Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Bakumatsu (Part 1): Opening of Japan

Japanese Mission to the US by Mathew Brady
After Perry and the Bakufu signed the Treaty of Kanagawa in March 1854, floodgates opened to Japan for foreign countries to demand treaties giving Japanese a semi-colonial status. Explore the following events after the Treaty of Kanagawa and rise in interaction with the so-called foreign “barbarians.”

After Kanagawa Treaty

Following Perry’s departure, Great Britain, Russia, and the Netherlands signed treaties of friendship with Japan. On October 1854, British Admiral Sir James Stirling arrived in Nagasaki and signed a treaty of friendship between Japan and Britain. Russian Admiral Yeframin Putyatin followed in February 1855 with the Treaty of Shimoda. Finally, the Governor of Dutch factory in Dejima, Donker Curtius signed an agreement in January 30, 1856, extending the freedom of the Dutch to trade and to receive the same privileges other powers had.

Shockingly, despite its anti-foreign sentiment, the Emperor in Kyoto approved the treaties for the sake of peace and fears of conflict with the west and their powerful weapons they bare.

Dutch and Russians

The signing of the treaties, however, led to further demands by foreigners to open Japan. Previous treaties only stipulated freedom to resupply, but the westerners wanted more and the Dutch governor, Donker Curtius, made the move after on January 1857 Treaty.

Curtius concocted a clever plan, using the geo-political situation to obtain a commercial treaty. He knew the Japanese feared the British for its military power, especially seen during the First Opium War and the rising tensions in China (which later blew up as the Second Opium War). He used this by informing the Japanese that a huge British expedition might come to Japan to demand a commercial treaty. He then suggested that to prevent Japan succumbing completely to unfavorable and unequal demands of the British, they must have a treaty with another European country with leniency and room to negotiate to serve as framework for the future.

The Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo pondered on Curtius’ warnings and proposal of a commercial treaty. In February 1857, Japan agreed to begin preliminary talks with the Dutch. The Governors of Nagasaki, Mizuna Tadanori and Arao (Alao) Iwami no Kami, and Iwase Iga no Kami, an imperial superintendent, negotiated on behalf of Japan with Curtius. On August 1857, with negotiations coming slow, Curtius decided to play on the British threat again. He warned that a British fleet planned to head to Japan from China. Another pressure also burdened the shoulders of the negotiators when the Russians arrived.

Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin returned to Nagasaki on September 21, 1857 to negotiate a supplementary agreement for the Shimoda Treaty with the Japanese. Putyatin’s presence further intimidated the negotiators into signing an agreement, which they did first with the Dutch.

The supplementary agreement to the January 1856 treaty provided guidelines for the expansion of trade activities between the Dutch and the Japanese. It confirmed the opening of Nagasaki and Hakodadi (Hakodate) to trade within 10 months and setting of tariffs at 35% along the guidelines on different dues such as tonnage and pilot dues. It secured free trading activities to unlimited number of Dutch ships. It also established a customs house to serve as the mediator for any financial transactions as well as port management. In addition, the agreement banned the trade of opium and of private arms and ammunition trade. Most importantly, it conferred to the Dutch the status of most-favored country status – which meant any privilege extended to other nationalities must also be applied to them as well. 

The Russian supplementary agreement to the Shimoda Treaty was signed on October 24, 1857, following the Dutch treaty as a model with the same stipulations, including the tariff rates and the status of most-favored country.

Townsend Harris
Townsend Harris

As per the Treaty of Kanagawa's stipulation of allowing a consul to reside in Shimoda, Townsend Harris served as the first United States’ consul to Japan and tasked to obtain a commercial treaty with the Japanese. A year after his arrival, he began to work for the treaty. His modest but aggressive attitude earned him the respect of the Japanese, and adding to his political skills, he succeeded in accomplishing his objective for the United States.

Harris arrived in Shimoda on August 21, 1856, but beforehand he felt wear as he wrote:
“Conflicting emotions caused by the sight of these Japanese possessions. My future brought vividly to mind. Mental and social isolation on the one hand, and on the other are important public duties which, if properly discharged, will redound to my credit.”

His anxiety was caused over the changing environment, culture, and language. For years, he had served as an American diplomat to Siam and succeeded in reaching an agreement with the country to give Americans extraterritoriality.

Harris began to work for a commercial treaty with the Japanese in late 1857. In 1857, he had secured an additional agreement with the Japanese opening Nagasaki, allowing Americans to reside in the open ports, and securing extraterritoriality, which meant any Americans who committed crimes in Japan would be judged in a consular court and under American laws. Extraterritoriality made the agreement unequal and Harris cemented it in a commercial treaty he negotiated a year later.

