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a serious obstacle in the general discontent caused
by the appreciation of prices that followed the
inauguration of that commerce, found it declared
by foreign diplomatists that the discontent was
artificial in its source, and that it had been

1 See Appendix, note 39.



" brought about by the direct action of the rul-
ing classes with a view to make out their case "
against international trade ; the Shbgun's coun-
cillors, who naturally shrunk from exposing to
the gaze of strangers all the intricate, scarcely
explicable, and in many respects humiliating
complications of their domestic policy, were
charged with " sparing no efforts to keep from
the Foreign Representatives all sources of exact
or reliable information," and with " misleading
and deceiving them as to the real state of things ; "
and, finally, Japan, seething with elements of
unrest that defied the analysis even of her own
statesmen, was denounced as a country " where it
was difficult to obtain even a modicum of truth "
because her condition could not be readily made
clear to strangers ignorant of her history and out
of all sympathy with her perplexities.

The reader is invited to consider this retro-
spect, not as reflecting injuriously on the proce-
dure of the foreign diplomatic agents, but merely
as illustrating the aspect their moods and methods
presented to the Japanese. It must not be for-
gotten that the enigma of Japanese affairs seemed
quite insolvable to foreigners in the early days ;
that the mysteries surrounding them were well
calculated to excite suspicion ; and that the mur-
derous outrages of which they were the victims
could not fail to provoke passionate resentment.

What has thus far been written applies chiefly

1 See Appendix, note 40.



to foreign officials, diplomatic and consular, serv-
ing in Japan. It is necessary now to consider
the impression conveyed to the Japanese by the
incidents of foreign trade and by the behaviour
of those engaged in it.

From the very outset a troublesome complica-
tion occurred in the field of commerce. In
order to conduct tradal operations in a country
with an altogether special monetary system such
as Japan had, some arrangements were neces-
sary with regard to tokens of exchange. The
plan pursued by the Dutch at the Deshima
factory in Nagasaki from the seventeenth century
had been based on the weight of precious metal
contained in Japanese coins, independently of
their denominations, and without any attempt
to bring about the circulation of foreign mone-
tary tokens. The same system, so far as con-
cerned weight, was adopted in 1858, but was
supplemented by a provision that foreign coins
should have currency in Japan. Foreign coins,
the treaty said, must pass current for corre-
sponding weights in Japanese coins of the same
kind, gold for gold, silver for silver, and,
during a period of one year after the opening
of the ports, the Yedo Government was pledged
to furnish to foreigners Japanese coins in ex-
change for foreign, equal weights being given
and no discount taken for recoinage. This
arrangement altogether ignored the ratio between
the precious metals in the Japanese coinage



system, and as the ratio stood at five to one,
whereas the ratio then in Europe was fifteen to
one, it resulted that the foreigner acquired the
right of purchasing gold with silver in Japan
at one-third of the former metal's silver price in
the Occident. To state the facts more explicitly :
the treaty enabled foreigners to buy with one
hundred and twenty-five dollar-cents or six
shillings worth of silver four Japanese silver
tokens (called bii), which, in the Japanese coinage
system, were exchangeable for a gold coin
(called koban) intrinsically worth eighteen shil-
lings. Of course the treaty could not have
been framed with the deliberate intention of
securing to foreigners such an unjust advantage.
As a result, partly of long isolation and chiefly
of currency debasements made to replenish the
Treasury, the precious metals were not connected
in Japan by the relation governing their inter-
changeable values in Europe, and foreign states-
men, when negotiating commercial treaties with
her, cannot be supposed to have had any idea
of holding her to that particular outcome of
her isolation and inexperience. Indeed, the
treaty did not create any explicit right of the
kind, for although it provided that foreign
coins should be exchangeable against Japanese,
weight for weight, it contained no provision as
to the denominations of Japanese coins or the
ratio of the precious metals in the Japanese
monetary system. The Japanese Government,



