Satow’s Perception of the Meiji Revolution | History Dissertation

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Between 1853 and 1868, Japanese society underwent a profound and violent societal, economic, and cultural upheaval, the likes of which it had not seen in over 200 years. The ruling military government of Japan, the clan-pure Tokugawa Shogunate and its ancient feudal system of governance, disintegrated under internal pressure to reform to meet the challenges of the Industrial Age, embodied by foreign interests, particularly that of the United States and England, which used the threat of their military and technological superiority to force the Japanese to accept trade agreements. In doing so, the Shogunate wrote its final chapter and setthe state for a return to power of the Emperor, a quasi-religiousposition which since the 1600s had been relegated to ceremonial dutiesas the spiritual godfather of Japan, while the Shogunate and itssamurai warrior culture administered the country’s affairs. TheBritish Empire of the time was preoccupied initially with wars withRussia and China, but observed with keen interest the initial rumblingsof discontent and reform within Japan, precipitated by the bold movesof the United States to establish relations with Japan.

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Once theBritish wars had been concluded and Americans had done the proverbialdirty advance work of opening Japan up, the British established theirown presence within Japan as it underwent a rapid societalmetamorphosis. Over time, various representatives of foreigngovernments, most notably the eminent British interpreter and diplomatErnest Satow, went beyond active interest to active involvement in theinternal affairs of the Japanese transformation from Tokugawa Shogunaterule to restoration of the power of the Emperor, known as the MeijiRevolution. Some of this involvement was self-serving and destructive;some of it was noble, altruistic, and reflected a genuine appreciationand compassion for the Japanese and their unique, noble, andastonishingly complex culture. As with most chapters in history, it isoften difficult to discern in retrospect where altruism andself-interest intersected and diverged; the history of Japan’swrenching introduction into the modern age is particularly messy, butonly more fascinating for being as such. In order to explore this era, some chronological narrative is ofcourse required, but a strictly linear structure is not necessarily themost effective way to approach the issues. Therefore, thisdissertation will alternate between historical narrative and culturalexplication, sometimes moving backwards and forwards in time, andindulging in anecdotal tangents as well as delvings into the personalhistories of some of the players in question, all in hopes of paintinga full and complex picture of the interlocking forces – Japanese,American, and British, which turned this tiny country upside down inthe short space of 15 years and set the stage for its rise to globalpower. (A full investigation of the Japanese relations with Russia,China, and the Dutch could easily comprise a dissertation of its own,but we will limit most of our focus here to the often tragic, but oftenedifying interaction of the Japanese with the two aforementionedWestern powers.) Lastly, it is important to note that no explorationof Japan’s relations with the West during the Tokugama Shogunate /Meiji Revolution era, or any era for that matter, is complete withoutdwelling occasionally in details of Japanese culture, which arealternately arcane and compelling. Such moments will be interwovenwith the historical narratives and observations as required. In 1854, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa,which opened up Japan economically and culturally to the West for thefirst time. Up until this point in time, ancient Japanese law forbadetrade with any foreign nations other than China and the Dutch, thelatter of which were allowed to visit Japan twice a year to do businesssolely at the port of Nagasaki; even then, the foreigners’ presence wasconfined to the small island of Deshima.

The signing of the treaty wasa momentous occasion for both the United States and Japan, but it wasnot necessarily an egalitarian or mutually beneficial agreement, nordid both parties come to the signing ceremony of their own free will.Commodore Matthew Perry, representing the United States, essentiallyforced the Japanese into signing the treaty by virtue of the threat ofhis heavily armed four-warship fleet which arrived in Edo Bay (Tokyo’sharbor; Tokyo was known as Edo during Tokugawa Shogunate dynasty) – aport forbidden to foreigners — in July 1853 and refused to departuntil the Japanese consented to enter into a trade and peace agreementbetween the two nations. Perry was acting under orders from thehighest authority in the United States, his Commander in Chief,President Millard Fillmore.

Perry arrived bearing a letter fromPresident Fillmore to Emperor K?mei (who reigned from 1831-1867 and wasthe 121st imperial ruler of Japan). The letter was an eager one, andcontained several passages full of obsequious language: I entertain the kindest feelings toward your majesty’s person andgovernment, and that I have no other object in sending [CommodorePerry] to Japan but to propose to your imperial majesty that the UnitedStates and Japan should live in friendship and have cornmercialintercourse with each other… The Constitution and laws of the UnitedStates forbid all interference with the religious or political concernsof other nations. I have particularly charged Commodore Perry toabstain from every act which could possibly disturb the tranquility ofyour imperial majesty’s dominions… We have directed Commodore Perry tobeg your imperial majesty’s acceptance of a few presents. They are ofno great value in themselves; but some of them may serve as specimensof the articles manufactured in the United States, and they areintended as tokens of our sincere and respectful friendship.(Fillmore, 1852) However, the letter also contained notable amounts of braggadocioregarding the economic and technological might at the disposal of theUnited States: The [territories of the United States of America reach from ocean toocean, and our Territory of Oregon and State of California lie directlyopposite to the dominions of your imperial majesty. Our steamships cango from California to Japan in eighteen days… Our great State ofCalifornia produces about sixty millions of dollars in gold every year,besides silver, quicksilver, precious stones, and many other valuablearticles… America, which is sometimes called the New World, was firstdiscovered and settled by the Europeans. For a long time there were buta few people, and they were poor.

