Friday, June 24, 2016

The Bakumatsu (Part 8): Diplomatic Developments

British soldiers in a Shimonoseki Battery, 1864
While the Bakufu prepared for its war against Choshu, they suddenly faced a diplomatic crisis, which freed them from the payment of a huge indemnity but in return of another batch of painful concessions. Explore these developments that virtually ended the Jo-i.

End of the Order to Expel the Barbarians

Deferring of Indemnity Payments

After the Shimonoseki crisis ended in September 1864, the Bakufu’s situation continued to be precarious as it needed to meet indemnity payments rather than to surrender opening more ports than already set up. However, financial difficulty worsened by spending to maintain their political strength undermined its capacity to make indemnity payments. This incapacity led eventually to deferral of payments and unwanted early opening of ports. Unfortunately, the Bakufu had no choice but to concede when it faced another gunboat diplomacy by the Treaty Powers.

The Shimonoseki Convention of September 1864 called for the Bakufu’s payment of $ 3,000,000 worth of indemnity in 6 installments with half a million each. Already, it further emptied the coffers of the Bakufu, which already suffered from massive spending in research and defense and in military campaigns against the Choshu Domain.

By April 1865, the Bakufu announced a delay in payment due to financial difficulties; and, Britain saw it as an opportunity to expand trade with Japan. Before the announcement, in late 1864, British charge d’affaires, Charles Winchester, proposed deferring 2/3 amount of indemnity in return for the opening of Shimonoseki. Edo out rightly rejected the proposal preferring punishing payments rather than equally gruel opening of a strategic port of the country; and, giving its enemy, the Choshu Domain, access to foreign finance, relations, and possibly support.
Harry Parkes

Winchester, nevertheless, proposed to London to defer payment of 2/3 of the indemnity in exchange for the early opening of the ports of Hyogo (Kobe) and Osaka, approval by the Emperor in Kyoto on all of Japan’s treaty obligation, and across the board tariff rate reduction to 5% level. Lord Russell, British Secretary of State, approved this proposal and the instruction about it arrived on October 1865. The duty of fulfilling this proposal fell to the newly arrived successor of Rutherford Alcock on June 1865 – Harry Parkes.

Due to the multilateral nature of the Shimonoseki Convention, Parkes needed the consent of other signatories to the agreement before forwarding it to Edo. Russia, United States, and Netherlands had no qualms but French minister Leon Roche rejected it. 

Roche suspected his country’s rival’s intentions besides he already committed his country in support of the Bakufu. He viewed the proposal as a threat to the precarious standing of the Bakufu to other domestic political players. Opening the ports of Hyogo and Osaka, cities near the Imperial Capital of Kyoto for the reason of financial mismanagement would undermine the leadership and capability of the Bakufu in the eyes of its allies, opponents (especially Choshu), the Imperial Court, and its rogue ally Satsuma. For days, Roche maintained his position until October 30, 1865 when he ultimately relented after being convinced of the proposal as beneficial to all Treaty Powers.

By November, foreign representatives sent their reply to the Bakufu’s notification on the delays with the British proposal signed by all involved foreign parties. Edo, however, informed them of the presence of the State Council and the Shogun in Osaka to manage the Choshu Expedition. The foreign ministers, well-versed to the delaying tactics of the Japanese in negotiations, knew proceeding talks with Edo would be tiresome if not wasteful. And so they grab the opportunity of the Shogun’s presence in Osaka as a means to meet their end – they sent warships to that port.

Gunboats in Hyogo

On November 4, 1865, 9 warships bearing the British, French, Dutch Ministers and the American Charge d’affaires anchored in Hyogo showing off their brute force that subdued Shimonoseki and Kagoshima. The news of the squadron shocked the Shogun, the Diamyos, and the Imperial Court as these foreigners anchored ever closer to Kyoto, the home of the Emperor. The foreign ministers saw their display as part of a shock awe tactic in a strategy of gunboat diplomacy. They meant to intimidate Japan to submit to their proposals as Perry did more than a decade before.

Young Okubo Toshimichi
On November 7, 1865, foreign representatives sent a letter bearing their proposal and giving the Shogun 7 days to reply. Shogun Iemochi approved the proposal once again for the sake of peace, while Hitotsubashi took the proposal cautiously and sent it to Kyoto for approval. As the proposal arrived with Hitotsubashi in Kyoto, the Court took a moderate stand in opposing it and the Satsuma Domain opposed it as well. Okubo Toshimichi, a prominent Satsuma samurai leader, argued the proposal to undermine the Court and the great lords. He added Hitotsubashi aimed to dominate state affairs by forcing the court to approve the proposals. Hitotsubashi then decided to gain the consensus of the Daimyos. This time, without the extremist Jo-i lords, many agreed to the proposal for peace.

Consensus for its approval further strengthened when Shogun Iemochi offered to resign with Hitotsubashi as his successor if the court rejected the proposal. Iemochi also circulated a memorandum showing his support for Kaikoku, for the enrichment of Japan to strengthen its defenses. Although he followed what others wrote before, the fact that the Shogun himself professed it altered the dynamics and strengthen the movement for Kaikoku.

On November 21, 1865, Parkes lose patience and threatened “evil consequences” (from W.G. Beasley’s The Modern History of Japan) if the Bakufu failed to deliver its reply as soon as possible. Hitotsubashi used it to reason with Kyoto stating the impracticality of war and Japan’s sure destruction once they object.

On November 22, 1865, after much deliberation and consultation with the great daimyos, like Satsuma’s Shimazu Saburo, the Emperor finally agreed to the foreign proposal. However, the imperial proposal lacked the affirmation on some issues. Although it consented to the unresolved treaties, it distanced from the issue of opening the port of Hyogo. Hitotsubashi, nevertheless, maneuvered to resolve the contentious issues. He informed foreign representative for the upcoming negotiations on tariffs as per the proposal but he affirmed Japan’s commitment in payment of the indemnity as the issue of Hyogo’s opening remained an open question.

By January 1866, talks for outright tariff rate of 5% began. But the foreign ministers and their negotiators expanded the coverage of the talks beyond tariffs and covered other issues like currency as well.

On June 25, 1866, the result of the negotiations emerged as the 1866 Tariff Convention. The main points included the imposition 5% standard tariffs as per agreed, ban on opium and exports of rice, wheat, barley and saltpeter, and removal of customs duties on book, gold, silver, coal, and grain. It also secured government monopoly on trade of precious metals, in particular gold, silver, and copper. It also removed any restriction on which class of Japanese society allowed to participate in trade. Other than that, it set July 1872 as the date when the treaty could be revised.

On June 26, 1867, the Imperial Court issued a decree granting the Bakufu permission to open Hyogo and to fulfill its treaty obligations. The decree formally made the Order to Expel the Barbarians (Jo-i) virtually null and void. Japan’s commercial relation continued to expand with the signing of treaties with the Belgians in 1866 and with the Italians and Danish in 1867.

As the Bakufu made head ways in opening the country with the sanction of Kyoto, its domestic conditions worsened, especially after the Second Choshu Expedition.

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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