then, seeing the country threatened with speedy
exodus of all its gold, adopted an obvious remedy.
It issued a new silver coin of the same denomina-
tion as the old but weighing three times as
much. In short, it exercised a right which
belongs to every independent nation, the right
of so modifying its currency, when suddenly
brought into circulation with foreign coins,
as to preserve a due ratio between gold and
silver, and thus prevent the former's being
drained out of the country at one-third of its
intrinsic value. Nevertheless this equitable view
of the case did not commend itself to the men
who looked to profit by the old conditions.
They raised a vehement protest against what
they called " a gross violation of treaty right,"
and " a deliberate attempt on the part of the
Japanese authorities to raise the prices of all
native produce two hundred per cent against
the foreign purchaser." There is documentary
evidence that the Foreign Representatives appre-
ciated the difficulties of Japan's position. None
the less they held her to the unfair version of
her agreement. She had to revert to coins
of the old standard, and though she bowed to
the necessity, the result of this complication was
an abiding sense of injustice on her side, and
an impression on that of the foreign resident
that she had dishonestly sought to evade her

The trade, then, did not recommend itself to



the Japanese. Nor was the case of the trader
much better. Testimony upon this point is
furnished by a despatch of the British Repre-
sentative, written to his Government at the close
of 1859 :

Looking at the indiscreet conduct, to use the mild-
est term, of many, if not all the foreign residents, the
innumerable and almost daily recurring causes of dis-
pute and irritation between the Japanese officials of all
grades and the foreign traders, both as to t-he nature
of the trade they enter into, and the mode in which
they conduct it, open in many instances to grave
objection, I cannot wonder at the existence of much
ill-feeling. And when to those sources of irritation
and animosity among the official classes, are added
the irregularities, the violence, and the disorders, with
the continued scenes of drunkenness, incidental to sea-
ports where sailors from men-of-war and merchant
ships are allowed to come on shore, sometimes in
large numbers, I confess, so far from sharing in any
sweeping conclusions to the prejudice of the Japanese,
I think the rarity of retaliative acts of violence on their
part is a striking testimony in their favour. . . . Our
own people and the foreigners generally take care that
there shall be no lack of grounds of distrust and irri-
tation. Utterly reckless of the future ; intent only
on profiting if possible by the present moment to the
utmost; regardless of treaties or future consequences,
they are wholly engaged just now in shipping off all
the gold currency of Japan. . . . Any cooperation
with the diplomatic agents of their respective countries
in their efforts to lay the foundations of permanent,
prosperous, and mutually beneficial commerce between
Japan and Western nations is out of the question.


' t>ff) ,us.:-\s>l :o clmoi. r>rU o; bssl is


?.qs;a boiLnurf owt tuodc 1o eirfgill leievaS



Several flights of about two hundred steps altogether lead to the tomb of leyasu, the founder of the

Tokugawa dynasty.


On the contrary, it is the merchants who, no doubt,
create the most serious difficulties. It may be all very
natural and what was to have been anticipated, but
it is not the less embarrassing. And in estimating
the difficulties to be overcome in any attempt to im-
prove the aspect of affairs, if the ill-disguised enmity
of the governing classes and the indisposition of the
Executive Government to give practical effect to the
treaties be classed among the first and principal of
these, the unscrupulous character and dealings of
foreigners who frequent the ports for the purposes
of trade are only second, and scarcely inferior in
importance, from the sinister character of the influence
they exercise.

Of course the foreign merchant found many
causes of legitimate dissatisfaction. Prominent
among them was official interference in business
matters. From the very earliest times the
country's foreign commerce had been subject
to close and often vexatious supervision by offi-
cials. The trade with Korea had been con-
trolled by one great family ; the trade with
China by another, and the trade with the Dutch
factory in Nagasaki by governors whose inter-
ference tended only to hamper its growth.
Even a statesman of such general breadth of
view as the Tairb, li Kamon-no-Kami, enter-
tained a rooted conviction that all goods im-
ported from abroad should pass through official
hands on their way to Japanese consumers. A
tendency to act upon that conviction caused
vexatious meddling with the course of com-

VOL. III. 14 209


merce, elicited frequent complaints from foreign-
ers, and helped to confirm their rooted suspicion
that the Government sought to place every
possible obstacle in their way, with the ulti-
mate object of inducing them to turn their
backs upon Japan, as the first English colonists
had turned their backs on it early in the seven-
teenth century. In short, all the circumstances
of Japan's renewed intercourse with foreign
nations tended to accentuate the traditional
conservatism of one side and the racial prejudice
of the other.

