For the past several pages we have been discussing the transformation wrought in the spirit and structure of the Japanese government by the coming of the Westerner. This was perhaps the predominating feature of the years between 1853 and 1894. Of almost equal interest, however, was the development of the foreign policy of the nation. Through all but their earnest years the policy of the Tokugawa toward other countries can be summed up in one word, isolation. The coming of Perry brought this hermit existence to a final and irrevocable end. It took some years to impress upon all the nation a recognition of that fact, but when once it was acknowledged, the necessary readjustments to the demands of the new age were resolutely made. The establishment of the legations of Western powers in Tokyo was allowed and the young emperor at the advice of his ministers received the foreign diplomats in person and exerted himself to maintain friendly relations between them and his administration. Japanese legations were established in the capitals of the various treaty powers, and the island empire sought to conform itself to the international usages of the Occident.


The spirit of nationalism and patriotism which had been growing, even if feebly, under the Tokugawa régime, and which had been roused into sudden, vigorous life by contact with the nations of the West, had expressed itself inwardly in a centralization and complete reorganization of the state. In foreign relations it showed itself in the main in three ways. The first, a passing phase, was the attempt of the conservatives to rid the nation of the defiling touch of the foreign barbarians and to renew the policy of exclusion. Except for the mistaken zeal of unorganized samurai this had practically disappeared before the seventies. The second was the rise of a spirit of imperialism, a desire to expand, which showed vigorous life almost from the day of its birth, and which was to have a large share in the wars and diplomacy of the eighteen nineties and the twentieth century. The third was a demand for equality with Western powers, arising from a spirit of national pride which could not brook invidous discrimination by any people. It showed itself principally in a demand for restored tariff and judicial autonomy through the revision of the treaties and the abolition of exterritoriality, and was in the twentieth century to lead to bitter resentment of the treatment of Japanese on the Pacific coast of the United States.

The spirit of imperialism first showed itself after the Restoration in a demand that all territories inhabited by Japanese, or belonging naturally to the archipelago, be occupied by the emperor's government. The conviction was expressed that the Riu Kiu Islands, the Bonin Islands, the Kuriles, Sakhalin, and Yezo were all rightfully Japanese, and even that Korea, because of Hideyoshi's invasion and the periodical "tribute-bearing" embassies from its court to Yedo, should be dealt with as a subject state. Yezo was indisputably Japanese, and under the Tokugawa it had been held by one of the northern daimyo and the shogun. Its population was made up largely of Ainu, however, and only a few Japanese were to be found there. A special bureau was now organized by the imperial government to oversee it, and a vigorous policy of colonization and development was adopted. So successfully was the work carried on that the island speedily became a convenient outlet for the surplus population of the empire, a kind of frontier province. With Sakhalin and the Kuriles the imperialistic policy was not so successful. Russia also laid claim to these territories and the controversy was settled in 1875 by an agreement whereby Japan's sovereignty over the Kuriles was to be acknowledged in return for the renunciation of all her claims to Sakhalin. Sakhalin, it may be added, was of strategic importance to Russia, for it commanded not only much of the littoral of Eastern Siberia, but the mouth of the Amur river, the main artery of that region. The Bonin Islands, a desolate no-man's-land in the Pacific whose only possible importance was as a naval and commercial station, were occupied without opposition in 1878.

The Riu Kiu Islands presented a somewhat more difficult situation. By blood and language their inhabitants were related to the Japanese. They had been subdued by Satsuma during feudal times and for two centuries or so had been considered part of its domains. They had sent tribute embassies to Peking and yet as an independent state had made treaties with several Western powers. In 1868 Japan definitely claimed the islands as her own, and when in 1871 certain of their inhabitants were killed by the savages of Formosa she undertook to avenge them. Now, Formosa was a dependency of China, and Tokyo demanded redress at Peking on the ground that the men of Riu Kiu were Japanese subjects. Peking both denied Japan's authority and disowned jurisdiction over the savages of Formosa. Japan replied (1874) by sending a punitive expedition that seized and occupied southern Formosa. When China protested, Japan demanded an indemnity for her trouble. The two nations nearly came to blows, but Peking finally yielded, paid an indemnity, and the Japanese withdrew. In the meantime Japan had persuaded the king of the Riu Kiu islands to surrender his treaties with Western nations and accept her rule. She extended her provincial administration over the islands in 1876, thus making them an integral part of her empire. China still protested and declined to agree to a proposed division of the islands between herself and Japan, but the latter quietly persisted and succeeded in retaining possession of the entire group.


