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ancient Japan, inaugurated by Mito students in
the second half of the seventeenth century, had
been carried to its culminating point by a remark-
able triad of scholars, Mabuchi, Motoori, and
Hirata, who worked with singular assiduity and
wrote voluminously throughout a great part of
the eighteenth century down to the middle of the
nineteenth, 1 and the doctrines enunciated by this
remarkable school of thinkers had now sunk deep
into the hearts of a large section of the people.
Belief in the divine origin of the Emperor had
become a living faith instead of a moribund tra-
dition, and many were beginning to regard the
administration of the SKdgun as a sacrilegious
invasion of the Mikado's heaven-descended pre-
rogatives. It is asserted that the Shogun lyeyoshi
himself was more or less swayed by these theories,

1 See Appendix, note 27.



and that, in addressing the Throne, he obeyed a
genuine sentiment of loyalty. Other accounts
attribute his action to the advice of his ministers,
especially that of the Prince of Mito. Whatever
the truth may be as to the motive of the step, it
presented itself to the people in the light of an
official recognition of the new Imperialism. The
" pure Shinto creed " which had hitherto been
only academical, now assumed a practically polit-
ical character, and men's eyes turned to the
Court in Kyoto as the real centre of national

Another sentiment also was called into active
existence at this crisis, the sentiment of patriotism.
During many hundreds of years there had been
no such thing as country in the moral vista of
the educated Japanese. His loyalty did not look
beyond the limits of fief or family. Even the
Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century failed
to strike a universal chord of patriotism : the
brave soldiers that repelled the attack achieved
local rather than national renown. But the inci-
dents culminating in the expulsion of Christians
and the closing of the country in the early part
of the seventeenth century, and the inflexible
enforcement of a policy of national isolation
throughout the Tokugawa era, insensibly taught
men to think of Japan as an entity, and their
perception, greatly quickened by the Shinto re-
vivalists' doctrine of the " land of the gods," was
now suddenly stirred into almost passionate activ-



ity when the news went abroad that foreigners
had come to establish, by force if necessary, an
intercourse probably fatal to the country's inde-
pendence. A logical accompaniment of this
mood was the conviction that since the nation,
as a whole, was threatened, the nation, as a whole,
must resist ; and by the light of that conviction
the inter-fief jealousies and the divided rule of
the Emperor and the S/wgun represented obvious
sources of weakness. Everything, therefore,
pointed to the sovereign as the national rallying
point, and since His Majesty's first act, on learn-
ing of the arrival of foreign ships, had been to
pray for heaven's guardianship of the sacred land,
and for the destruction of the intruders, the na-
tion found itself furnished with a rallying cry
which soon reverberated from end to end of the
country, Son no jo-i (Revere the sovereign, expel
the alien).

This condition of public thought naturally re-
quired some time for development, and as the
sequence of events must be closely followed just
at this stage, it will be wise to revert to their
chronological order.

The Americans did not insist on the imme-
diate conclusion of a treaty. They agreed to
wait a year. The Japanese, on their side, thought
that the postponement would probably be per-
manent. So many rumours of the advent of for-
eigners had proved delusive in the past that
the Americans' announcement of an intention to



return scarcely seemed a serious menace. When,
therefore, Commodore Perry did really reappear
off Uraga in the spring of 1854, consternation
fell upon the Sfiogun's ministers. They issued
orders to the feudatories throughout the Empire
to prepare for war, and they sent officials to
Uraga to hold the intruders there. If only the
Americans could be prevented from entering
Yedo Bay, the situation might be saved. Com-
modore Perry consented to a compromise : he
did not push further than the harbour now over-
looked by the Yokohama settlement, and there
he anchored. Could he have obtained any knowl-
edge of the perturbation produced in Yedo by
his doings, he would probably have framed his
demands on a much larger scale. But he did not
know that every time the tide swung his vessels'
prows northward, the news, carried to Yedo by
flying messengers, created a general panic ; and
that whenever the ships rode with their prows
southward, the intelligence of their changed po-
sition caused the capital to breathe again, so that
for some days moods of despair and hope suc-
ceeded each other in regular succession. Neither
did he know that -the SKogurt 's officials, or at any
rate those to whom was entrusted the duty of
dealing with the American envoy, never had any
idea of serious resistance. Contenting himself,
therefore, with a treaty guaranteeing intercourse
on a limited scale, the American envoy sailed