The death of the Prince of Mito, which took
place in the autumn of 1860, gave another
blow to the already frail fabric of the Shogun's
Government, for although this remarkable noble-
man had acted a part inimical to the Yedo
Court, his influence upon the turbulent samurai
had been wholesome. He had succeeded in
restraining them from acts of violence, espe-
cially against the persons of foreigners, and when
his powerful hand was withdrawn, the situation
became more uncontrollable, and the lives and
properties of foreigners began to be exposed
to frequent perils. A brief gleam of sunshine
fell upon the Sfogun's cause when he received
the Emperor's sister in marriage in 1861. But
in order to effect this union of the two Courts,
the Yedo statesmen had fresh recourse to their
dangerous policy of duplicity and temporising ;
they pledged themselves to comply with the



wishes of the Kyoto conservatives by expelling
foreigners from Japan within ten years. The
embarrassments resulting from such a promise
were more than sufficient to counterbalance any
advantage that might have accrued from the
reconciliation of the two Courts, and a further
element of unrest was created by a widely
entertained suspicion that the marriage repre-
sented the beginning of a plot to dethrone the
Emperor. In truth, the situation was rapidly
assuming a character that defied the feeble adjust-
ments and compromises of the Sh'ogun's minis-
ters. Kyoto became the centre of disaffection.
Thither flocked not only the genuinely anti-
foreign agitators the "barbarian expelling
party" (joi-to), as they were called, but also
the leaders of a much more formidable move-
ment, which, having for its prime object the
overthrow of the Shogunate, saw in the anti-
foreign commotion an instrument capable of
being utilised to that end. It would be an
error to conclude that the promoters of the
unti-Shogun agitation were actuated solely by
an intelligent perception of the evils of the
dual system of government. Many of them
assuredly detected its nationally weakening ef-
fects, their appreciation of that point having
been quickened by a sense of the country's
helplessness to resist the advent of foreigners.
But the ruling motives with a large number
were restless desire of change and hostility to

21 I


the Yedo Court. The continuous monopoly
of administrative power during nearly three
centuries by a small section of the nation had
naturally educated the former feeling ; and as
for the latter, it was entertained partly by men
disgusted with the feeble, vacillating methods
of the Shogunate in recent times, and partly
by men who had been driven from office or
otherwise punished in connection with the vicis-
situdes of the era and with the Yedo Court's
frequent changes of policy. On the whole,
the enemies of the Shogunate were much more
numerous and influential than the enemies of
foreign intercourse, though both united in the
"barbarian expelling" clamour, these from
sentiment, those from expediency.

Murderous attacks upon foreigners now be-
came frequent ; a party of samurai proceeded to
Yokohama and threatened with death any Jap-
anese merchant doing business with aliens, and
a doctrine was propounded in Kyoto that the
Shdgun's title Sei-t, or "barbarian expelling"
pointed plainly to the expulsion of foreigners,
and convicted him of failure of duty in admit-
ting them to any part of Japan. It need scarcely
be said that the title had no such significance.
Devised originally with reference to the subju-
gation of the uncivilised aborigines of Japan, it
had never been applied to foreigners, and could
not possibly have been applied to them, seeing
that its first bestowal had long antedated the oc-



currence of foreign complications. So crushed,
however, was the spirit of the Yedo officials that in-
stead of stoutly repudiating this extravagant inter-
pretation of their Prince's title, they advised him
to apologise for his failure to discharge the duty
it indicated ; and they carried their placating
system to the length of removing from the gov-
erning body any ministers disapproved by the
Kyoto Court.