In Korea the situation was still more difficult. Like the Riu Kiu islands, Korea had in years past recognized the simultaneous suzerainty of both Japan and China. Tribute- bearing embassies were sent both to Peking and Yedo. China was nearer and more powerful, and the historic source of culture, so Korea had more respect for her. Nor had Korea forgotten the resentment roused by the cruelties of Hideyoshi's invasion. When Japan admitted the foreigner and began remodeling her government, Korea took the opportunity to break off rather insolently all relations with the traitor to Oriental seclusion. Such an attitude roused anew the Japanese desire to exert an influence in the peninsula. Moreover, some of Japan's statesmen began to fear Russian aggression, for that power had recently (1868) acquired the territory east of the Ussuri River and had established a port, Vladivostok, almost on the northern boundary of Korea. The Russian bear would evidently not be content to rest there in a harbor closed by ice during the winter months. Japan controlled what were virtually the only two exits from Vladivostok to the Pacific. The one, the narrow Tsugaru Strait between Yezo and the Main Island, was evidently Japanese. The other, the broad straits between Korea and Kiushiu, had planted in their midst the two Japanese-owned islands of Tsushima and Iki. Russia once in the eighteen eighties tried to seize Tsushima but was balked by Great Britain. She would evidently be glad to get possession of Korea, which, weak, backward, and ruled by a corrupt and inefficient government, could not, unless aided from without, hope to offer successful opposition to the great European power. The Russian might prove an unpleasantly aggressive neighbor to Japan were he established on the peninsula. One group among the Japanese leaders demanded a vigorous assertion of the interests of their country in the Hermit Kingdom. The majority of the reforming statesmen were unwilling, however, to commit the nation to a vigorous continental program until the work of internal reorganization should be more nearly complete. It was dissatisfaction with the policy of the majority, it will be recalled, that paved the way for Saigo's break with the government and the subsequent Satsuma revolt. The government did not forget Korea, however. When in 1875 a Japanese gunboat was fired on by a Korean fort the emperor's advisers decided that vigorous action was necessary. An armed expedition was sent the following year.

It adopted the plan used by Perry with the shogun's officials and by tactful intimidation obtained a treaty with Seoul. China, it may be added, offered no opposition when Korea negotiated the treaty as an independent power. Japan thus took the lead in opening Korea to the outside world and began to encourage within her the idea of reorganization along Western lines. Treaties with Occidental powers followed, commerce sprang up, and a reform party came into existence. China looked with no friendly eye upon the activity of the "island dwarfs," as she chose to call the Japanese. She was still the bulwark of Far Eastern conservatism, and naturally espoused the cause of the reactionary party at Seoul. She maintained a "resident" there who, as the representative of her suzerainty, had great influence. Japan as naturally championed the reform party. Conflicts arose between the factions, and in 1882 the conservatives attacked and burned the Japanese legation and forced its inmates to flee for their lives. In return the Japanese demanded and received an indemnity and the privilege of guarding their legation with their own troops. In 1884 occurred another collision between the conservatives and the radicals. The one called on China for assistance, the other on Japan. Both powers responded and in 1885 they agreed to withdraw their troops on the mutual written understanding that: "In case of any disturbance of grave nature occurring in Korea which might necessitate the respective countries or either sending troops, it is hereby understood that each shall give to the other previous notice in writing of its intention to do so and that after the matter is settled they shall withdraw their troops." Affairs in the peninsula temporarily quieted down, but the friction between reformers and reactionaries continued and was to lead in 1894 to war between Japan and China.


The agitation for the revision of the foreign treaties was an outgrowth of the sacrifice of Japan's judicial and financial autonomy embodied in them. When the treaties were negotiated the Japanese laws were still what they had been in feudal days, and the powers did not think it just to subject their citizens to them or to the local courts. Each Western nation stipulated that all cases in which its subjects or citizens were defendants should be tried by its consuls and under its own laws. The residence of foreigners was restricted to certain specified "treaty ports." This "exterritoriality" was in force in China and Turkey and wherever Western nations were in treaty relations with a non-Christian state. Tariff duties, as in China, were also made a matter of formal agreement: otherwise they might be subject to frequent and arbitrary modifications. The Japanese felt that exterritoriality and the sacrifice of tariff autonomy were a mark of inferiority. This the patriotic spirit of the nation could not willingly tolerate. Moreover, under exterritoriality wrongs committed by foreigners to Japanese frequently went without redress and unpunished, and too many consular courts, especially of the smaller nations, were poorly administered. Under the conventional tariff, too, the rates had been so manipulated by the powers that the average five per cent ad valorem really yielded but half that much. Japan was in great need of revenue, and felt keenly the curtailment of her rights to raise it from this perfectly legitimate source. One of the first acts of the government of the Restoration was to plan for the removal of these restrictions, and in 1871 an embassy was sent to Europe and America to ask for it. Such a concession had never been granted by Christendom to a non-Christian power and since Japanese laws and law courts were yet to be reorganized, the failure of the mission was certain before it started. The agitation, however, had only begun. In 1878 the United States agreed to a treaty on the terms desired by Tokyo, but the document was not to go into force unless the other powers made similar concessions. This Europe was unwilling to do. Then the Japanese foreign office tried conferences of the Tokyo representatives of the powers. Two of these gatherings were held, one in 1882 and another in 1886, but both failed. Japan seemed to Westerners still unprepared to be trusted with full control over the lives and property of strangers. In the meantime the Japanese thinking public had taken up the agitation, and from the early eighties tariff autonomy and the abolition of exterritoriality were vigorously demanded both from the press and the public platform. Halfway measures were denounced. A compromise agreed to by the 1886 conference of the representatives of the powers and favored by the government, would have extended the jurisdiction of Japanese courts to foreigners, provided that all cases in which Westerners were involved should be submitted to courts to which foreign judges had been appointed. This concession the Japanese public would not tolerate.

