Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Bakumatsu (Part 2): Divided Japan

State Council Meeting with Lord Elgin
Divide and tensions followed the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa. Historical antipathies further widened the polarization as a result of different opinions on the country’s faith. Explore the developments within Japan after 1854, when the Bakufu signed the Treaty of Kanagawa.

After the Treaty of Kanagawa

Japan reflected on its situation after the signing of the of the 1854 Treaty of Kanagawa. New leadership within the Bakufu followed in the midst of opposition and criticism by those who opposed the signing of the Treaty. Daimyos and the Shogunate rearmed coastal defenses in preparation of war; while other found renewed enthusiasm on western technology and sciences.

Abe Masahiro resigned at the end of 1855 after much criticism for consenting to unequal treaties. Daimyos opposing the opening of the country loudly slammed Abe for his weakness by conceding to the so-called foreign "barbarians.” Although resigned as roju or head elder, Abe remained a part of the state council until he passed away in 1858.

Hotta Masayoshi succeeded Abe in 1855 continuing his predecessors’ policy of rearming and modernizing the country. Previously, Abe had many coastal defenses fixed to prepare for possible confrontation with foreigners. Meanwhile, renewed interest on advance western knowledge like Dutch sciences (called Rangaku) also soared among enthusiastically curious samurais and intellectuals. Abe and Hotta strongly supported studies of western sciences and technology to quickly update and strengthen Japan. In 1857, the Bakufu established the Institute of Investigation of Barbarian Books or the Bausho Shirabesho to translate western books. Military and naval technology also interested the Bakufu and various Daimyos, like the Satsuma Lord, Shimazu Hisamitsu/Saburo. They imported expensive western arms, studied western shipbuilding and navigational techniques, and applied western military training to their armies. In the early 1860’s the application of western military techniques to the Shogunal army gave birth to the Sampeitai, while in the Choshu Domain, in 1862, it gave rise to the Kiheitai. All of these continued under Hotta’s leadership.

Despite the fall of Abe, Hotta also faced the challenge of a country divided in opinion on whether Japan should revert back to isolation or concede to opening the country and get the best out of it.

Political Divide

The Bakufu's concessions after 1854 opened old wounds of past grudges and politically revitalize many political institution of feudal Japan. It started when Abe Masahiro involved the Daimyos and the Imperial Court in Kyoto during the time of the visit of Commodore Perry in 1853 and ’54. Eventually, it polarized Japanese politics with three competing factions – the Bakufu, the Imperial Court, and the Daimyos.  

Each of the three served with important role in Japanese feudal society and history. In the pyramid of hierarchy the Emperor or the Mikado and the Court occupied the top followed by the Bakufu or the Shogunate and then the Daimyos. The Emperor handed over all power to govern Japan to the Shogun and to his military government called the Bakufu. The Daimyos on the other hand submitted under a Bakufu and lived as hereditary lords of various domains.

Issue of whether to open or to close Japan during the time of Perry’s arrival split the three factions and the country. Abe at the time of Perry’s arrival did not know what to do and asked the Daimyos and the Imperial Court in Kyoto for their opinion. The act made the Court and the Daimyos see a chance to take more active role in Japan’s affairs.

The Bakufu stood for cautious opening of Japan. They, however, also did not even want to open the country until Perry came, when it became a matter of preventing war. As strong western countries demanded trade, they had the choice of either to concede or to face colonization, to which the Bakufu chose the latter. They then tried to view Japan’s sudden opening as a positive opportunity to learn new modern and western technologies and profit from trade to finance the strengthening of defenses.

The Daimyos, on the other hand, were divided even before the issue of opening came up. A divide deeply rooted from the foundation of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century. At the start of the Tokugawa regime, three classes of daimyos existed – the Fudai, Shimpan, and Tozama Daimyos. Fudai Daimyos supported the Tokugawa Shogunate by providing bureaucrats for its government, while Shimpan Daimyos were branches of the Tokugawa Shogunate that governed large domains, but they had no chance of succeeding as Shoguns. Finally, Tozama Daimyos or Outsider Daimyos geographically lived away from the Bakufu capital of Edo and excluded from the government as they opposed the Tokugawas during the time of its foundation. Nevertheless, they had vast lands, numerous samurais, and some scale of autonomy due to their distance from the capital. As a result of their exclusion, the historical disposition against the Tokugawa Shogunate remained strong and deeply rooted. Most of the Tozama Daimyos who also opposed the opening of the country, used this issue to rally support against their Tokugawa nemesis.