Throughout all their temporising simulations
of anti-foreign purpose, the Shogun's advisers
placed their trust in time. They believed that
before the necessity arose to give practical effect
to their pretended policy, some method of evasion
would present itself. But the Kyoto conserva-
tives resolved to defeat that scheme of procedure.
They induced the Emperor to issue an edict in
which, after alluding to the " insufferable and
contumelious behaviour of foreigners, to the loss
of prestige and honour constantly menacing the
country," and to the sovereign's " profound so-
licitude," His Majesty openly announced the
Shoguris promise to make full preparations for
expelling foreigners within ten years, and de-
clared that, in order to secure the unity required
for achieving that purpose, an Imperial Princess
had been given to the Shogun in marriage. This
edict was in effect a commission warranting every
Japanese subject to organise an anti-foreign cam-
paign. It publicly committed the Yedo Court
to a policy which the latter had neither power



to carry out nor any real intention of attempting
to carry out.

The two most powerful fiefs of Japan at this
epoch were Satsuma and Choshiu. Satsuma, ow-
ing to its remote position at the extreme south
of the Japanese Empire, had never been brought
within the effective sphere of the Yedo Court's
administrative control. Choshiu, though less re-
mote, was somewhat similarly circumstanced, and
both had strong hereditary reasons for hostility
to the Tokugawa Shogunate. These two clans
were permeated with a spirit of unrest and dis-
affection. There were differences, however. In
Choshiu the anti-foreign feeling dominated the
anti-Tokugawa, and the whole clan, lord and
vassal alike, were convinced that loyalty to the
Throne could not be reconciled with a liberal
attitude towards foreign intercourse. In Satsuma
the prevailing sentiment was anti-Tokugawa, the
" barbarian-expulsion " cry being regarded as a
collateral issue only. But as yet the Satsuma
samurai had not openly associated themselves
with either the anti-foreign or the anti-Toku-
gawa movement, nor had they given any evidence
of the ambition that undoubtedly swayed them,
the ambition of occupying a prominent place in
a newly organised national polity. On the con-
trary, their chief, Shimazu Samuro, and his prin-
cipal advisers maintained a neutral attitude toward
the question of foreign intercourse, and were dis-
posed to befriend the Shogunate, though the bulk



of the clansmen would have gladly seen the ad-
ministrative power wrested from the hands of the
Yedo Court.

In Kyoto a corresponding difference of opinion
began to declare itself. The clamour and turbu-
lence of the anti-foreign party produced a reac-
tion, which strengthened the hands of the men
by whom the marriage between the Shogun and
the Emperor's sister had been promoted. Two
factions, therefore, gradually assumed distinct
shape : the extremists, led by Princes Arisugawa
and Sanjo, who advocated immediate expulsion
of foreigners and overthrow of the Shogunate ;
the moderates, led by Princes Shishi-o, Konoye,
and Iwakura, who urged less drastic measures
with regard to foreigners and favoured the main-
tenance of the Shogun' s administration. To the
first of these factions the Choshiu men naturally
attached themselves ; to the second the Satsuma
leaders. It had been generally supposed that the
Satsuma chief would place himself at the head of
the extremists. But his accession to the ranks
of the moderates gave the ascendency at once to
the latter. They utilised it to contrive that an
envoy should be sent to Yedo with an Imperial
rescript indicating three courses of which the
SKogun was invited to choose one ; namely, first,
that the Sfiogun himself should repair to Kyoto,
and there hold a conference with the principal
feudatories as to the best method of securing
national tranquillity ; secondly, that the five prin-



cipal feudatories who possessed littoral fiefs should
be charged with the responsibility of coast de-
fence, as had been done in the time of the TaiKo ;
and thirdly, that Prince Keiki and the feudal
chief of Echizen should be appointed to high
office in the Yedo administration.

The Yedo Court was thus confronted by
the most serious crisis that had yet menaced its
autocracy. Not only were the feudatories openly
violating the fundamental law of the Tokugawa,
the law which strictly vetoed all intercourse
between them and the Imperial Court, but,
further, the SKbgun was required to accept
Kyoto's dictation in important matters of admin-
istration. To obey the Imperial mandate would
be practical surrender of governing power ; to
disobey it would put a deadly weapon into the
hands of the extremists. Reason suggested
immediate surrender of the executive functions
to the sovereign, on the ground that their effi-
cient discharge under a system of divided author-
ity was impossible, and it is not improbable that
a courageous course of that kind would have
rehabilitated the Shogunate, for the Kyoto Court
could not have ventured to accept the responsi-
bility thus suddenly thrust upon it.