It is possible that if even then the Yedo Court
had boldly avowed and justified its act, the nation
would have acquiesced, however unwillingly, for
the anti-foreign cry had not yet acquired any
volume, and no one was prepared to assume the
responsibility of making a public protest. But
the Yedo Court acted a disingenuous part. In-
stead of revoking its warlike instructions and
frankly disclosing the nature of the agreement
just concluded, it published a deceptive account
of the latter and virtually confirmed the former.
It adopted, in short, the most effective method
of bringing ultimate embarrassment upon itself,
and of fomenting the nation's antipathy towards
the strangers to whom a promise of friendly in-
tercourse had just been given.

For a time, however, this policy of pretence
succeeded, especially as it was accompanied by
genuine and striking measures of reform. Vig-
orous preparations for coast defence were made.
A military school was established in Yedo and a
naval in Nagasaki. Many administrative abuses
were abolished. The official door was thrown
open to men of talent and competence, irrespec-
tive of birth. The finances were reorganised in
a manner at once courageous and intelligent. In
short, the Shogunate, then under the direction
of one of the ablest statesmen that ever directed
its policy, Abe Masahiro, feudal chief of Ise,
evinced a spirit of earnestness and resolution that
won general praise. The anti-foreign voices be-


came silent. For three years and a half no pres-
age could have been discerned of the storm
destined soon to burst over the country. It
seemed indeed as though the Stiogun's adminis-
tration was about to enter upon a new era of
stability, for Abe, with profound sagacity, suc-
ceeded in winning the alliance of the Toku-
gawa's hereditary enemy, the Satsuma chief, then
the most powerful feudatory in Japan, by con-
tracting a marriage between the latter's daughter
and the Shogun, and further secured the loyal
cooperation of the Prince of Mito, a man of ex-
ceptional capacity and reputation.

It is unnecessary to describe in detail how the
first Consul-General of the United States in
Japan, Mr. Townsend Harris, reached Shimoda
in 1856; how he made his way to Yedo in
1857, in spite of strenuous official opposition;
how he had audience of the SKbgun, and after-
wards delivered in the house of the prime
minister, Hotta, feudal chief of Bitchiu the
great Abe had died three months previously
a speech of six hours' duration, which brought
a flood of light to the minds of his hearers, and
won for the cause of foreign intercourse the
permanent allegiance of a group of leading
politicians ; and how, finally, by adroit diplo-
macy in which the menace of a British fleet's
probable arrival played a large part, he succeeded
in concluding, in 1858, the first treaty that
granted genuine commercial privileges to for-


eigners. Full accounts of all these incidents
have already been published.

This treaty was the signal for an outburst
of national indignation. The former conven-
tions the plural is used because Russia,
Holland, and England had secured for themselves
treaties similar to that concluded by Commodore
Perry had been of very limited scope : they
merely opened three harbours of refuge to foreign
vessels. It had been possible for the Stiogun's
ministers to represent them in the light of acts
of charity, and in that sense they had been under-
stood by a large section of the nation. But the
treaty of 1858 provided for the coming of for-
eign merchants, indicated places of residence for
them, and definitely terminated Japan's tradi-
tional isolation. There could be no mistake
about its meaning. Hence the announcement
of its terms evoked fierce protests from all
quarters, and a powerful anti-foreign agitation
was organised with the Prince of Mito at its

