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sinister intention. But experience had shown
that to set forth the real strength of foreign
countries was only to rouse the indignation of
the ignorant and haughty nobles in Kyoto.
From correspondence between the Tairo li and
his friends in the Imperial capital, it appears that
he was advised to simulate the policy of bringing
foreigners under Japanese influence, and of
employing for military purposes the wealth that
would accrue from trade with them. In short,
the despatches composed by him for the perusal
of the Imperial Court must be read, not as indi-
cating the genuine policy of the Yedo officials,
but as presenting it in such a light as might
placate the conservative element in Kyoto. This
deception was carried so far that an envoy sub-
sequently sent to Kyoto from Yedo depicted the
SJiogun as actually hostile to foreigners, but
disposed to tolerate them momentarily from
considerations of expediency. The Foreign
Representatives could scarcely have been expected
to arrive at a correct interpretation of the situa-
tion through this maze of simulations and dis-
simulations, or to credit the Stiogun with intentions
which his own ministers seemed anxious to dis-
avow on his behalf. In Europe, at the foreign

i See Appendix, note 29.

1 86


legations in Yedo and among the foreigners then
beginning to come to the country under the
treaties, an uneasy conviction prevailed that
Japan waited only for an opportunity to repudi-
ate her engagements.

Meanwhile, although the Prince of Mito was
confined to his residence in Yedo, his partisans
in Kyoto l worked strenuously to procure the
intervention of the Imperial Court on his behalf.
It was a repetition of the often practised device,
making a catspaw of the sovereign in the interests
of a subject, and it partially succeeded. The
Emperor was persuaded to issue a rescript which,
though couched in guarded terms, conveyed
a reprimand to the Shogun for concluding a treaty
without previously consulting the feudatories (as
directed in a former rescript), and which further
suggested that the punitory measures adopted
towards the Princes of Mito and Owari might
lead to domestic disturbances.

A supreme trial of strength now took place
between the Sfiogun and his enemies. Envoys
were despatched from Yedo to offer explanations
to the Imperial Court, and the leaders of the
opposition mustered their forces to thwart the
design. For nearly four months the issue re-
mained in abeyance, and the envoys finally had
to pretend that the Shogun, at heart averse to
foreign intercourse, only awaited an opportun-
ity to terminate it. In consideration of such

1 See Appendix, note 30.

I8 7


assurances the Emperor issued the following
rescript :

Amity and commerce with foreigners brought dis-
grace on the country in the past. Our ancestors were
grieved by the fact. Should such relations be resumed
in our reign, we shall be wanting in our duty towards
our predecessors. Our will has been repeatedly made
known on the subject. Manabe and Sakai have now
come to Kyoto to explain the facts, and it has been
made evident that the purpose of the Shogun and his
officials is one with that of the Emperor. It is desir-
able that Kyoto and Yedo should join their strength
and plan the welfare of the Empire. We comprehend
the difficulties of the situation, and sanction a post-
ponement of the expulsion of foreigners.

The two Courts seemed to be now publicly
pledged to an anti-foreign policy. Yet the issue
of the rescript was regarded as a victory for Yedo.
The Tairo himself knew, of course, that his oppor-
tunism had placed him in a position which might at
any moment become impossible. He had sought
to obtain the unconditional consent of the Em-
peror to the treaties, but finding that to insist
would involve a final rupture between the sov-
ereign and the Shdgun, he had accepted a com-
promise which not only represented him in a false
light from the foreigners' point of view, but
must also eventuate in serious embarrassment,
unless preparations could be made to secure fresh
concessions from Kyoto before the real attitude
of the Shogunate towards foreigners and the



attitude simulated by it to pacify the conserva-
tives became flagrantly divergent. To such prep-
arations, therefore, the Tairb and his coadjutors
now devoted all their strength.