Tokugawa Nariaki
The schism further widened as they debated whether to open the country or maintain the Closed-Country policy or SakokuThose who supported isolation followed the slogan Jo-i or Expel the Barbarians and believed that Sakoku served as a main pillar of Japan. They criticized the Shogun for not living up to the meaning of his title – barbarian expelling generalissimo. Tokugawa Nariaki, a Shimpan Daimyo of Mito, commanded respect within the isolationist movement and Hotta feared his influence. Although isolationist, he believed in using western technology to Japan’s advantage and to its contribution to the country’s defense. He wanted active and aggressive resistance against foreigners by saying, “gun batteries and other preparations will accordingly be so much ornament, never put to effective use.” He also called for the reform of the Shogunate and for the return power back to the Emperor in Kyoto to unite the country during their time of uncertainty. His belief of imperial restoration traced back decades of tolerating nationalist scholars like Aizawa Seishisai.

On the other hand, Daimyos supporting the stand of opening the country to avoid war rallied under the slogan of Kaikoku – Open-Country Policy. They argued that opening the country was necessary to prevent war and suggested to make the best out of it by modernizing the country through trade and research with the west. Most of the proponents of Kaikoku had studied or known Dutch Learning of Rangaku from the Dutch enclave of Dejima in Nagasaki and believed that tradition and western technology could co-exist under the slogan of Toyo Dotoku, Seiyo Gakugei – Eastern Ethics, Western Sciences. Ii Naosuke, Daimyo of Hikone, advocated Kaikoku and later strongly fought for it during his regency. Ii Naosuke equally rivaled Tokugawa Nariaki’s influence.

Meanwhile, the Imperial court stood impotent for centuries until Abe suddenly sought its opinion on the issue of opening the country. Ever since Shoguns begin to administer the country, the Emperor lived powerless for centuries as a spiritual and symbolic leader until the events of 1853, which gave them a chance to resuscitate its political interest. In 1854, the Emperor in Kyoto issued an unprecedented decree allowing the melting of bells from temples to forge cannons for the defense of the country. The Court stood against the tide of opening by taking xenophobic stands. Many viewed this stand as traditionalist and oblivious to the realities of the world due to its long slumber from politics. From its Sakoku views, the imperial court in Kyoto served as a rallying point for Jo-i supporters, who later called for imperial restoration after seeing the Tokugawa Shogunate as impotent to stand against “barbarians.”

The difference in views and historical rivalries made the political situation in Japan complex adding further to the complication in handling the Treaty Powers.

Hotta’s Leadership

Hotta Masayoshi
Hotta also followed Abe’s foreign policy of maintaining peace by trying their best to minimize the demands of western powers.

From 1854 to 1857, Japan continuously received demands from Russians, Dutch, and Americans to expand their relations thru the use of fear and intimidation. The Bakufu, Hotta, and their negotiators attempted to be strong in negotiations by doing their best to delay or to minimize foreign demands. They, however, received intimidating reports from foreign negotiators of a British fleet coming to bring the same faith of China to Japan. This they said could be avoided if the Japanese signed a more palatable agreement with them before the British arrives, to which Hotta feared and so decided to negotiate.

Negotiations with the foreign “barbarians” for trade deal infuriated Daimyos and the Court resulting to Hotta’s fall. Tokugawa Nariaki and other Daimyos protested against Hotta, who attempted to pacify opposition by obtaining imperial approval from Kyoto on May 3, 1858. The Emperor, however, disappointed Hotta by withholding their consent until all Daimyos agreed to a consensus. The answer from Kyoto equaled to a humiliating failure resulting to Hotta’s resignation and the rise of Ii Naosuke, the Lord of Hikone and the strong advocate of Kaikoku.