They have now become quite numerous;their commerce is very extensive. (Fillmore, 1852) The subtext was clear. Though polite and solicitous to almost acomic fault, Fillmore made it clear that it was in Japan’s bestinterests to cooperate with the United States in opening itself up toforeign trade, or Japan might meet the same fate as Mexico, which theUnited States had obliterated and territorially eviscerated in a warending just four years prior to Perry’s visit to Japan. To punctuatethe subtext of his letter, Fillmore did not send Perry across thePacific Ocean in a yacht armed only with flowers; Perry sailed intoYedo Bay with an unmistakable symbol of United States might, hisstate-of-the-art mini-fleet. Why the particular interest in Japan, a relatively small nation? Itwas strategically located, a gateway to the Far East, and influenceover/in, and/or control of Japan would greatly expand American’smilitary and economic power. Japan was also a nation of importantnatural resources that could be used to feed the hungry monster of theWest’s burgeoning Industrial Revolution. As samurai scholar MarcelThach notes, “after the colonization of China, the Western Powers –America in particular — turned their eye towards Japan and saw acountry rich with coal deposits, one which they could colonize andexploit as they had China and other East Asian nations such as India.”(Thach, 2002) The Japanese were initially unmoved by President Fillmore’s letter,leaving Commodore Perry to stew in the harbor with the expectation thathe would simply tire and go home. This was not to be the case,however, as Perry quickly saw fit to turn up the proverbial heat on theJapanese by sending a letter of his own to the Emperor. In it, Perryreiterated some of the niceties expressed by President Fillmore, butthen delivered some language of a level of candor to which the Japanesewere not accustomed: [I] hope that the Japanese government will see the necessity ofaverting unfriendly collision between the two nations, by respondingfavourably to the propositions of amity, which are now made in allsincerity… Many of the large ships-of-war destined to visit Japan havenot yet arrived in these seas, though they are hourly expected; and theundersigned, as an evidence of his friendly intentions, has brought butfour of the smaller ones, designing, should it become necessary, toreturn to Edo in the ensuing spring with a much larger force. (Perry, 7July 1853) The Japanese remained unmoved, provoking Commodore Perry’s temper.Diplomatic subtleties were abandoned, and on July 14, 1853, hedelivered an imperious admonishment accusing the Japanese of a sinagainst God, in effect, and threatened to fire upon the harbor: You have … acted against divine principles and your sin cannot begreater than it is… If you are still to disagree we would then take uparms and inquire into the sin against the divine principles…When oneconsiders such an occasion… one will realize the victory will naturallybe ours. (Perry, 14 July 1853) At this juncture, the virulent and ingrained xenophobia of theJapanese culture was forced to yield to common sense. The Japanese hadno navy to speak of, and though Perry’s four ships were unlikely tocomprise enough force to cause the Japanese to comply, the threat of animminent arrival of a bona fide armada induced the Japanese tocapitulate and sign the treaty of Kanagawa. (In the wake of thecapitulation, the Japanese dispatched an order to their Dutch tradingpartners to commission the building of a warship, which was named theKanrin-maru and was 49 meters in length, with 12 canons and threemasts. It was delivered somewhat belatedly in 1857, but was put togood use as a military training vessel.) It is important to pause here to explicate the amorphous term “theJapanese.” At the time of Perry’s arrival in Tokyo, Japan was indeedtechnically ruled by an Emperor, but he was largely a spiritual andtraditional figurehead who wielded minimal political power.

The locusof decision-making was controlled by a chief shôgun (which in Japanesemeans “great general”), a direct descendent of Tokugawa leyasu, who in1603 defeated rival warlords to bring a semblance of organizationalcoherence to a Japanese society dominated by the fractious conflictsbetween feudal warlords. (In fact, the Tokugawa Shogunate, as theorganization came to be known, ruled in relative peace for the next 250 years in what was called the Edo Period, after the ancient name for thecity of Tokyo.) From 1603 on, the chief shôgun henceforth alwayscarried the Tokugawa clan title, and maintained power by executingrivals and replacing them with family members and trusted allies, whowere forbidden to marry outside the Tokugawa clan and allowed to ruletheir individual local dominions with a relatively free and arbitraryhand as long as they loyally served the chief shôgun. Furthermore, allother shôguns and feudal lords were forced to attend a grand gatheringin Tokyo / Edo every other year under the watchful eye of the Tokugawashôgun, where loyalties were reinforced and tested, and suspectedtraitors ferreted out. Additionally, other lords were required to keepheirs or wives in Tokyo while they were administering to their dutiesin their respective feudal domains, which was another powerful tool ofthe Tokugawa clan to maintain its control. A strict hierarchical castesystem had also established by the Tokugawa Shogunate; atop thispyramid was the infamous warrior class of the samurai, the subjects ofmuch awe and reverence among Western cultures. Below the samurai werefarmers, artisans, and traders. Meanwhile, the Emperor himselfresided in Kyoto, accompanied by a few servants and bureaucrats to tendto his ceremonial needs, but he exercised virtually no governing powerat all. It was under this repressive cloak that the xenophobic culture ofJapan was cultivated and its restrictive trade policies enacted intolaw.

The third in the Tokugawa shôgun lineage, Tokugawa Iemitsu,established the rules forbidding almost all foreign trade andinteraction. Only inbound trading ships were permitted, and of thesevisitors the Dutch and the Chinese were the only ones allowed. Thiswas not merely an exercise in preserving Japanese culture purity,however. Tokugawa Iemitsu was keenly concerned with maintaining hisclan’s power over the opposing feudal warlords, and he knew thatcultural, religious, military, and economic influences from othercountries could destabilize the already precarious balance of power.The economic and cultural modernization and maturation within the largecities was, by the 19th century, starting to create conflict within thecaste system, which began to teeter under the weight of its ownstubborn antiquity. This was the complex environment into whichCommodore Perry sailed his four ships in July 1853: a paranoid,secretive, and warlike culture steeped in Byzantine traditions but alsomilitarily and technologically steeped in the past, and thus unable todefend its sovereignty.