During the course of the negotiations in
Kyoto, the Yedo envoys had discovered clear
evidence of a formidable plot to overthrow the
Shogunate. The Tairo was not the man to
palter with such an affair. Wholesale arrests
were made, and the conspirators, cited before a
court whose bench had been carefully purged
of all half-hearted elements, were mercilessly
sentenced. Capital punishment and banishment
were the lot of the most active among the
subordinates ; the leaders fared according to the
canons of the time. The Prince of Mito was
condemned to perpetual confinement in his fief;
the Prince of Owari, to permanent retirement ;
Keiki, ex-candidate for the succession to the
Shogunate, forfeited his office and was directed
to live in seclusion ; the heads of three branch
houses of Mito, several officials of the Imperial
Court, in short, a number of notable personages,
were overtaken by loss and disgrace.

This event produced a profound sensation
throughout the Empire. It is tolerably certain
that much injustice was done. Political views
found very vague expression at that time. A
man's opinions were generally inferred from the
company he kept, and there is reason to think
that ties of personal friendship were sometimes



mistaken by the Ansei 1 judges for bonds of
political conspiracy. They were directed to
convict, and they convicted. The Yedo Court,
under li's guidance, had concluded that the
elements engaged in misleading the Throne
must be ruthlessly crushed, and from the point
of view of public expediency, they doubtless
acted wisely. But the impression produced upon
the public at large was that many zealous patriots
had been done to death or disgraced, and it will
readily be conceived that these things did not
detract from the unpopularity of foreign inter-

Some decisive measure had now to be adopted
with regard to the Imperial edict mentioned
above ; that is to say, the edict issued at the
instance of the anti-foreign party when the news
reached Kyoto that the sovereign's indication
had been disregarded in the matter of the acces-
sion to the Shogunate and that a treaty had been
concluded with foreign Powers. The edict had
been practically superseded, as shown above, by a
later rescript, declaring union between Yedo and
Kyoto and temporarily sanctioning the treaty.
Moreover, it had not been publicly promulgated.
The original document, conveyed secretly to the
Mito mansion in the Koishikawa suburb of
Yedo, 2 had been carried thence to Mito, and
placed in the ancestral tomb of the family,
where a strong body of samurai guarded it night

1 See Appendix, note 31. * See Appendix, note 32.



and day. But there was evidence that the Mito
men considered this edict in the light of a
guarantee against concessions to foreigners, who,
according to their creed, were the country's
enemies, and that they thought the sovereign
had confided it to their care because he doubted
whether the Yedo Court could be trusted to
promulgate it. Indeed, the question of pro-
mulgation caused much discussion in Yedo.
The Tairo himself, unfalteringly consistent in
his policy of restoring the S/iogun's administrative
autocracy, maintained that the conveyance of
such a document direct to a feudatory was a
flagrant contravention of the powers vested in
the Shogun, and that the Yedo officials were
competent to suppress the edict. Ultimately the
Regent in Kyoto, a faithful supporter of the
Tairo, sought and obtained the sovereign's au-
thority to revoke the document. But the Mito
men refused to surrender it. They deemed that
to temporise with foreigners was to imperil the
national safety. They saw in commerce with
the outer world nothing but an agent for causing
the appreciation of commodities. They believed
that, as one of the three great Tokugawa clans,
an obligation devolved on them to save the
Shogunate from its own blunders, and they pro-
fessed to fear that if they surrendered the edict,
the sovereign would ultimately be driven to seek
the cooperation of some other clan. With
regard to the possibility of driving out foreigners,



they did not find the question conclusive. Their
duty was to devote all their strength to the
attempt and trust the rest to the gods. A long
and closely reasoned document compiled by a
leader of the Mito samurai set forth these con-
siderations in language that could not fail to
appeal to the loyalty and patriotism of his clans-
men. It ended by declaring that a man's life
is never in such danger as when he fears to lose
it. The records show that nearly a score of
samurai sealed their belief in these ideas by com-
mitting suicide.

At this stage the Mito chief himself issued to
his vassals an instruction to surrender the edict.
He had never been a believer in absolute inter-
national isolation, and he now severed his con-
nection with its advocates. Thereupon the
rebellious samurai dispersed quietly, with the
exception of about a hundred desperate men who
declared that they would die rather than yield.
The Yedo Government gave orders for the seiz-
ure of these rebels, but before the mandate could
be obeyed, the Tairo, li Kamon, fell under the
swords of a party of assassins who had detached
themselves from the rebels and made their way
to Yedo for the purpose of killing him. He
had been warned of his danger and urged to
increase the strength of his escort. But he re-
plied that no force of guards could control the
hand of fate or baffle the ingenuity of resolute
assassins, and, further, that the number of the


com Their




Tairtfs escort was fixed by a rule which a man
in such a high position must respect.

