In a preceding chapter we have seen how the Tokugawa régime gradually prepared the way for its own destruction and the end of feudalism. By the middle of the nineteenth century the time was ripe for a change. The successors of Iyeyasu had become feeble and were largely controlled by their ministers. The more influential rivals of the Tokugawa were disaffected. The great fiefs of the southwest, especially Satsuma and Choshu, far removed from Yedo, were practically autonomous in all local affairs and would not brook the interference of the shogun's officials. As a result of the long peace, luxury and idleness were working havoc with the warrior class; military feudalism was fast becoming an anachronism. A Japanese revival, which so far was largely confined to a relatively limited circle of scholars, was emphasizing the historic position of the emperor and was fostering the conviction that the shogun was a usurper. The court nobles at Kyoto were beginning to be restless under the arbitrary control of the bakufu. The middle classes, increasingly prosperous, could no longer be regarded as existing merely to support an idle, obsolete warrior caste. Some sort of change was inevitable. Whether if there had been no external factors the nation would simply have been plunged into long civil strife from which one of the feudal families would have emerged in possession of the shogunate, or whether the constitution of the state would have been entirely altered, it is hard to say. As it was, the revolution was precipitated and itscourse determined by the coming of the foreigners.


The seclusion to which the Tokugawa had confined Japan was remarkably effective, but its success was not due entirely to their efforts. During the latter part of the seventeenth and all of the eighteenth century Occidental nations did not try with any persistence to force their way into either China or Japan. In China only one port, Canton, was open to foreign trade. The Portuguese had ceased to be an important factor in the Far East. The Spaniards were content to occupy the Philippines and did not reach out for more commerce. Great Britain was busy extending her possessions in India and in making them secure against the natives and the French. All European nations were occupied at home in the great wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, a change was taking place. In the latter part of the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth century, Russians, English, and Americans had explored the North Pacific. The peace that followed the Napoleonic Wars was making possible a more nearly undivided attention to commerce and manufactures. The industrial revolution was stimulating trade. Markets were being sought for the enormous quantities of goods produced by the new machinery. Fresh sources of raw material were necessary to supply the demands of the enlarging factories. Steam navigation and the railway were making it possible to reach the ends of the earth in an unprecedentedly short time and to transport goods in quantities hitherto undreamed of. In North America the expansion of the United States had brought European peoples to the east coast of the Pacific; Oregon and California were settled in the eighteen forties and fifties. The Russians had reached the west coast after a mighty advance across the vast reaches of Siberia, and had formed settlements in the Amur country and Alaska. Before long the Pacific would teem with a new commerce and the nations of eastern Asia would be compelled to open their doors. By 1850 nearly all India had been brought under either the direct or the indirect control of Great Britain. The English, having found China's restrictions on trade intolerable, had fought a war with her which was ended in 1842 by a treaty opening five ports to trade and making provision for commerce and official intercourse between the two nations. This treaty was quickly followed by others between China and the leading powers of the Occident. It was inevitable that pressure would soon be put on Japan to end her hermit existence.

During the first half of the nineteenth century there were repeated indications of an approaching attempt of Western powers to open Japan. The Dutch, through their closely regulated intercourse at Nagasaki, brought news of impending changes. Here and there Japanese were learning Dutch and through the medium of that language were getting an inkling of the importance of the civilization of Europe. A few European works on history, geography, literature, and science were read. From the time when some native surgeons dissected a human body and found that it was more accurately described by the Dutch anatomical works than by the Chinese, there were those who saw that the culture of the West was in some respects superior to that of the East, and wished to know more of it. Russian ships appeared on the northern coasts as early as the eighteenth century, and envoys from the Czar asked (1804) that regular intercourse be established, only to be met with a peremptory refusal. Russians and Japanese came into conflict in the Kuriles and Sakhalin, and the Japanese were worsted. The Russians might have forced themselves on Japan proper had the Napoleonic wars not intervened to engross their attention elsewhere. In 1846 a French ship touched at the Riu Kiu archipelago and advised the islanders to place themselves under French protection as a guard against the British. In 1847 the king of Holland advised the Japanese to abandon their policy of exclusion, and in 1849 warned them that an American fleet might soon be expected. Ships of other European nations touched at Japan from time to time.