The forced signing of the treaty was thebeginning of a long road of resentment towards the United States andthe West that culminated in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December7, 1941. In the immediate meantime, however, the Treaty of Kanagawa wasfinally signed on March 31, 1854 after Commodore Perry’s return toJapan. It stipulated that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate would beopened to American ships seeking supplies, that American sailors whohad been shipwrecked would be rescued and well-treated, and agreed thatan American consulate would be established in Shimoda for the purposesof negotiating a further and more comprehensive trade agreement. Thistreaty was the beginning of a succession of agreements forced upon theJapanese that brought about a great influx of foreign investment,trade, and business into Japan, but the economic effects of thisphenomenon were not all salutary.

One such deleterious effect wasmassive inflation of the Japanese currency. The caste system under theTokugawa Shogunate mandated a rigid system of taxation on thepeasantry; the taxes were fixed and not fairly tied to inflation orother economic vagaries, and thus the taxes gathered by the rulingshôguns fell steeply in the wake of the Treaty of Kanagawa, causingironic clashes between the well-to-do working class and their rulers.Arguably better warriors than macro-economists, the shôgun were unableto curtail this inflation, and the resultant economic instability andhardships inflicted on the Japanese people caused a popular unrest thatcould not be quelled for very long, and fact led to civil war. By1867, the Shogunate had been overthrown in what became known as theMeiji Rebellion, which restored the Emperor to true power beyond theceremonial, and brought about a thorough reform of the organization ofJapanese government and society. One of the intermediary steps on the way to the weakening of theShogunate and the restoration of the Emperor’s rule was another treatybetween the United States, The Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between theUnited States and Japan, better known historically as the Treaty ofTownsend Harris, named after the persistent American diplomat whopersuaded the Japanese to sign it. As alluded to previously, theTreaty of Kanagawa had stipulated the creation of an American Consulatein Japan, which would open up negotiations on the specifics of tradenegotiation. President Franklin Pierce, who had replaced PresidentFillmore in March 1853, dispatched Townsend Harris from New York inNovember 1855 to establish the Consulate and coax the Japanese intoactual trade, not simply the intent to trade. Harris arrived inShimoda in August 1856, having cannily brought along a Dutch-speakingsecretary and interpreter named Henry Heuksen to facilitate thedifficult and delicate nuances of discourse with the Japanese.However, the Japanese, in a typical stalling maneuver, asked Harris toleave and return in a year. He refused; the Japanese asked him toproceed to Nagasaki, which he declined to do; then, in a final – andrather creative – attempt to rid themselves of Harris, they asked himto write a letter back to the President James Buchanan (who hadsucceeded Pierce in the November 1856 election) requesting acancellation of his diplomatic mission.

The indefatigable Harrisrefused this request as well, and eventually the Japanese allowed himto set up an office at the port of Shimoda. Nonetheless, theycontinued to stonewall Harris by referring any request or question,whether trivial or consequential, to the Emperor’s palace in Edo.Harris demanded an audience with the shôgun in the capital, but over ayear passed before Harris received permission to travel to Edo. Harris did not sit idly by, however; he used the intervening time tocultivate favor and good will with the powers-that-were in Shimoda, thelocal members of theTokugawa bafuku. (Bafuku is a Japanese wordloosely translated to mean “tent government” and is an arm, during thishistorical period, of the Tokugawa Shogunate) Harris was well awarethat the British had paid a visit to the Japanese in 1854 that did notgo well and left a bitter taste in the proverbial mouths of bothparties. The British, mired in a conflict with the Russians that ledto the Crimean War (1854-1856) had dispatched Sir James Stirling fromChina in 1855 to request that the Japanese deny Russian ships access totheir ports and attempt to secure some sort of initial tradeunderstanding with the Japanese. Stirling did conclude a treaty, butit was hopelessly vague and of limited utlity, in part because of anincompetent translator (a hitch keenly noted by Harris) and was sent onhis way. The British lurched from the Crimean War to the Second OpiumWar with China in 1856, distracting them from immediate focus on Japan,but Harris correctly surmised it would only be a matter of time beforethe British turned their attention to Japan again, and used it, albeitwith some fictional license, as leverage in his negotiations againstthe Japanese. Despite managing to offend the chief shogun, the aged TokugawaIesada, and his Court by wearing shoes during his visit to the Palacein Edo in December 1857, Harris’ otherwise impeccable statesmanshipimpressed the Shogunate sufficiently that they gave their blessing forthe treaty negotiations, and they gave permission for Bakufu GrandCouncillor Hotta Masayoshi, with whom Harris had been negotiating, tocontinue working with Harris to complete the treaty.

Harrisimmediately set to work convincing Masayoshi with a combination ofexaltations of American good intentions and fears of an inevitableBritish arrival on Japanese soil which would demand treaty terms farless generous than that ‘suggested’ by the American. Specifically,Harris preyed on the fears of the Japanese that the only thing standingbetween Japan and the imperial pressure of the British was theirsoon-to-be-concluded war against China. The Japanese had long heldChina in a place of cultural reverence in the Far East and had beenprofoundly shocked at the relative ease with which the French andBritish were defeating the Chinese in the Second Opium War. Aware ofthis, naturally, Harris used it to his advantage. In his December 12,1857 audience with Masayoshi, Harris had this to say: On my way to Japan I met the English governor of Hong-Kong, JohnBowring, who told me that he was about to be appointed an ambassador togo to Japan, and I have received four letters from him since my arrivalin Japan. Our conversation was of course private, but in his letters hediscusses Japanese Government matters. He says he intends to bring withhim a larger fleet than the Japanese have ever seen, and anchor atYedo, {Edo] where the discussions will be carried on. He says also thatYedo is the only place to hold consultation with the Japanese; that hisobject is, first, to get permission for a minister or agent of Englandto reside in Yedo, and, secondly, to get permission to carry on freetrade at several places in Japan. If these two things are not grantedwar will be declared at once.