Harris demanded to meet the Emperor in Edo, only to be disappointed when he discovered that the person residing in Edo wasn't the Emperor but the Shogun or the Tykoon (Tycoon) who held power over state affairs. He discovered that the Emperor they addressed, called by the Japanese as Mikado, served more as the leader of the Shinto religion rather than the government. Nevertheless, he continued. Japanese officials still remembered the formidable display of Commodore Perry in 1853 and feared that the same might return if they turned down Harris. And so on October 1857, they agreed for Harris to come to Edo. Harris journeyed to Edo and arrived on November 30. He wrote his reaction upon his entry of the capital:

“I am the first diplomatic representative that has been received in this city; and, whether I succeed or fail in my intended negotiations, it is a great fact that will always remain, showing that at last I have forced this singular people to acknowledge the rights of embassy.”

Harris met with the Shogun Tokugawa Iesada and the ruling council, including the roju or head elder, or chief minister, Hotta Masayoshi, on December 7, 1857. Harris gave his letter of credence as well as a letter from President Franklin Pierce.

In the letter, President Pierce confirmed Harris’ credence as consul general and informed the Japanese of his objective to negotiate and to obtain a treaty “which will strengthen and perpetuate the bonds of amity between the United States and Japan as well as increase the commercial intercourse between them to their mutual advantage.” After the delivery of the letter, Harris' audience ended.

Harris, during his stay, received the best hospitality of the Japanese. When he fell ill in Edo, the Shogun sent his physicians to care for Harris. Harris, ever since his stay in Japan, noted the kindness and politeness of the Japanese.

Negotiations for the treaty began in January 1858. Harris wanted to use the agreement between Siam and United States, a personal achievement for himself, as the model for their treaty, to which the Japanese rejected. Harris then narrowed down their issues to extending American trade activities in several ports and establishing an embassy in Edo. On January 16, 1858, Hotta Masayoshi agreed on negotiating in the following issues and appointed Inoue Kiyonao and Iwase Tadanari to represent Japan in the negotiations, which lasted a month until both parties agreed on the terms on February 26, 1858.

The Harris Treaty or the Treaty of Amity and Commerce came as a result of the long and stubborn negotiations. At first, Harris changed to whom the treaty to be addressed. Before, like in the Treaty of Kanagawa, treaties addressed the Emperor. But in the Harris Treaty, it was finally addressed to Shogun or the Tycoon. On the other hand, the terms of the Treaty secured the closing Shimoda as an open port due to its small harbor and hazards. But it opened the ports of Kanagawa or Yokohama, Nagasaki, Niigata and Hyogo from the period of July 4, 1859 to January 1, 1863. It also opened the cities of Edo and Osaka to Americans on January 1, 1862 and 1863 respectively. 

The treaty secured the freedoms of the Americans within limits of the ports. It allowed the use of foreign coins within Japan, but on the first year as the treaty took effect, custom-houses would provide temporary financial services concerning payments on transactions. Like in other treaties, it banned opium and gave the government monopoly in arms trade. As stated before, it secured American extraterritoriality in Japan. In addition, the treaty also permitted the Japanese government to purchase American ships and hire American professionals.

Accompanying the Harris Treaty came additional regulations such as exemption of American ships from paying tonnage duties in the above mentioned ports and setting up tariff rates ranging from 5% to 35% depending on the class of goods. From the terms, forcing the opening of ports and providing extraterritoriality to Americans, made the Harris Treaty unequal. It guided American activities in Japan and with the most favored status of other Europeans before, it also extended the treaty’s privileges to others.

The Japanese government, however, did not signed the agreement yet. Political dispute between different factions delayed the signing. Only on July 29, 1858 that the Japanese government inked the agreement after news of the Treaty of Tianjin/Tientsin arrived. The Shogun scared by Harris’ plan to go to Kyoto, and news that with the end of war in China a large British fleet might sail to Japan to extract harsh unequal treaties.

The ratification of the treaties turned to be an opportunity to display the navigational skills of the Japanese. As per the agreement, Japan and the United States must hand over to the other a copy of the agreement with the name and seal of their respective leaders. To this end, in 1860, the Shoguante dispatched the Japanese steamship Kanrin Maru led by Katsu Kaishu to the United States to hand over a copy of the treaty signed and placed with the seal of the government.

Eventually, both countries exchanged copies of the Harris Treaty. 

The Treaty Powers

The European countries that followed in concluding a treaty of amity and commerce  along with the United States formed what became known as the Treaty Powers. The most favored status of the Russians and the Dutch made the stipulations of the Harris Treaty applicable to them as well. The Harris Treaty also served as the model for future treaties with the British and the French. The Dutch and the Russians had their treaties signed with only a day between, while the British followed soon, while the French came in later.

The Dutch and Russians negotiated their deals in August. Due to the most-favored country clause from the supplementary treaties signed by both countries with Japan, they effectively also would get the same benefits that Americans gained from their treaty of amity and commerce. 

Donker Curtius negotiated a treaty of amity and commerce between Japan and the Netherlands, which mirrored the Harris treaty, from the ports and cities opened, to the right of establishing an embassy in Edo, to the tariff rates from the regulations attached to the treaty. Curtius and the representatives of the Shogunate signed the deal on August 18, 1858. 