Ii Naosuke’s Leadership

Ii Naosuke
Ii, a stout advocate of Kaikoku or open-country policy, succeeded Hotta on June 1858 after failing to obtain Kyoto’s approval on the agreed terms for the treaties with the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. Ii’s power further strengthen after he received the post of Tairo or regent, a position created during times of crisis. He took stronger and tougher stand towards Kyoto and against his opponents, resulting to what became known as the Ansei Purge, named after the era name of that year.

Ii had the Treaty of Amity and Commerce or the Harris Treaty signed on July 29, 1858 without the approval of both Kyoto and Daimyos. He also approved the signing of treaties with the Russians, Dutch, British, and French, which formed the so-called Treaty Powers.

Ii strengthen further his power and control by using the issue of Shogunal succession to his advantage. By the time of the middle of the 1858, the childless Shogun Iesada fell sick and dying, leaving a problem of succession. Two candidates emerged. First, Iemochi, a 9-year-old boy, came from a family that maintain traditional rule of the Tokugawa and supported the idea of opening the country. Second, Hitotsubashi Keiki or Yoshinobu, older and more capable than Iemochi and son of Tokugawa Nariaki (adopted by the Hitotsubashi clan, a relative of the main Tokugawa line but without a domain, making him eligible), took the stand against complete opening of the country and urged for reforms towards imperial restoration. Ii knew who he needed to support and on August 4, 1858, the Shogun announced Iemochi as his formal heir to the Shogunate. Tokugawa Iesada passed away ten days later on August 14.

Kyoto, meanwhile, criticized Ii for solely signing the treaties. On September 15, 1858, Emperor Komei issued a secret decree attacking the Shogunate’s actions and calling for a strong opposition against Ii. Ii ruthlessly retaliated by launching a massive purge of his opponents and those who supported the Jo-i factions. Many Daimyos and officials faced, imprisonment, force retirement, and execution. Tokugawa Nariaki fell and retired to Mito along with the Daimyos of Tosa and Eichezen. Yoshida Shoin, a Satsuma scholar and samurai, who believed in imperial restoration suffered death after taking part in a conspiracy against the Shogunate. He along with 60 other samurai scholars perished under the Ansei Purge. His students, eventually, played leading role in the toppling of the Shogunate. As a result of the Ansei Purge, Ii garnered many enemies and earned the nickname Bakku Genro – Swagerring Minister.

Ii renewed attempts to secure imperial consent for the treaties signed with the westerners. Manabe Akikatsu went as envoy of the Shogunate to talk with the Imperial Court into accepting the agreement. He reasoned the treaty signing was unavoidable and costly if rejected. With most of the Court’s supporter imprisoned, it conceded its approval on February 2, 1859 with the condition that no ports should be opened near the sacred grounds of Ise and Kyoto and when time permitted, the Bakufu must expel the barbarians and revert back to isolation.

In 1859, ports began to open for foreigners as stated from the commercial treaties. In 1860, Japan and the Shogunate took the historical step of sending the Japanese modified steamship Karin Maru to an expedition across the Pacific and to the United States to exchange copies of the Harris Treaty as a sign of ratification.

The opening of ports of Kanagawa and Nagasaki angered many samurais who acted violently towards foreigners and Shogunal officials who approved it. Among their victims was Ii Naosuke himself.

Ii fell on March 24, 1860 at the hands of angry Mito Samurais disgusted by the treaties and by the disgrace suffered by the their Lord, Tokugawa Nariaki. John Gubbins, a British diplomat, quoted the significance of Ii’s death saying, “After his death, the fall of the Shogunate was only a question of time.” Indeed, after the fall of Ii, opposition against the Bakufu restarted, continuing to the decline of absolute power and control of the two hundred year old Tokugawa clan. 

Tokugawa Nariaki, the main rival of Ii, passed away few months later on September 29, 1860. With the death of the two influential men from the two ends of the pole, somewhat mellowed the divide and signaled a hope of unity between the Imperial Court and the Shogunate. But the presence of foreigners challenged this idea of unity, eventually complicating further Japan’s domestic politics.

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. 

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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: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10610/pg10610-images.html

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