This happened on the 3rd of March, 1860.
It proved to be the first of a series of similar acts.
Occasionally foreigners were the victims, but
generally Japanese leaders of progress suffered.
There is no difficulty in understanding why the
samurai had recourse to his sword under the cir-
cumstances of the time. The incidents of foreign
intercourse in the sixteenth and seventeenth cen-
turies bequeathed to subsequent generations a
rooted belief in the necessity of national isolation.
They perceived no other way of preserving the
country's integrity. Every Japanese was born
with that conviction. He would have seemed to
himself a traitor had he acquiesced in the signing
of treaties of amity and commerce, and, above all,
in the readmission of Christians to contact with
the people. By the light of modern philosophy
such conservatism looks irrational and even in-
human. But the Japanese regarded it by the
light of experience and hereditary conviction.
They had no innate prejudice against foreign
intercourse ; that is plain from the story related
in a previous chapter. Originally they received
the alien hospitably and accepted the products
of his civilisation with intelligent appreciation.
But he had shown himself, as they firmly believed,
an aggressive enemy, whose tradal methods im-
poverished their country, and whose religion
served as a cloak for sinister designs against the

VOL. III. 13 i g -i


Empire's independence. It was the duty of
every patriot to avert the recurrence of the old
peril, against which the country's greatest states-
men and captains, the Taiko, lyeyasu and lyemitsu,
had warned their own and succeeding genera-
tions. Whatever credit these illustrious men
possessed in the mind of the nation, whatever
reverence their memory commanded, was insep-
arably associated with the policy of seclusion
which they had adopted in the apparent interests
of their country and in despite of their own in-
clinations. The impartial historian has no choice
but to admit that had the Japanese tamely suf-
fered the resumption of foreign intercourse in
the nineteenth century, they would have done
violence to convictions which no patriot may
ignore, and shown themselves lacking in one of
the essential ingredients of national spirit. When
foreigners were cut down under circumstances
that left them no chance of resistance, their
friends and fellow countrymen naturally de-
nounced such acts as craven and savage. But it
is necessary to remember that the perpetrators
were men who had sacrificed their own worldly
prospects 1 and were ready to sacrifice their lives
also in the cause they represented ; that they
believed themselves entitled to exercise all the
license permitted to a soldier in war ; and that
their object, in general, was not to destroy indi-
vidual foreigners so much as to create a situation

1 See Appendix, note 33.



inconsistent with friendly intercourse and fatal
to the maintenance of the Shogun's administra-
tion. A favourite saying of Ando, who suc-
ceeded the great Tairb, li, was: "If the ronin 1
thirst so ardently for blood, let them take my
life, or the SKogun's, but let them never raise
their hand against a foreigner, for th^y would
thus endanger the national safety." It is possible
that these words, profoundly wise as they were,
furnished a cue to the ronin. Whatever the
Skbgun's chief minister denounced as eminently
objectionable, that commended itself most to
these desperate patriots. No clearer exposition
of the motives animating them can be found than
that furnished by documents from the hands of
the men who slew the Tairb li. These last
testaments 2 teach that their writers did not dis-
tinguish between the peaceful coming of foreign
traders under a treaty of amity and an invasion
of enemies from abroad. They recalled the fact
that their country's wisest statesmen, after full
experience of foreign intercourse in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, had seen no alternative
but to prohibit it completely. They were not
without some knowledge of Western history.
They knew that the great States of Europe con-
stantly grew greater by swallowing smaller States,
and they feared that the fate of the latter might
overtake Japan. They believed that steadfast faith
in the Shinto deities, supplemented by the stout arms