Fortunately the move that finally opened the country was made by the United States, a power that had no territorial ambitions in the Far East. The American merchant marine was at that time relatively much more important than it became after the losses of the Civil War. American ships had gone to all corners of the earth and in the Far East were second in numbers only to those of England. Japanese fishermen were occasionally driven across the Pacific to the Aleutians or to the coast of North America. In 1837 one ship I made its way nearly to Yedo in the effort to return a few such castaways, and, if possible, to open commerce. She was fired upon, and returned to Canton without having landed her charges. American whalers gradually became numerous in the North Pacific and in several instances were wrecked on the Japanese islands. The surviving sailors were confined, often handled roughly, and as a rule were returned to the outside world only through the kindness of the Dutch. Some arrangements were necessary with the shogun's government to insure good treatment and rescue for the crews. In 1846 an American commodore asked in the name of the president that intercourse be opened, only to be refused. In 1848 the American brig Preble threatened to bombard Nagasaki unless fifteen foreign seamen held there were immediately handed over. California was acquired in the forties, and ships were soon sailing from San Francisco to the new treaty ports of China. Since Japan lay in the direct path of such vessels, its ports, if opened, would offer convenient places for restocking with water and provisions, and for refitting. The shipping, especially the whaling interests in the United States, asked the administration to insist that the country unlock its doors. Finally the American government responded and sent a squadron under Commodore Perry to obtain a treaty. In 1853 Perry arrived in Araga bay near Yedo with a fine display of force, transmitted the president's letter to the Japanese authorities, and since there seemed to be no immediate prospects of successful negotiations, sailed away, announcing that it was his intention to return the following spring. His coming created an unprecedented commotion in the island kingdom. The shogun's ministers were sorely perplexed. Even the imperial court was stirred and ordered prayers said at the great national shrines. Perry returned, according to promise, the following spring. Before his steam warships the Yedo authorities felt themselves powerless, and after some negotiations concluded a treaty.

Japan's isolation was not yet entirely at an end. The Perry treaty did not provide for the complete opening of the country. Its emphasis was not upon commerce, but upon the care and safe delivery of shipwrecked sailors, and the provisioning and refitting of passing vessels. Two ports were opened, one (Shimoda) near Yedo and one (Hakodate) on the northern island. An American consulate was to be permitted at Shimoda; trade was to be carried on only in accordance with local regulations, which might be stringent; supplies for vessels were to be purchased only through Japanese officials. The most-favored-nation clause, customary in the West, guaranteed to Americans any concessions that might be made to other powers. In the two years following the Perry treaty similar covenants were obtained by England, Russia, and Holland, but in none of them was residence or extensive commerce and intercourse provided for. In 1857 Townsend Harris, the United States consul-general, obtained for American citizens the privilege of residing in the open ports, to which was now added Nagasaki. The foreigners were to be under the jurisdiction of their consuls and not of Japanese officials and laws. Commerce was provided for in 1858 by a further treaty with the United States, also negotiated by Harris, which remained for many years a model document of its kind and was in force until 1899. By this last treaty customs duties were provided for, and a fixed scale was agreed upon which was not to be changed without the consent of both nations. The reception of diplomatic representatives at the court and the opening of an additional port were also granted. It ought to be added that Townsend Harris obtained these treaties from the shogun, not by any display of force, but mainly by his sympathy, tact, and persistence. The provisions for exterritoriality and the treaty-established tariff were a partial sacrifice by Japan of her sovereign rights, the struggle to regain which was to be a prominent feature in the nation's history for the next thirty-five or forty years. By the first, foreigners were removed from the control of Japanese courts: by the second, the nation surrendered the right to establish its own tariff dues. Both were very galling to the sensitive, patriotic spirit of the people after their significance was recognized. Almost simultaneously with the American treaty of 1858 similar ones were signed with Great Britain, France, and Russia, and others soon followed with twelve more Western powers. Just at this time France and England were engaged in a war with China, in an attempt to force her doors still further open. As an added effort at European expansion in the Far East this war probably had some influence in hastening the negotiations of the new Japanese treaties. To exchange the ratifications of the American document Japanese envoys were sent to the United States, the first diplomatic mission to visit foreign lands.


