of the Shogun's council. Alcock went back to London and on June 6, 1862, a treaty was signed. It postponed the opening of further ports until 1868. "News of the London agreement had barely reached Japan when another anti-foreign incident occurred" (Beasley, 2000, 43.) In September 1862, a British businessman named Charles Richardson was in Japan. Charles Richardson had always been 'high-handed and insensitive' to the Japanese (Beasley, 2000, 44.) One morning in September, he and three of friends were riding when they met the procession of the daimyo of Satsuma, Shimazu Hisamitsu. They showed a great deal of disrespect towards the daimyo. One outraged samurai slashed at him. Other samurai attacked his three friends who, after a brief struggle, managed to escape. Richardson attempted to get away as well, but fell off his horse. He was, subsequently killed (Turnbull, 171.) The British were enraged by this and ordered the Shogun to pay £100,000. They also demanded that the Satsuma daimyo to pay £25,000 and execute the samurai responsible. Satsuma, of course, refused to pay. The bakufu managed to stall Britain for almost a year, but on June 24, 1863, the British appeared in Japan. This was a very unfortunate date for the British to arrive. The shishi had forsaken random assassinations and had matured into a stable political group which had issued a decree: the shishi would murder all foreigners still in Japan on June 25, 1863. Subsequently, the shishi in Choshu opened fire upon the Royal Navy Squadron of Britain. The British did not retaliate as they were already on their way to Satsuma. Having collected their £100,000 from the bakufu, they now sought to claim their £25,000 from Satsuma (Turnbull, 172.) The Satsuma refused to pay and the British bombarded Kagoshima, the capital of Satsuma. Not long afterwards, Shimonoseki, the capital of Choshu received similar treatment. After the British Navy left Japan, Satsuma and Choshu realized how weak Japan actually was. They knew now that Japan could not openly wage war against the West. They also realized that Japan's central government needed to be strengthened in order to repel to the West. Thus, the two united and the shishi gained true momentum. They convinced Sir Harry Parkes (Alcock's replacement) that the bakufu would be eliminated quite soon and that it would be in Britain's best interests to deal directly with them and the Emperor. The French, however, decided to back the Shogun and, thus, a rivalry developed between the French and the English (Turnbull, 173.) This rivalry greatly strengthened the shishi; the British supplied them with the military might to destroy the bakufu. France gave no such aid to the bakufu. In 1866, the shishi waged war against the bakufu and the Tokugawa were routed. This convinced all in Japan that the Tokugawa could no longer govern Japan. This loss of confidence and the destructive war which the Tokugawa Shogunate was engaged in was made possible by the unification of Satsuma and Choshu. It has been shown that Satsuma and Choshu could not have occurred without Western Imperialism.
Thus, the collapse of the Tokugawa bakufu was the result of Western Imperialism. The West forced a reversal in the bakufu's foreign policy, thus isolating it from the anti-foreign element which it had fostered. Matthew Perry forced the bakufu to sign treaties which the Japanese people did not favour. Furthermore, the West forced Japan to sign the Unequal Treaties which polarized the Tokugawa bakufu and the Imperial Court on the issue of seclusion. This split resulted in the creation of an anti-bakufu, anti-West slogan around which the Japanese population could rally. The Imperialist Powers also placed Ii Naosuke into a position of power. His political exploits created the shishi. Finally, the Richardson Affair united the two shishi factions of Choshu and Satsuma, creating an effective resistence to the Shogunate. After the summer war of 1866, two events took place which sealed the fate of the Tokugawa bakufu. In 1867, the Emperor Komei died and was succeeded by his 14 year old son, Mutsuhito and the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshitomi also died and was replaced by Tokugawa Keiki. The shishi then manipulated the new Shogun into relinquishing his power, giving back the Imperial Court the commission of Shogun and ended a 675 year old institution. On January 3 1868, the young Emperor Mutsuhito declared himself to be the ruler of Japan's central government and took the name of 'Meiji' (Turnbull, 174.) Such was the Meiji Restoration which changed the course of Japanese history forever, severing its ties to the past and putting it on a course towards modernization.
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