On the very next day, Admiral Putyatin signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Japanese that almost resembled that of the Dutch and the Americans.

Lord Elgin
The British

Lord of Elgin, commander of the British fleet in the east, meanwhile, arrived in Shimoda on August 12, 1858. Edo feared the British for its might that brought China humiliation in addition to intimidating information from Curtius and Harris. But to a sigh of relief to the Japanese, Lord Elgin, fresh from his victories in China and the Opium War, arrived with four ships – the Retribution, Furious, Lee, and the Emperor (a yacht to be given as a present to the Emperor of Japan from Queen Victoria). 

Elgin, however, faced difficulties as he wrote:
“He (Townsend Harris) had had an interview with the Emperor (Shogun), but it transpired that he had a letter of credence, which I have not and Putyatine, not having one, is not permitted to go to Edo. I also learnt that there is no way of communication with the Japanese officials except through the Dutch language. Being without a Dutch interpreter, and without letters of credence, my case looked bad.”

Nevertheless, Elgin used the yacht the “Emperor” as his ticket to Edo and Harris lend Henry Heuksen, his secretary, as the Dutch interpreter of the British diplomat. On August 14, he sailed closer to Edo and visited the capital of the Shogunate on the 18th. On the 23rd, the representatives of the Shogunate and Elgin already agreed on the terms of the treaty.

Meanwhile, Elgin’s narrative described how they respected the Japanese. They were amazed by the orderly and cleanliness of the Japanese. In addition, they saw a huge economic opportunity for Manchester cotton cloth from seeing thick Japanese clothing.

By the 26th, Elgin and the representatives of the Shogunate signed in what Laurence Oliphant, the narrator of the expedition, described as “most solemn and serious operation.” It happened in the yacht, the Emperor. As the British flag waved, the batteries of Edo fired a gun salute in respect. An unprecedented honor to be given to a foreign banner. And as the Japanese flag flew up, the cannons of the Furious and the Retribution did the same in reciprocity. The contents of the agreement mimic that of the Harris Treaty.

The French

The French arrived later on September. On 14th of that month, Baron Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros, also fresh from the Opium War, arrived in Shimoda with a squadron of warships – the Laplace, Pregent, and a small merchant ship, the Remi. By the 26th, Gros visited Edo and wrote:
“There is something of the sadness, severity, and gloom of the monastic establishments about this quarter of the town. The houses, although their architecture is more highly ornamented, have the looks of prisons.”

In addition to their low view of the houses, they also viewed the population with suspicion, stating:
"Espionage is firmly rooted in Japanese manners. It is legal and constitutional. It forms part of the administrative arrangements of the state, and has been elevated to the rank of a principle in the home policy of the empire.... It may be said without exaggeration that one half of the population of Japan are employed as spies to which over the other half."

With the use of previous treaties as basis, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and Japan concluded with no much obstacle being signed on October 9, 1858. 

Signing the treaties of amity and commerce brought Japan to a status of a semi-colony, surrendering many of its sovereignty to foreigners. They lose jurisdiction to prosecute foreigners who would violate Japanese laws. They allowed foreign countries to dictate their tariff policies. When France signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce they formed along with the Netherlands, Russia, the United States, and Great Britain, the so-called Treaty Powers, which played a role in the decline in prestige of the Shogunate. Many Japanese viewed these concessions as humiliating and many did not hesitate to show their disgust.

Explore Also:

Alcock, Rutherford. The Capital of the Tycoon: A Narrative of a Three Years' Residence in Japan. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1863. 

Beasley, W.G. The Modern History of Japan. New York, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1963.

Craig, Albert et. al. East Asia: The Modern Transformation Volume 2. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965.

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi FukuzawaTranslated by Eiichi Kiyooka. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume 12. B. London: Whitrow and Company, 1820.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Gubbins, J.H. The Progress of Japan, 1853 - 1871. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911. 

Harris, Townsend. The Complete Journal of Townsend Harris: First American Consul and Minister to Japan. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959.

Jansen, Marius (ed.). The Cambridge History of Japan Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Marquis de Moges. Recollections of Baron Gros's Embassy to China and Japan in 1857 - 1858. London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, 1861.

Murray, David. Japan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896.

Oliphant, Laurence. Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1867, '58, '59. London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1860. 

Satow, Ernest (Trans.). Japan 1853 - 1864 or Genji Yume Monogatari. Tokyo: n.p., 1905. 

__________________. Kinse Shiriaku: A History of Japan, From the First Visit of Commodore Perry in 1853 to the Capture of Hakodate by the Mikado's Forces in 1869. Tokyo: The Naigwai Shuppan Kyokwai, 1906. 

Ward, A.W. et. al. The Cambridge Modern History Volume XI: The Growth of Nationalities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1909.

Lord Elgin. Edited by Theodore Walrond. "Letters and Journals of James, Eight Earl of Elgin." In Project Gutenberg. Accessed on June 19, 2016. URL:

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