The sending of this ambassador he says isdelayed by the war in China. He said he would be in Yedo in the thirdmonth, but he has been detained by the war. (Harris, 1857) In another dramatic touch, Harris also asserted that the Britishintended to addict the entirety of the Japanese population to opium: It appears that the English think the Japanese … are fond ofopium, and they want to bring it here also. If a man use opium once hecannot stop it, and it becomes a life-long habit to use opium; hencethe English want to introduce it into Japan. The President of theUnited States thinks that for the Japanese opium is more dangerous thanwar. (Harris, 1857) What Harris neglected to mention was that in truth, the British wereloathe to try to force an opening into Japan at this particularjuncture in time. They had squandered vast military and politicalcapital in pursuit of their war with China, and there was domesticunrest to contend with as well: Despite popular perceptions of British imperialism at this period,official British policy was in fact against the use of force in openingup Japan and British Ministers were mindful of humanitarianconsiderations that might lead to criticism in Parliament. Theyinstructed British representatives to avoid provocative acts and thethreat or use of force. (Cortazzi, 1999) Nonetheless, Harris then went on to claim that the United States hadstudiously avoided joining Britain in the war against China, despitethe fact that newly elected President Buchanan was a veteran diplomatand former Secretary of State who, in his former diplomatic position,and now, as President-elect, was actively working towards mending oldgrievances with Britain. Harris suggested that if the Japanese come tomutually satisfactory terms with the United States, particularly withrespect to the issue of opium trade – Harris suggested that theJapanese could burn any opium which American traders might bring toports in the future – then in effect, the United States would form a defacto protective buffer between Japan and the European powers, and atthe very least, treaty terms with Britain or France could be no worsefor the Japanese than the benevolent terms of a treaty with the UnitedStates. In fact, the treaty proposed (in Article II) that in anydispute between Japan and European powers, the United States presidentwould serve as mediator. Hotta Masayoshi was no fool, and despite the fact that the Shogunatehad responded to Commodore Perry’s presence by commissioning militaryvessels from its Dutch trading partners, Masayoshi knew the Japanesehad little choice at this particular juncture in time but to accede toHarris’ terms.

Negotiations on Treaty of Townsend Harris wereconcluded in February 1858 and the treaty was signed on July 29, 1858.(Ironically, Commodore Perry died in New York City the same day.)Harris, never one to miss an opportunity for some patriotic publicrelations, ensured that the treaty was stipulated to take effect onJuly 4, 1859, on American Independence Day. Little did the Japaneseknow that they had taken another ominous step towards the erosion oftheir own cultural-economic independence. The treaty provided for the opening of four additional ports toAmerican trading ships: Kanagawa and Nagasaki, on July 4, 1859;Niigata, on the January 1, 1860; and Hyogo, on the January 1, 1863; theport of Shimoda would be closed to American beginning in January 1860.Starting on July 4, 1862, Americans would also be allowed to take upresidence in Edo. It provided for tariffs to be applied to Americangoods imported into Japan and exported to the United States, andforbade the trade of opium between the Unites States and Japan. Thetariffs – unsurprisingly — favored imported American products with afive percent tax on most goods and raw materials.

The treatystipulated that this tariff was fixed until the treaty came up forrevision and renegotiation in 1872, sowing the seeds for the economicinstability, alluded to above, that led to the downfall of theShogunate. In particularly surprising concession, the treatystipulated that Americans in Japan would be allowed free exercise oftheir religious beliefs, which extended to permission to constructplaces of worship. This was a significant break with Japanesetradition, which had long been steeped with animosity towardsChristianity. In fact, Christianity was essentially forbidden, andHarris had taken a considerable personal risk by making a show of hisChristian beliefs when he visited the Shogunate in Edo in 1858.Despite a clause in the treaty that seemed to forbid Christianproselytizing (“The Americans and Japanese shall not do anything thatmay be calculated to excite religious animosity” (Article VII), theinflux of Christianity into the Japanese homeland was deeply offensiveto many traditionalist and contributed to the erosion of support forthe Shogunate. Another interesting stipulation of the treaty is that diplomaticenvoys from Japan would be sent to the United States for the purposesof cultural exchange and for a ‘formal’ treaty-signing ceremony. ThreeJapanese were selected for the journey: Shimmi Masaoki, the seniorambassador, who was only 35 years of age; Oguri Tadamasu, who carriedthe title of ‘official inspector’ for the diplomatic mission; andMurgaki Norimasa, who kept a detailed diary of the delegation’s visit.Each were samurai warriors, consistent with the ruling class from whichthey came, and knew next to nothing of American culture or thepeculiarities of Western culture, much less the American government;for example, the Japanese found it bizarre that the Americans had gonethrough three elected leaders in a peaceful transition of power betweenthe time Commodore Perry had paid his infamous visit and the Japanesedelegation left to visit the United States. In an attempt to showstrength and regal power, the three Japanese did not travel alone –their party numbered 77, including six cooks, 51 guards and servants,three doctors, and three interpreters. It was quite a showcase: On February 13, 1860, the ambassadors and their staff sailed fromYokohama with 50 tons of Japanese baggage (including the treaty in itsspecial box), 100,000 readily negotiable Mexican dollars, and a largesupply of Japanese food. Appropriately, perhaps, the vessel thatcarried them from Japan to San Francisco was the navy frigate Powhatan,one of the steam-powered paddle-wheelers Perry had employed in”opening” Japan. (Finn, 2002) The America into which the Japanese were received in May 1860, wasteetering on the precipice of a civil war which would forever alter itsdestiny, mirroring the dark seeds of revolution which were germinatingback home in Japan. To say that the Japanese experienced culture shockwas an understatement; it was a precursor to the shocks that wouldreverberate through Japanese culture in their homeland due to thefloodgates of external Western cultural influence that were beingopened by the Harris Townsend Treaty that the Japanese envoys signedwith President Buchanan on May 18. Upon their return home in November 1860, the Japanese delegation wasgreeted coolly, as the elements in the Shogunate that had approved thetreaty had begun to fall from favor.