1 See Appendix, note 34. 2 See Appendix, note 35.



of the samurai, was the country's best bulwark, and
they deemed that to permit the preaching of alien
creeds was to forfeit the protection of the gods,
who had always guarded Japan. They were not
bigoted conservatives : they admitted that a na-
tion's policy must change with the times ; but
they failed to understand the changes which the
Shogutis policy had undergone at one moment
ordering the feudatories to prepare for the forcible
exclusion of foreigners ; the next, admitting
Americans even to the precincts of Yedo Castle
and treating them with deference and courtesy
in defiance of the Emperor's expressed wishes.
They accused the Yedo Government of bribing
high officials in Kyoto, a charge which could
not be denied. They spoke of the Emperor's
having passed seven days in prayer at the shrine
of Iwashimizu, and of His Majesty's having
finally decided, under the inspiration of the gods,
that no new port should be opened, no foreigner
allowed to reside in the country, and no Christian
place of worship erected ; and they declared
their conviction that posterity would execrate
them as cowards if they did not strike for their
country's cause at this crisis of her destiny. It is
beyond question that thousands of Japanese samu-
rai entertained similar views ; and when it is
remembered that the ethical creed of the time
sanctioned assassination as a political weapon, 1
that no stigma attached to the assassin, and that

1 See Appendix, note 36.



if he escaped the punishment of the law adminis-
tered by the official protectors of the man he had
killed, he had nothing to apprehend except the
vengeance of the latter's relatives, there remains
no room for surprise that the course of the pas-
sionate controversies of those days was often
marked with blood. Rather, indeed, are there
grounds for surprise that the public peace suffered
so little disturbance under such conditions.


Chapter VI



far this record has spoken mainly
of the aspect under which aliens pre-
sented themselves to Japan by the light
of tradition. It is now necessary to
inquire whether, on the renewal of intercourse in
the nineteenth century, the alien's demeanour
and doings were of such a nature as to erase
or confirm the traditional impressions of the

Looking at the facts to-day, after the lapse of
forty years has furnished a true perspective, the
historian is struck by the distrust that pervaded
the whole attitude of foreigners towards the
Japanese at the outset of renewed intercourse.
The worst possible construction was generally put
by the former upon the latter's acts, whether
official or private. Even the Foreign Represen-
tatives, when recording the adoption of some
liberal course by the Yedo Government, were
wont to qualify their approval by a hope that no
trickery or abuse was intended. That they had
strong reason for some want of confidence is un-
questionable. The Yedo Government, while



truly willing to implement its treaty engage-
ments, was compelled by the exigencies of
domestic policy to simulate an attitude of un-
willingness ; and many of the samurai, honestly
solicitous for the national safety, endeavoured to
restore the traditional isolation by throwing
obstacles in the path of smooth intercourse, and
by acts of violence against the persons and prop-
erty of foreigners. Such conditions were not
calculated to inspire trustfulness. But it must be
admitted that there was little inclination to be
trustful. The Foreign Representatives and for-
eigners in general seem to have approached the
discussion of Japanese problems with all the
Occidental's habitual suspicion of everything Ori-
ental. It will readily be conceived, for example,
that after the assassination of the Tairo, li, no
little concern was felt by the Yedo Government.
They perceived a strong probability that the des-
perate men who had wrought the deed, or their
equally desperate comrades, might turn their
swords against foreigners. The danger of such a
contingency was made real by intelligence that six
hundred ronin had banded themselves together,
and, led by the Mito samurai, were about to at-
tack the foreign settlement at Kanagawa 1 and the
Legations in Yedo. All possible precautions
were at once taken by the Japanese officials.
New barriers were erected, additional guards
were posted, and warnings were conveyed to