But the Shogun's advisers failed to grasp the
significance of the crisis. No policy suggested
itself to them except one of craven complaisance.
They signified their intention of complying with
the first and third of the Emperor's conditions,



and they carried submissiveness to the length of
punishing many of their ablest officials and
stanchest partisans on the ground that the
serenity of the Imperial mind had been disturbed
by their procedure. Historians indicate the year
1867 as the date of the fall of the Shogunate,
because the administrative power was then finally
restored to the Emperor. But it may be asserted
with greater accuracy that the Shogunate fell
in the year 1862, when the Yedo Court made
the radical surrender here indicated. Nor was
that the only mistake. The Shoguns ministers,
underestimating the value of the Satsuma chief's
friendship, paid no attention to his advice, nor
took any care to strengthen his good disposition
by courteous treatment. He recommended that
the Shogun should decline to proceed to Kyoto,
and should reject all proposals pointing to the
expulsion of foreigners ; but the Yedo Court
neither heeded his counsel nor showed towards
him the same consideration that they had dis-
played to the Choshiu chief, with whom his
relations were notoriously strained.

It was thus with feelings considerably estranged
that the Satsuma chief set out on his return
journey to Kyoto. On the way an incident
happened which was destined to have far-reach-
ing consequence. A party of British subjects,
three gentlemen and a lady, persisted in an
attempt to ride through the Satsuma chiefs
cortege, ignorant that the custom of the country



prescribed death as the penalty for such an act.
Samurai of the body-guard drew their swords,
killed one of the Englishmen (Mr. Richardson),
and wounded the two others, the lady alone
escaping unhurt. 1 Probably no incident of that
troublous era excited more indignation at the
time or was more discussed subsequently. But
while a custom so inhuman as that obeyed by
the Satsuma samurai merits execration, the fact
must not be forgotten that to any Japanese
behaving as these English people behaved, the
same fate would have been meted out in an even
more summary manner. For the rest, the out-
rage differed essentially from those of which
foreigners had previously been victims, inasmuch
as it was in no sense inspired by the " barbarian
expelling " sentiment. Nevertheless, the imme-
diate consequence was that since Satsuma refused
to surrender the implicated samurai, and since
the Shogun's arm was not long enough to reach
this powerful feudatory, the British Government
sent a squadron to bombard his capital, Kago-
shima. The remote and most important con-
sequence was that the belligerent operations of
the British ships effectually convinced the Sat-
suma samurai of the hopelessness of resisting
foreign intercourse by force, and converted them
into advocates of liberal progress towards which
their previous attitude had been at best neutral.
Meanwhile the Yedo Court was steadily pur-

1 Sec Appendix, note 41.



suing its suicidal policy. Under the influence
of the new advisers whom, in compliance with
its pledge to Kyoto, it had summoned to preside
at its councils, measures were taken that could
serve only to weaken its authority. Many of
the time-honoured forms and ceremonies which
contributed to lend dignity to official procedure
and held a high place in popular esteem for the
sake of their spectacular effect, were abolished,
or curtailed, on grounds of economy, and for
the same reason the rule was greatly relaxed
which required the feudatories to live in Yedo
every second year and to leave their families
there in alternate years. This law had been one
of the strongest buttresses of the S/ibgun's power.
It was abrogated precisely at the moment when
the feudatories were disposed to abuse every
access of liberty.

Nor did the almost abject submissiveness of
the Yedo statesmen have the effect of appeasing
their enemies. On the contrary, the extremists
in Kyoto were so emboldened by these evidences
of weakness that, without waiting for the Shogun
to fulfil his promise of proceeding to Kyoto,
they obtained from the Emperor a new edict
requiring the Yedo Court to announce to all the
feudatories the definite adoption of the " alien-
expelling " policy, and further directing that a
date for the practical inception of that policy be
fixed and communicated to the Throne. A few
months previously it had been commanded that



the Sfibgun should come to Kyoto to discuss the
question of the nation's attitude towards foreign-
ers ; now he was directed to accept an undiscussed
policy, proclaim it, and give a promise as to the
time for putting it into execution.

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 16)