Murgaki Norimasa and ShimmiMasaoki received promotions but were soon forced into retirement.Oguri Tadamasu went on to become a powerful military leader for theShogunate, but he refused to accept their downfall and the eventualre-ascension of the Emperor; he and and his son were executed in 1868. The interior map of Japanese political and cultural power was atumultuous mess by the time the delegation returned to Japan. TheTokugawa Shogunate had splintered into two warring factions due to thecontroversy regarding the signings of the two treaties with the UnitedStates and fears of imminent meddling by the British into Japaneseaffairs. Tokugawa Iesada had become an old and infirm man and wasbarely able to carry out his duties during the negotiations over theTownsend Harris Treaty. Compounding the fractious debate over whetheror not to agree to the treaty was a struggle brewing over who wouldsucceed Iesada, as Iesada had no natural heir. The two leadingcontenders were Tokugawa Yoshinobu (aka Keiki), and a 12-year old boy,the Daimyo of Kii. In an attempt to solidify the ebbing power of theTokugawa clan and to end the debate over the the treaty signings, thelatter of which he had brokered, Hotta Masayoshi broke with precedentand traveled to Kyoto to visit Emperor Komei to seek his approval forthe Harris Treaty and for the ascension of the Daimyo of Kii to headthe Shogunate.

Unfortunately for Hotta, his gamble backfired. TheEmperor communicated his unhappiness with the treaties and refused tooffer his support for Tokugawa Yoshinobu / Keiki. Hotta was humiliatedand was replaced in April 1858 by Ii Naosuke, who was appointedTokugawa Regent, making him the effective military leader of Japan andhead of the shogun council. Ii immediately approved the Townsend Harris Treaty, effectivelysnubbing the Emperor, which caused a widespread rebellion amongstImperial Japanese loyalists who literally revered the Emperor as a godand who viewed action against his wishes to be a mortal sin.Undaunted, Ii then proceeded to arbitrarily appointed the boy Daimyo ofKii as the Shogunate heir, spawning a massive rebellion. Those whoopposed his sanctioning of the Treaty and/or his appointment of theShogunate heir were executed en masse, in a bloodbath dubbed the AnseiPurge.

Being of tender age, naturally, the Daimyo of Kii – who assumedthe name Tokugawa Iemochi — was unable to assert his sovereign will orassume his duties, leaving Ii firmly entrenched in power, or so hethought. His rule did not last long; he was beheaded byanti-foreigner, pro-Emperor elements in March 1860. After Ii wasassassinated, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who had been Tokugawa Iemochi’searlier rival for the position of Shogun, assumed effective control ofthe Shogunate by assuming a position of power similar to the one heldby Ii and Hotta before him. After Tokugawa Iemochi’s death in 1866,Tokugawa Yoshinobu assumed the official ceremonial title and power ofShogun. He was to be the fifteenth and last Shogun in Japanesehistory. Certainly, the arrival of the Americans and the treaties they forcedupon the Shogunate were a leading cause of their downfall, but theShogunate was already weakening under its own antiquated weight by thetime Commodore Perry arrived in Japan in 1853. Though very stable andconsistent, the philosophy and structure of the Shogunate governmentwas change-averse to a fault; it was 200 years old, and had simplyoutlived its usefulness: The simple concept of the division of classes into rulers, warriors andcommoners had little relation to Japan of the 19th century with itsteeming cities, rich merchants, restless samurai and discontentpeasantry… Despite the division of the land into a large number offeudal fiefs, the people had developed a strong sense of nationalconsciousness. The growth of nationalism and the development of amodern commercial economy had made Japan ready for the more efficientpolitical forms of the modern nation. (Norman, 1940) To some degree, the nationalism of the Japanese was reflective ofthe psychology of isolation, i.e., the Japanese, knowing nothing otherthan their own culture, naturally viewed it as superior. Theappearance and encroachment of a culture, such as Americans’, which wastechnologically superior, was a profound shock to the Japanese.

TheShogunate, at a time when putting forth a unified and strong front waskey, blundered initially by putting Commodore Perry’s initial treatyproposal up for public debate, which was an unusual move for theJapanese, signaling to the population that it was weak. Hotto’sill-fated attempt to persuade the Emperor to support the treaty, and toinvolve him in the family succession issue within the Tokugama clan,was also a nail in the proverbial coffin, furthering the perceptionthat the Shogunate was weak. Slowly, an unlikely coalition of anti-bafuku entities coalesced toundermine the power of the Shogunate.