Mito, ever since the days of its second feudal
chief, the celebrated Komon, had been a nursery
of anti-feudal politicians. At the time when
the American ships cast anchor at Uraga, the
fief was in the hands of Rekko, a man scarcely
second to Komon in ability and of far more
radical views. It is doubtful whether Rekko
believed sincerely in the possibility of continued
national seclusion. He certainly allowed his


fief to be the centre of such a propaganda. But
of himself those that knew him best allege that
he was prepared to admit foreigners to the
country, though he insisted on surrounding the
concession with conditions dictated by Japan in
obedience to her own interests, and that, in order
to retain mastery of the situation in that degree,
he advocated preparations for war, with the firm
purpose of resorting to it if necessary. It is
consistent with such a theory that he remained
an active supporter of the Yedo Court in spite
of the signature of the Perry convention, but
that, when the Harris treaty gave away the situa-
tion completely, and showed the Shogutis min-
isters in the light of men who, while simulating
a warlike mien in order to placate the nation,
were really bent upon pacific concessions only,
he became a determined opponent of the Sho-
gunate, and, resigning his posts as superintendent
of coast defence and director of military reforms,
retired to Mito, whither the eyes of the nation
followed him as the upholder of its traditions
and its champion against foreign aggression.

Within a brief time after these events, the
people ranged themselves into three parties.
The first was headed by the Shogun's chief
minister and by the so-called " Dutch students,"
who now occupied a high 'place in official
favour. This party's platform was progress and
liberalism. They advocated the opening of the
country and the establishment of free commercial


.nwoirfl need svcrf oJ Laaoqque vlsuoano-na SIB ansitehriO rioirlw moil 3(001 srfT


The rock from which Christians are erroneously Supposed to have been thrown.


intercourse with foreigners, and they showed
high moral courage in championing such views
in spite of hearing themselves fiercely denounced
as renegades and national enemies. The second
party, though a unit as to the advisability of
setting narrow limits to foreign intercourse,
entertained divergent views on the subject of the
procedure to be followed. One of its sections
held that as an object lesson must be provided to
teach the nation its own weakness compared with
the overwhelming strength of Europe and
America, and as, at the same time, even a war in
which Japan suffered defeat would doubtless
have the effect of modifying the arbitrariness of
foreigners, the best plan was to fight at once.
The other section advised temporary compliance
with foreign demands, in order to gain time for
developing force to drive out the alien altogether.
Alike anti-foreign in their ultimate purpose,
these two sections nevertheless became mutually
distrustful and, in the end, implacably hostile.
The third party did not reason at all, but simply
declaimed against conceding anything whatever
to aliens.

All this sounds very bigoted and uncivilised,
but when the circumstances under which foreign
intercourse came to an end in the seventeenth
century are recalled, and when it is remembered
that during nearly two hundred ,and fifty years
the people had harboured a firm conviction that
to admit foreigners was to forfeit national inde-

VOL. III. 12


pendence, there is no difficulty in understanding
the temper aroused by the news of the Harris
treaty. Indeed, to any student of the literature
that circulated among the Japanese immediately
prior to the mission of Commodore Perry, the
wonder is, not that great difficulties were expe-
rienced in concluding a treaty, but that any sec-
tion of the people could be induced to range
themselves on the side of liberalism. The writ-
ings of the time were saturated with anti-
foreign sentiment. Authors revelled in such
expressions as " imperial customs " (Kivofu],
" imperial country " (Kivokoku}, " divine dig-
nity" (Shin-i), "land of the gods" (Shin-shu),
and similar terms indicating fanatical pride in the
Empire and its institutions. On the other hand,
"hideous aliens" (shu-i), "barbarian bandits"
(banzokit), "sea monsters" (kaikwai), and many
similarly opprobrious epithets were habitually
applied to foreigners, until men ceased to rank
them among human beings ; association with
them came to spell national ruin ; their sciences
were counted black magic, and their religion
was deemed a cloak for political intrigue.

Fully cognisant of the difficulties arising out
of this national mood, the Shoguns ministers
summoned another meeting of feudatories and
sought to win them to the cause of liberalism by
arguments similar to those Mr. Townsend Harris
had used in his great speech. But the feudatories
were in no temper to listen to reason. Their



unique idea was that the country had been be-
trayed. Nothing remained, therefore, except to
issue a formal decree that the Yedo Court had
definitely abandoned the traditional policy of
isolation. A few months previously the same
Court, by means of a similar instrument, had
represented the Perry convention in the light of
an irksome compromise, had spoken of the
Americans as persons of " arbitrary and lawless
manners," and had invited the nation to strenu-
ously undertake naval and military preparations
with the implied purpose of reverting to the time-
honoured state of seclusion. Now a decree of
diametrically opposite import was issued. It may
well be supposed that such evidences of variability
did not strengthen the nation's respect for the
Shogunate. The conservatives openly declared
that the Yedo Government had harboured pacific
intentions from the first, and that it had simu-
lated a warlike mien merely to placate popular