1 See Appendix, note 37.

I 99


the Foreign Representatives, accompanied with
a request that, during the acute stages of the
crisis, they would move abroad as little as pos-
sible. From the Japanese point of view the
peril was very vivid and very disquieting. But
the Foreign Ministers convinced themselves that
a deliberate piece of chicanery was being prac-
tised at their expense ; that statecraft rather than
truth had dictated the representations made to
them by the Japanese authorities, and that the
alarm of the latter was simulated for the purpose
of finding a pretext to curtail the liberty enjoyed
by foreigners. Therefore the suggestion that
the inmates of the Legations should show them-
selves as little as possible in the streets of the
capital, where at any moment a desperado might
cut them down, was treated almost as an insult.
Then the Japanese authorities saw no recourse
except to attach an armed escort to the person
of every foreigner when he moved abroad.
Even this precaution, which certainly was not
adopted out of mere caprice or with any sinister
design, excited fresh suspicions. The Repre-
sentative of one of the Great Powers, in report-
ing the event to his Government, said that the
Japanese had taken the opportunity to graft
upon the establishment of spies, watchmen,
and police officers at the several Legations, a
mounted escort to accompany the members
whenever they moved out.

It has been shown above to cite another



example of this distrust that the question of
choosing a successor to the Shogun lyesada caused
a political crisis which resulted in the removal
of some of the chief officials of the Yedo Court
and the accession of li Kamon-no-Kami to
power. It has further been shown that li was
a man of singular enlightenment and liberality,
and that to his fearless action were due the
conclusion of the first commercial treaty and
the definite inauguration of foreign intercourse.
Yet, three years later, the Foreign Represen-
tatives, in a memorandum explaining the state
of affairs in Japan, saw in the crisis which called
li to office nothing but " the disgrace and
removal of the men who had been engaged
in the original negotiation of the treaty," and
the transfer of the administrative power to the
anti-foreign party.

On January i6th, 1861, Mr. Heusken, Act-
ing Secretary and Interpreter of the United
States Legation in Yedo, was set upon and
assassinated by a band of rbnin in a suburb of
the city. Ando was then charged with the
conduct of foreign affairs on behalf of the Yedo
Government the same Ando whose habitual
caution was that, if the ronin wanted to shed
blood, they should kill him, or kill even the
Sbogun, rather than raise their hand against
foreigners. Ando's statement to Mr. Townsend
Harris, the United States Representative, after
the murder of Heusken was : " It is a source



of profound regret to me that Heusken fell
under the hand of lawless men, for a long work
still lay before him to promote peace between
Japanese and foreigners by making the latter
acquainted with the truth about the former.
I fear that his death means not only failure
on our part to protect foreigners, but also the
loss of one who was a connecting link between
Japan and America. It is not his misfortune
alone : it is Japan's misfortune. My sorrow
is not less than yours." The sincerity of this
speech was beyond all doubt. Heusken's death
pained the chief officials of the Sbogun's Govern-
ment as much as it shocked the Foreign Repre-
sentatives. Yet the latter subsequently recorded
their suspicion that the assassination had been
contrived by the Sbogun's Government as part
of a system of terrorism and intimidation planned
with the object of driving foreigners out of
Yedo. 1

As a page of history read now without any of
the emotions or prejudices that distorted its text
at the time, this record assumes an almost comi-
cal character. The foreigner, having forced his
companionship upon the unwilling Japanese,
found it an insult that they should seek to protect
him against the perilous consequences of his own
obtrusiveness ; the Yedo statesmen, grappling
desperately with difficulties which seemed likely
to produce a political revolution involving their

1 See Appendix, note 38.



own destruction, saw themselves suspected of ex-
aggerating and even manufacturing those difficul-
ties by the very men that had caused the whole
trouble ; the Shogun's ministers, knowing that the
purpose of their enemies, the exclusionists, was to
embroil them with foreigners by attacks upon
the persons and properties of the latter, and
having adopted all possible precautions to avert
such deeds of violence, found themselves credited,
not with any solicitude for the safety of the
Foreign Representatives' lives, but with instituting,
under plea of zeal for that safety, " a system of
isolation, restriction, and petty tracasserie, in order
to make the residence of diplomatic agents as
disagreeable and hateful as possible;' 3 L the Jap-
ariese administrators, earnestly striving to bring
the nation to a sense of the necessity and advan-
tages of foreign intercourse, saw themselves
accused of having for their chief object the re-
striction of that intercourse, and declared to be
harbouring an intention, should less violent
means fail, " of bringing about a simulated popu-
lar movement in which foreign lives would be
sacrificed ; " 1 the progressive politicians, whose
propaganda of inter-state commerce encountered

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 16)