Not all parties were necessarilyadvocates of the ending of the Tokugawa dynasty, but all agreed thatthe Shogunate’s indecisiveness, stalling, and inconsistent policymakingsince 1853 had greatly weakened Japan’s strength as a nation bothinternally and externally. The coalition, over time, came to includemiddle-to-lower class samurai, mostly from the western clans of Tosa,Hizen, Satsuma, and Choshu; the kuge, or the Emperor and his court, whoafter centuries of staying out of the mechanics of governance, had cometo believe that the Shogunate had not only usurped the power of theEmperor, but stained its dignity and divinity; merchants, from citiessuch as Osaka and Kyoto, whose support went beyond the moral and helpedfund revolutionary forces; and lastly, the peasants, whose economicdiscontent led them to provide moral support and also, quite literally,bodies – towards the end of the Shogunate dynasty, they were enlistedas soldiers to fight in the revolution, a break from Japanese traditionwhich relied on the samurai class to engage in Japan’s wars. It is important to note here that the socio-cultural and economicforces that led to the disintegration and overthrow of the Shogunatedid not resemble those of other notable modern revolutions, such as theFrench or American. The Meiji Revolution, as it came to be known(after the name of the Emperor who assumed rule over Japan after the15th Shogun), was not revolution for democracy, or a revolution inwhich the lower classes bound together to overthrow the repressive yolkof an indolent and tyrannical ruling class: In studying Japanese social history, it becomes apparent that one mustdismiss all preconceptions based on a class-struggle interpretation…[The Meiji Revolution] was not the story of a rising business classthat destroyed the structure of feudalism and established its supremacyin a mercantile state. Still less was it a democratic revolttransferring political power to representative of the mass of thepeasants and workers. (Norman, 1940) Nor was the discontent with the Shogunate necessarily an issue ofhatred of foreigners; many within the Imperial Court and otheranti-Shogunate forces (and even within the Shogunate itself), despitetheir loathing of the ‘barbarians,’ as many termed foreigners, reasonedthat the best way for Japan to ensure its survival was to embraceuseful Western technologies and military tactics; the temporarydistaste for Western influences the majority of Japanese may have hadto endure for a time would be ameliorated by the Japanese eventuallyco-opting the Westerners’ own superiority and using it against them.This is in fact exactly what eventually occurred. Having obtained word of the favorable outcome, at least from theBritish perspective, of Townsend Harris’ negotiations with theJapanese, James Bruce, the 8th British Earl of Elgin, included in hisFar East trip to China a diplomatic stop in Edo on August 17, 1858.He had little idea of what his chances would be to make any tradeheadway with the Japanese. He was personally loathe to engage in anyhardball tactics against the Japanese, having grown weary of thebrutality utilized against the Chinese: “Elgin had no desire to transfer to Japan the methods he had foundnecessary in China… Hewanted to like the Japanese…He sometimes wonderedwhether Japan might not be better without treaty relations, whether, indeed, treaties might not bring her only ‘misery and ruin.’” (Cortazi, 1999) However, the Japanese were in acooperative frame of mind, and had abandoned their stalling tactics.In his favor, the Earl also had been given use by Townsend Harris ofhis Dutch interpreter-secretary, Mr. Heusken; in addition, he hadbrought with him a steam yacht that Sir James Stirling had promised togive as a gift to the Shogun in 1855. Astonishingly, the Earl wasable to conclude, on August 26, 1858, a treaty of his own with theJapanese that was inspired by and, in its final incarnation., largelymirrored the agreement which Townsend Harris had made, right down tothe treaty’s title.

The Earl secured similar port-opening privilegesfor the British as the Americans had obtained, and also was able toobtain permission for the opening of a diplomatic office in Edo. Thesame inequitable tariff structure was agreed upon, unfortunately, whichwould only compound the instability and resentment against theShogunate as alluded to previously. Sir Rutherford Alcock arrived in Edo in 1859, to assume the positionof British consul to Japan; he was soon promoted to the title ofMinister. Alcock began his career as a doctor, then joined themilitary to serve as a surgeon for the marines in the First Carlist Warwith Spain. He was later appointed deputy inspector-general forhospitals, a position from which he retired in 1837. In 1842, however,he responded to his government’s call and went to Fuchow, China, tobecome consul there. He distinguished himself under difficultcircumstances, mastering the intricacies of a culture as ancient andcomplex as that of the Japanese, and was hence awarded his assignmentto Japan in 1858. However, given the fact that the British positionin Japan was not one of inherent power, as de facto conquerors, as itwas in China – the British were at best uneasily tolerated guests –Alcock quickly found himself struggling to execute hisresponsibilities. “His biggest problems arose from the weakness,vacillations, prevarications and deceptions of the Japanese authoritieswith whom he had to deal, but he was also not helped by the greed of,and sleaze prevailing among, the first British merchants who came toJapan.” (Cortazi, 1999) Many of the merchants were unfamiliar with anduninterested in the Japanese culture, and focused primarily onmaximizing their trading profits and exiting. This did not help theircause with the local Japanese who regarded the British as rude,uncouth, and lacking in civility. As the power of the Shogunate overits local principalities began to disintegrate during their internecinesquabble, British diplomatic personnel in Edo and in the local portsbecame increasingly unsafe. None of the treaties signed with the Westcontained any stipulations for protection of the foreign diplomats ortraders; either this was naively overlooked, or the provisions in thetreaties regarding prosecution of Japanese or British/American criminalactivities were thought to adequate. They were not. On July 5, 1861,the British Legation at Shinagawa was attacked by a large party ofronin, or renegade samurai warriors.

Alcock narrowly escaped with hislife, and members of his party were wounded. Another attack occurredthe following year while Alcock was vacationing back home in England.It was widely believed that the would-be assassins were rebelliousmembers of the Satsuma clan. It is worth pausing here to explain the concept of the ronin. Theywere samurai who had lost their masters – princes or other dignitarieshigher up on the Shogunate food chain — either because their mastershad been killed or fallen into disrepute. Under Japanese cultural codeat the time, samurai could not enter into the employ of a new masterwithout permission from the previous one, which in the case of anuntimely master’s death made it difficult to secure such permission.These ronin often committed suicide or became seedy, ruthlessmercenaries desperate for survival.