The Prince of Mito has been spoken of above as
leader of the extreme conservatives. But a greater
than the Prince of Mito stood at the head of
the movement, the Emperor himself. The
Emperor, when the news of Perry's first cc ming
reached Kyoto, ordered that the succour of the
gods should be supplicated, just as it had been
supplicated at the time of the Mongol invasion
in the thirteenth century ; and when he heard of
Perry's second coming, he issued an edict direct-



ing that all temple bells not in actual use should
be cast into cannon. There is no reason to assume
that His Majesty was swayed in this matter by
strong anti-foreign prejudices, or that he would
have adopted such a course on his own initiative.
Apart from the fact that the views of the Mika-
dos in Kyoto had long ceased to be anything
but a reflection of their immediate surroundings,
it has to be noted that, on this occasion, the
Emperor Komei shaped his procedure in accord-
ance with indications furnished from Yedo. The
SKogun's Court had virtually denounced foreign
intercourse ; the Shogun's ministers had invited
the nation to arm for the defence of its traditional
convictions ; the Emperor's ministers and the
Emperor himself merely followed Yedo's lead.

But now Yedo had performed a complete
volte-face. What was Kyoto to do ? Probably
if the Imperial capital had listened to that epoch-
making speech of Mr. Townsend Harris, had
perused all the arguments and had weighed all
the circumstances making for a treaty with
America as a precedent to avert harsher demands
on the part of other States, the Emperor's advis-
ers might have followed the S/iogun in welcoming
foreigners, as they had previously followed him
in repelling them. But Kyoto saw the change
only and did not understand the causes.

The anti-foreign and anti-feudal politicians
were not slow to appreciate the opportunity thus
afforded. They understood that their best chance



of success consisted in widening the breach be-
tween the two Courts, and they applied them-
selves to achieve that end by urging the Emperor
to veto the treaty. Intercourse between the feu-
datories and the Imperial Court was forbidden
by the laws of the Shogun. But the SKogun
himself had departed from the strictest traditions
of the Tokugawa administration when he referred
the question of foreign intercourse to the feuda-
tories and to the sovereign, and when he entered
no protest against the Emperor's edict direct-
ing the founding of cannon from temple bells,
though such an edict constituted a plain inter-
ference in administrative affairs. The feudal
nobles might well conclude that the old restric-
tions had been relaxed. At all events, they acted
on that hypothesis ; notably the Prince of Mito,
who sent emissaries to Kyoto with instructions
to work strenuously for the repudiation of the

Informed of these things, the SKogun 's chief
minister, Hotta, proceeded to Kyoto. He set
out with the conviction that his representations
would produce a complete change of opinion in
the Imperial capital. But the whole of the Court
nobility opposed him, and after much dis ussion
the Emperor issued an order that the question
should be submitted to the feudatories and that
an heir to the Shogunate should be nominated at

A significance not superficially apparent at-



tached to the latter part of this edict. The
Shogun lyesada was virtually a witling. He had
been married, as already stated, to an adopted
daughter of the feudal chief of Satsuma, but there
was no issue of the marriage, nor had there ever
been any possibility of issue. Two candidates
for the heirship offered. They were Keiki, son
of the Prince of Mito, a man of matured intellect
and high capacities, and lyemochi, Prince of Kii,
a lad of thirteen. Public opinion unanimously
indicated the former as the more fitting, and his
connection with the house of Mito was accepted
as an assurance of anti-foreign bias. Hence,
although the Imperial decree did not actually
name him, its intention could not be mistaken.
But public opinion erred in this instance. Keiki
did not advocate national seclusion. Had the
choice fallen on him, he would have con-
tinued the policy of Hotta and the liberals, while
at the same time seeking to soften the hostility
of the Mito faction. Hotta, appreciating these
things, sought to bring about the nomination ;
but the Shogun's household, knowing that
Keiki's appointment would be equivalent to their
master's abrogation, cast about for means to pre-
vent it, and found them in inducing the Sfiogun
to summon li, feudal chief of Kamon, to the
highest post in the Yedo Court, that of Tairo
(great elder).