Hand in hand with the demand for treaty revision went an earnest attempt so to conform national institutions to Occidental standards that all reasons for discrimination would cease to exist. European customs and dress were copied. The new education was promoted. The formation of laws on Western models was pushed. A new civil code was compiled on the general lines in use in the Occident. A code of commercial law was drawn up resembling closely that of Germany, and French models were followed in framing the criminal law. Judges, appointed from those specially trained for the profession, were to serve during life or good behavior. In 1890 the codes were finally approved by the emperor.

The reasons for exterritoriality were fast ceasing to exist and the powers could evidently not long, with any show of justice, continue to maintain it. In 1888, Mexico signed a treaty granting to Japan judicial autonomy, and the United States had long been known to be willing to take a similar step as soon as the leading European powers would agree to do so. The lower house of the diet kept urging the ministry to push the negotiations, and the government, nothing loath, took the question directly to the European capitals. Finally in 1894, Great Britain, whose trade was larger and whose subjects resident in Japan were more numerous and more opposed to a change than those of any other Western power, signed a treaty drawn in the revised form desired by Japan, and the United States followed. The other powers conformed in the course of the next three years. Japan had so effectively demonstrated her complete reorganization that further delay would have been palpably unjust. In 1899, exterritoriality came to an end, consular courts and foreign "settlements" were abolished, and Westerners became subject to Japanese courts and laws. It must be said that on the whole the Japanese have proved highly worthy of the trust. Tariff autonomy was partially restored in 1899, although it did not completely go into effect until more than a decade later (1911). For the first time in history an Asiatic country was admitted to the circle of Occidental powers on the basis of full equality. The concession was a notable achievement for Japanese patriotism and ability.

The political reorganization and the assumption of a new international status were the most prominent features of the years between the coming of Perry and 1894. They were, as well, the most important, for the government has taken the lead in activities which in most countries are left to the initiative of individual citizens. The changes in the structure, policies, and position of the state, were, however, only part of the transformations in progress in all phases of the nation's life. Impact with the West was producing a revolution in commerce, finance, transportation, industry, dress, thought, education, and religion, in some of its phases more complete than that wrought by the coming of Buddhism and Chinese culture over a thousand years before. As in that earlier transition period, the government led, but also as then, the people followed, in time with enthusiasm.


Commerce, naturally, sprang up almost as soon as the Perry treaty had been signed. Naturally, too, it was many years before it attained large proportions. Not until after 1887 did it exceed fifty million dollars. The nation had so long been closed to the outer world that it took time to develop a demand for foreign goods and the ability to pay for those purchased. Until at least 1881, the balance of trade was against Japan, and she was drained of her specie. After 1887 commerce grew more rapidly, thanks partly to a more active supervision by the government and partly to the internal reorganization of the industry of the country. Its period of greatest increase was to be after the war with China. During its earlier years this revived commerce was largely under the control of the foreign middleman. It was he who came to Japan, purchased from the local merchants, and exported to other lands. In too many instances he was not an ideal representative of the West. Adventurers who had followed the flags of foreign powers strove to exploit the new Japan to their own advantage. Their code of business ethics was often not of the best; they regarded the Japanese as inferior "Asiatics," and dishonesty and overweening selfishness marked far too many of their transactions. The Japanese had been unaccustomed to foreign commerce and time was required to produce an adequate machinery to handle it. The government tried to help, but in the early days many of the merchants who dealt with the foreigner aped his ethics along with his other business methods, and a report of Japanese commercial dishonesty became current. While conditions later improved, the story still spread, for unfortunately there was some basis for it. It lost nothing in the telling and gave the average Westerner an impression, greatly exaggerated, that Japanese business men were unreliable.