The increasing instability andinfighting of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the American and British‘opening’ of Japan resulted in many samurai being forced into roninstatus, and many blamed the influx of foreigners for their unfortunatefates. Henry Heusken, Harris Townsend’s secretary and interpreter,made a prophetic observation about them: The ronin, although they are rogues, always wear two swords because oftheir noble birth, even though their hearts are depraved. Having losttheir reputations as honorable men, they wish to regain respect bygaining an evil reputation. They wish to demonstrate everywhere thatthey are brave and the man who has the most scars is looked upon astheir chief and is honored accordingly. (Van Der Corput, 1964, p. 182) Heusken was immensely popular amongst many Japanese for his kindnessand respect of them, and his willingness to learn their language andimmerse himself in their culture. He enjoyed spending his free timemingling with common Japanese citizens. For this reason he made aneasy target, both symbolically and literally, for those elements wholoathed the foreigners’ presence on Japanese soil.

Huesken was warnedon January 7, 1861, by Oguri Tadamasu, the inspector general who hadvisited the United States the previous year, of rumours of an imminent,large-scale attack on the American Legation by rogue forces. On thenight of January 15, Heusken was attacked by seven ronin whilereturning from the Prussian embassy, and mortally wounded. He managedto survive for a day, despite laying on the road without medicalattention for almost 90 minutes in the aftermath of the attack.Townsend Harris was so shocked and distraught by Heusken’s murder thatit was rumoured that he went temporarily insane. He submitted hisresignation to President Lincoln on July 10, 1861, and shortly beforeyear’s end, he left Japan forever despite pro-American factions in theShogunate’s entreaties to President Lincoln that he stay on asambassador. In the aftermath of Huesken’s murder and the first attack on theBritish Legation, Alcock made the decision to withdraw the bulk of theBritish diplomatic corps to Yokohama. Within months, the British senttroops to Yokohama, as did the French (who had signed their own treatywith the Japanese in 1858) – an action not sanctioned by Lord Elgin’streaty and a move which, though reasonable in terms of self-defense,did little to endear the British to the Japanese.

Alcock was becomingprogressively disillusioned with the situation in Japan after havingbeen initially entranced and possessing charitable and respectfulfeelings for the Japanese: ..although the original negotiators were received with smiles, andtheir path strewn with flowers, their successors had only the poisonedchalice held to their lips, thorns in their path, and the scowl of thetwo-sworded samurai to welcome them, whenever they ventured to leavetheir gates, while the assassin haunted their steps, and broke theirrest in the still hours of the night with fell intent to massacred thewhole Legation.” (Williams, 1963, p. 58) The British were to find themselves taking the military and diplomaticlead in Japan during this time period. Heusken’s murder and theincreasing attacks on the British had dimmed Harris’ interest inJapanese affairs; both he and Alcock had concluded that the Shogunatewas becoming too weak a political entity to either maintain internalstability or safeguard the foreign diplomats and traders. Also, theAmerican Civil War, which had been fomenting for some time, violentlycommenced in April 1861 and soon commanded virtually all the attentionand military resources of the U.S. government. Immediately precedinghis decision to resign, Harris wrote his Secretary of State, WilliamSeward, informing him of the attacks on the British Legation.Unsurprisingly, given the matters compelling his attention, Seward didnot respond until October, but the content of his reply was telling: The assaults committed upon the minister of Great Britain and the othermembers of that legation, in violation of express treaty, of the lawsof nations, and of the principles of common humanity, have excited adeep concern on the part of the President.

Your prompt, earnest, anddecided proceedings in aid of the just desire of her BritannicMajesty’s minister to obtain adequate satisfaction for that out ragemeet his emphatic approval. I have lost no time in assuring the Britishgovernment directly of the willingness of the United States toco-operate with it in any judicious measure it may suggest to insuresafety hereafter to diplomatic and consular representatives of thewestern powers in Japan. (Seward, 1861) These were no mere diplomatic niceties. Seward was keenly awarethat the Confederacy, the rebel South which had seceded from the Union(the North) to prompt the Civil War, had been actively soliciting thesupport of England and France in the war, to such an extent that theentreaties went beyond simple economic and military assistance toformal requests that England and France enter the war on the side ofthe Confederacy. Cotton, which was the number one export of theAmerican South, was also a lucrative source of revenue for Europe, andthe British and French were loathe to consider the economicconsequences of a potential disruption or outright loss of thiscommodity. The first 18 months of the war had gone disastrously forthe Union, and such intervention on the part of either England orFrance would have likely tipped the scales fatally in favor of theConfederacy. Seeking to shore up Union support with the British,Seward essentially was signaling his approval, on behalf of PresidentLincoln, for the British to take the lead in Japan and sort the matterout as they saw fit, with enthusiastic Union support.

Beyond that, theUnion simply did not have the military resources to send additionalships and men to Japan to attend to the problem. Harris was surelyaware of this, and between his grief for the murder of Heusken and thedeteriorating internal Japanese situation – not incidentally, hepersonally disliked Alcock — he elected to end his diplomatic careerat its zenith and return to the United States, effectively cedingcontrol of diplomatic leadership to Alcock and the British. In 1862, Alcock accompanied a group of Japanese dubbed the JapaneseMission, to Europe and to England as part of the original treatystipulations signed by Lord Elgin. One of the official purposes of theportion of the visit to London was to make progress in further tradenegotiations with the Japanese. An agreement was signed there on June6, 1862, which came to be known as the London Protocol. Given thesecurity concerns, and as a gesture of help to the ever-falteringTokugawa Shogunate to modulate British influx into Japan, Alcock andthe British Foreign Secretary agreed that the opening of the ports ofNiigata and Hyogo (also known as Kobe), as well as the establishment ofBritish residences in Edo and Osaka, would be deferred for five years.In exchange, and perhaps under duress due guilt over the violenceagainst the British, the Japanese agreed to: abolish ‘all restrictions, as regards quantity or price, on the sale byJapanese to foreigners of all kinds of merchandise’. Other articlesabolished restrictions on the hire of Japanese labour and otherrestrictions limiting trade in the Treaty Ports as well as‘restrictions imposed on free intercourse of a social kind betweenforeigners and the people of Japan’. (Cortazzi, 1999) The penalty for failure to comply with any of these treatyprovisions was that the delays on opening of ports and residences wouldbe negated.