The negotiation of these treaties was not at all supported by a unanimous national sentiment. In fact, the coming of the foreigner divided the nation into three camps. The strife between these was, within a few years, to bring to an end the dual form of government, and to pave the way for the transformation of the political structure of Japan. One camp was made up of those who recognized the superiority of Western culture, and the impossibility of ignoring it. They were in favor of receiving the foreigner, and learning from him as quickly as possible in the endeavor to match him with his own weapons and at his own game. As Japan had in years past adopted Chinese civilization, the highest that she then knew, so these reformers would have the nation now accept that of the Occident, for it was proving itself to be more powerful and efficient than that of the neighboring continent. This group, at first very small, was to predominate within a decade and a half. As time went on it saw that the dual form of government was an anachronism and a handicap in dealing with the centralized powers of the Occident. Some of its members began to work for the restoration to the emperor of the powers exercised by the bakufu. In this respect they found themselves in accord with the native school of historians who had come to regard the shogun as a usurper. A second group saw the impossibility of remaining a hermit nation, but believed in opening the door only as far as was insisted on by the powers. That was the prevailing sentiment at the court of the shogun. The third believed in keeping the door tightly shut, in abrogating all agreements with the Westerner, and in ousting him and all his ways. This opinion was for much of the time the prevailing one at Kyoto. The imperial court was not in contact with the foreigner and the incumbent of the throne was presumed to be reactionary. The court was, moreover, from time to time under the control of the Western fiefs. Of these the most prominent were Satsuma and Choshu. From the time of Iyeyasu, it will be remembered, they had paid the shogun only a grudging submission; they were hence not inclined to yield him unquestioning obedience in his decision to admit the foreigners. At first they had no fixed ideas on the question and were divided both between and among themselves. In time, however, they arrived at the conviction that to admit the Westerner was treason and that they should oppose it with all their might. They sought to win the ear of the emperor and induce him to assert his authority and compel the shogun to cancel the treaties.


The struggle increasingly centered around Kyoto. Each faction hoped that the emperor would side with them. Part of the time the Western fiefs had his ear, and inspired by them he ordered the shogun to expel the barbarians. The shogun could not comply, for he knew himself to be powerless before the cannon of the foreign gunboats. Nor did he dare to refuse point-blank, for that would be acclaimed by his opponents as disobedience to his master, and the rising tide of national sentiment would not brook such an insult to the legal head of the state. The shogun therefore temporized. On the one hand he promised Kyoto to carry out its wishes but asked for leeway. On the other he continued his intercourse with the powers but delayed as much as possible the granting of concessions, so much so, in fact, that foreigners, not understanding his dilemma, accused him of insincerity. Had the shogun's ministers at the beginning expressed their determination not to refer foreign affairs to Kyoto they might with firmness have carried their point, but they compromised and were undone. Not willing to ignore Kyoto, the Yedo court sought to control it. The youthful shogun was married to an imperial princess, and later journeyed to Kyoto to pay homage to the emperor and receive his orders.