li was probably the ablest of the able men
thrown to the surface by the seething current of



events in this troubled epoch. It is unnecessary
to depict his character ; his deeds are sufficiently
eloquent. Without a moment's hesitation he re-
verted to the autocratic principles of the Shogun's
administration ; caused the young prince of Kii
to be nominated heir, and concluded the Harris
treaty, which had hitherto been awaiting signa-
ture. 1 A majority of the powerful feudatories
now joined the opposition. The Prince of Mito
protested in writing. He insisted that the sanc-
tion of the Imperial Court must be sought before
concluding the treaty ; that various restrictions
should be imposed on foreign intercourse
among them being a drastic interdict against the
building of Christian places of worship and
that if foreigners were unwilling to accept these
conditions, they must be asked to defer the treaty
for fifteen or twenty years. It is thus apparent
that even the leader of the anti-foreign party, as
the Prince of Mito subsequently became, con-
curred with the leader of the liberals concerning
the impossibility of rejecting foreign advances
altogether. The difference was that one side
wanted to impose conditions and obtain delay by
seeking the sovereign's sanction ; the o"her
wished to conclude the treaty forthwith so as to
avoid national disaster.

The events that ensued throw a vivid light on
the nature of Japanese politics and the character
of the men that had to deal with them. Death

1 See Appendix, note 28.


removed the semi-idiotic SKogun lyesada, and an
unprecedented period elapsed before the coming
of an Imperial mandate to his successor. The
issue of such a mandate was in truth a mere
matter of form. Four or five days should have
sufficed for its preparation and transmission to
Yedo. Yet it did not reach the latter city until
the fifteenth day after the Imperial seal had been
affixed to it. The delay is one of the unsolved
mysteries of history, since the official responsible
for it committed suicide without revealing any-
thing. On the eve of the new Sfiogun's procla-
mation, the heads of the Three Princely houses
Owari, Echizen, and Mito repaired simul-
taneously to the hall of audience and demanded
an interview with the Tairo. li was advised not
to meet them ; it seemed certain that he would
incur deadly risk by doing so. He replied that
personal danger was a small matter compared
with shirking his duty. A stormy discussion
ensued, lasting for several hours. At length the
leaders of the opposition showed themselves will-
ing to compromise ; they would agree to the
treaty provided that Keiki were appointed SKogun.
This is a landmark in the annals of the era. It
indicates that domestic politics occupied a larger
space than foreign in the eyes of the recusant
nobles. The Tairo, however, would not yield a
point. Not only was the young Shogun duly in-
stalled on the following day, but the first step he
took, by the advice of the Tairo, was to punish



the leaders of the opposition, confining them to
their mansions or forbidding their attendance at
Court. The die was now irrevocably cast, and
the radical section of the anti-foreign party
thenceforth looked to the Prince of Mito as their

While these events were happening behind the
scenes, the Foreign Representatives entertained
great doubts of the Yedo Government's good
faith. They imagined that the abiding desire of
the SKbguns ministers was either to avoid making
treaties or to evade them when made. Such
doubts, though not unnatural under the circum-
stances of the time, are now known to have been
without solid basis. In the written communica-
tion addressed to the Throne by the Yedo states-
men after the conclusion of the Harris treaty,
there is plain evidence that they intended to
observe their new obligations loyally. The only
questionable point is a suggestion that after the
strengthening of the army and the navy the
problem of peace or war might be solved. " If
peaceful relations be maintained until the time
appointed for ratifying the treaty, the avaricio is
aliens will definitely see that there is not much
wealth in the country, and thus, abandoning the
idea of gain, they will approach us with friendly
feelings only, and ultimately will pass under
the influence of our Emperor's grace. We may
even hope that they will be induced to make
grateful offerings to the Emperor, and then it


will no longer be a question of trade but of
tribute. Meanwhile we will require them to
observe our laws strictly, so that we can govern
them at will." There is here an audible note of

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 11 of 16)