This, particularly combined with the language facilitatingcultural interchange, set up an impossible Catch-22 that only served toexacerbate the steadily deteriorating situation in Japan. Unsurprisingly, then, it was not long after Alcock had returned toJapan that the violence resurfaced in dramatic fashion. On September14, 1862, a British merchant from Shanghai named Charles LennoxRichardson was murdered in Yokohama by Satsuma samurai. Richardson andtwo comrades happened to be passing a 1,000-man procession of theSatsuma daimyo (feudal leader/clan warlord) Shimazu Hisamitsu on theTokaido road in Yokohoma. It was Japanese custom to dismount one’shorse out of respect to a daimyo if one happened to pass by; Richardsonand his party failed to do after being ordered to do so. Whether thistranspired out of intrasigence or out of ignorance is still a matter ofdebate. In any case, they were attacked by samurai from Shimazu’sprocession in this gruesome event that became known as the NamanugiIncident. (In what was doubtlessly not a coincidence, the particularsamurai who killed Richardson turned out to be the older brother of thesamurai who had assassinated Ii Naosuke two years earlier.) Alcock wasshocked, and demanded that the Shogunate pay the an indemnification sumof 100,000 pounds – a staggering amount of money in 1862 – and that theSatsuma daimyo pay 25,000 additional pounds, in addition to executingthe samurais who had attacked Richardson’s party. The Shogunate paidtheir portion, but by this point, the Bakufu were in no position ofauthority whatsoever to reign in rebellions forces, particularly theincreasingly powerful Satsuma. The daimyo flatly refused to complywith Alcock’s demands and the Shogunate was unable to compel theSatsuma to obey their orders. Alcock was enraged, and finally reactingunder pressure from other foreign powers to take action, the Britishnaval fleet shelled the city of Kagoshima in August 1863, destroying asubstantial portion of the city as well as three of the Satsuma clan’sships, though miraculously, only a few Japanese were killed.

This wasan immensely unpopular move back home in England, and Alcock was one ofthe individuals blamed for the debacle. He was eventually replaced in1865 by Sir Harry Parkes. One of the most important Western figures in all of modern Japanesehistory happened to arrive, by coincidence or synchronicity, one weekbefore the Namanugi Incident. He was a 19-year old student interpreternamed Ernest Satow. Mr. Satow was cut from the same mold as HenryHeusken, in the sense that he did not possess condescending, pitying,or superioristic attitudes towards the Japanese, personality flaws thatplagued the vast majority of Westerners who had lived and worked inJapan in the years before Satow arrived. He took an active interest inthe intricacies of Japanese culture and mastered the immenselydifficult Japanese language (no small feat given that at the time ofhis arrival in 1862, there was no such thing as a Japanese-Englishdictionary!); he was arguably the first serious Western scholar ofJapanese literature, and amassed a stunning collection Japanese books.He more than intermingled with the Japanese people – he took acommon-law Japanese wife, Takeda Kane, with whom he had two sons, namedEitaro and Hisayoshi. He became an intimate confidant of the keypower players who engineered the transition from the Tokugama Shogunateto the restoration of the rule of the Emperor, and in fact became amajor power player himself in this process, as we will explore later.To this day, he is still a celebrity in Japan, though ironically, he isby comparison largely forgotten in England. Satow was on board one of the British warships that bombed theSatsuma city of Kagoshima, and memorialized the occasion in his widelyadmired 1921 book A Diplomat in Japan: A Diplomat in Japan: The InnerHistory of the Critical Years in the Evolution of Japan. (Though notpresent during the Namanugi Incident, Satow was of the opinion thatRichardson and his party were not at fault, as he narrates in the book:“They were now ordered to turn back, and as they were wheeling theirhorses in obedience, were suddenly set upon by several armed menbelonging to the train, who hacked at them with the sharp-edged heavyswords.” (Satow, 1921, p. 48)) Even at this early juncture in hisdiplomatic career, Satow’s personal feelings about the disproportionalsavagery of the British punishment were indicative of his sympathy forthe Japanese. Satow claims that during the bombardment, Vice AdmiralKuper knew exactly how much damage was being inflicted on Kagoshima andseemed to almost be enjoying himself. “…rockets were fired with theobject of burning the town… Admiral Kuper took credit for thedestruction.” (Satow, 1921, p. 84) Satow then goes on, in the book. tomake a specific point of agreeing in retrospect with Lord Bright fromthe British House of Commons, saying he “called attention to thisunnecessary act of severity.” (p. 85) Details of Final collapse of the shogunate … Satow’s role in shogunate collapse, as pseudonymous author ofeditorials in Japanese newspapers in which he boldy asserts that theshogunate was never the rightful heir to the rulership of japan andthat it is time for the emperor to step back in. …1867 as the Shogunate was about to collapse, people took to thestreets across the nation in a massive, collective expression of relieftinged with exhaustion. “Some difficulty was experienced in making ourway through the crowds of people in flaming red garments dancing andshouting over and over ‘ii ja nai ka.’ [loosely translated as, ‘oh,what the hell!’] They were so much taken up with their dancing that wepassed along almost unnoticed.” (Satow, 1921, p. 252) Meiji restoration, Satow’s relationship with the new imperial court / government. Changes in Japanese society. Satow’s departure from japan. Historical ramifications into war with Russia and into aggressive Japanese behavior in the 20th century.

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Satow's perception of the Meiji revolution | History Dissertation. (2017, Jun 26). Retrieved December 10, 2022 , from

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