The situation was fast becoming an impossible one for the shogun. The numbers of Westerners in the treaty ports were increasing. Commerce was growing. Even Christian missionaries were entering and, sheltered by the foreign settlements, were propagating their faith in spite of the anti-Christian sentiment bred by two hundred and fifty years of prohibitory edicts. Serious clashes occurred between the reactionary feudatories and the Occidentals. Foreigners were frequently attacked and occasionally killed by samurai who thought thus to show their anger against the barbarian who had violated the sacred soil of Japan, and to aid in his expulsion. In 1862 some Englishmen chanced to meet the retinue of the daimyo of Satsuma on a public road and violated, ignorantly but rather insolently, the Japanese etiquette for such occasions. They were attacked by the lord's followers and one of them was killed. The Yedo government made ample apology and paid an indemnity, but the Satsuma baron refused to surrender the guilty samurai as the English demanded and the shogun was not strong enough to compel him to do so. The British therefore in 1863 sent a naval force to the Satsuma dominions in Kiushiu and bombarded the capital (Kagoshima). The other leading Western fief, Choshu, determined in the same year to take action against the hated barbarians. It commanded the straits of Shimonoseki, the narrow passage through which passed foreign ships on their way between Shanghai and the east coast of Japan and North America. An edict from the emperor had been issued without the knowledge of the shogun, ordering that the foreigners be expelled. Choshu gladly obeyed, and the forts at the straits fired at several vessels, American, Dutch, and French. The powers concerned, together with Great Britain, joined in demanding of the shogun that the truculent daimyo be punished, but this the bakufu was quite unable to do. In fact, the Choshu lord killed the ambassador sent to him from Yedo. The four powers now sent a squadron to Shimonoseki, bombarded and demolished the forts, and destroyed the daimyo's ships. That feudatory thereupon promised the powers that he would not rebuild his forts nor molest foreign ships and also agreed to pay the sum of three million dollars. The shogun sent an expedition against Choshu to punish the fief for its insubordination, but could accomplish nothing. He even assumed the indemnity when Choshu failed to pay it. The last installment of the indemnity, it may be added, was not paid until 1875. The Americans' share proved much larger than was necessary to cover the costs and damages sustained, and later they returned the entire amount to the Japanese.

The foreign ministers had at first been ignorant of the true nature of the relation of the shogun to the emperor. They had regarded the former as the supreme ruler of the land and the latter as a kind of high priest. In the course of time they discovered their mistake and after the Shimonoseki affair the able British Minister, Sir Harry Parkes, led in a demand, which had been planned before his arrival, for the ratification of the treaties by the emperor. Backed by an allied fleet, the request was presented not at Yedo, but at Hiogo, a port near Kyoto. The immediate opening to foreign residence of that city and Osaka, the port of the capital, and a reduction of the customs duties were requested. Terrified by the show of force, the emperor issued an edict sanctioning the treaties, and the promised reduction of the tariff was agreed to. This incident finally made apparent the failure of the shogun. He had not closed the land against the foreigner as he had promised: he had not even been able to prevent the barbarian from threatening with his fleet the entrance to the imperial city. He had been treated by the foreigners as a minister who was fast becoming discredited with his master. The emperor, under the guidance of the Western fiefs, vigorously asserted his authority and disgraced the bakufu for the bungling way in which its representatives had handled the negotiations at Hiogo. The shogun resigned, but the emperor was not yet ready to assume the responsibility of accepting his resignation.

The young shogun soon died and was succeeded by a mature man who attempted to restore the waning fortunes of the Tokugawa by a cordial acceptance of Western methods. He began the reform of his army and navy and of the Yedo court, and continued to try to coerce the Choshu fief into obedience. He was too late, however, to save his office. An increasingly strong national sentiment demanded that the incompetent Tokugawa restore its delegated power, and in 1867 the shogun recognized that to attempt longer to keep up the dual government would be to court disaster for himself and the nation. Accordingly he resigned (October 14, 1867), and an imperial decree followed declaring his office abolished and the duarchy at an end. Some of the followers of the Tokugawa resented the manner in which Kyoto, under the control of the Western fiefs, was accomplishing the transfer of the government from the bakufu to the emperor, and raised the standard of revolt. The insurrection was quickly put down by the loyal daimyo, however, and the prestige of the imperial power was only enhanced. The system first founded by Yoritomo, seven centuries before, had been brought to an end, and the emperor once more exercised direct control over his domains. The ex-shogun retired to private life. He lived to see all the changes of the next generation and did not die until the second decade of the nineteenth century.

For further reading see: Griffis, The Mikado's Empire; Brinkley, A History of the Japanese People; Brinkley, Japan, Its History, Arts, and Literature.