With the growth of commerce, banks naturally sprang up. At first the government experimented with various devices, and in 1873 established a national banking system patterned largely after that in use in the United States. The country was being drained of its specie, however, and the banks and the national treasury were on a precarious paper basis. In 1881 the government was led to organize in addition a great central institution, now the Bank of Japan, and, to assist in trade and foreign exchange, a secondary institution, now the Yokohama Specie Bank. Through the latter it took over for a time the foreign commerce of the country and by an ingenious device built up a metal reserve and made possible the resumption of specie payments. In the following years the older national banks were converted into ordinary joint-stock concerns and their note issues were redeemed and retired. Postal savings banks were introduced. Before 1900 the system finally took the form whose main features it has ever since preserved, a great national Bank of Japan which alone issues notes, and centering in it a system of private, joint-stock concerns. There were to be added in the years after 1894 agricultural and industrial banks for the aid of farmers and manufacturers. As in most branches of the nation's life, laws and state supervision carefully regulate all private financial institutions.

With the growth of commerce came, too, an improvement in means of transportation. Steamships plied the coastal waters of the islands. At first most of them were built abroad and were the property of foreigners, but before long they began to be constructed and owned at home. Here again the government gave its encouragement, and heavily subsidized companies laid the basis for the phenomenal growth of the twentieth century in domestic and foreign shipping. The state was a pioneer in railway building. In spite of earnest opposition by the conservatives a line was begun between Tokyo and its port, Yokohama, and was officially opened by the emperor in 1872. The state continued to promote railways and most of the earlier ones were constructed either by it or by government-aided companies. Later the privately owned lines predominated, but, as we shall see, they have been nationalized within the last few years. Telegraph lines were built by the state and in 1886 were united with the postal service under a joint bureau. The telephone was introduced in 1877, also under official auspices.

In industry the state again had a prominent part, and owned directly plants for as divergent purposes as paper- making and cotton-spinning. By 1890 there were over two hundred steam factories in the country and the ancient handicrafts were beginning to be supplanted by the methods of the industrial revolution. The great industrial development of the nation, however, was not to take place until after the war with China.

The government led, too, in bettering agriculture. After the Restoration the peasant was made the owner of the soil that he had cultivated for the feudal lords under the old régime, and payments of taxes in money was substituted for forced labor and for payment in the products of the soil. Western agricultural experts were brought in to suggest improvements in the time-honored methods of the farmer, and new breeds of cattle and horses were introduced.

In the reorganization of banking, commerce, transportation, industry, and agriculture, then, the state, directed by the reformers, had a major part. For this there were two reasons. First, the state was the only institution which had the organization, the mobile capital, and the credit to undertake operations on the large scale necessary for successful competition with the industrialized West. At the coming of Perry there were few if any large commercial fortunes in the country, capital was in land, and industry and trade were rudimentary and without an organization fitted to cope with that of the Occident. In the second place, an emphasis upon the state had been encouraged by the Tokugawa shoguns, for they sought to exercise a paternalistic supervision over all the life of the nation. It was but natural that the ministers of the Restoration should follow the precedent of past ages.


The government led the way in remaking the educational system of the land. Before the downfall of the shogunate, Japanese students had begun to find their way to the West, partly on their own initiative, and partly as state pensioners. With the Restoration scores of students went to Europe and America to drink of the new learning at its sources. They returned bursting with ideas and became ardent supporters and leaders of the reform movement. The embassy that in 1871 went abroad to ask for a revision of the treaties came back with the determination to inaugurate, among other things, a modern school system, and in 1872 a law was passed which was the basis of universal compulsory primary education. A complete program of public instruction was gradually carried out, beginning with the elementary school and leading through the "middle" and "high" schools, to a culmination in the national universities. Enthusiastic private effort supplemented that of the state, and Christian missionary institutions added their contribution. Foreign teachers were engaged by the score, among them some who later not only interpreted the West to Japan, but Japan to the Occident. Translations of Western books were made. England was the great commercial power of the Far East; Japan had been opened by America and many of her youth were there in school. It was but natural then, that English should be studied extensively and should be the language through which the Japanese chose to acquire Western learning. Fresh combinations of the convenient Chinese characters were formed to express the new ideas that were constantly pouring in. Newspapers sprang into existence, some of them encouraged by the state, but many of them edited by men who had been too recently introduced to Western thought and institutions to have their radicalism balanced with the sound judgment born of experience. So numerous and influential did such sheets become that by the eighties the government found it necessary to curb them with press laws. A simpler form of literary style appeared and a beginning was made toward conforming the language of the printed page more nearly to the vernacular: education and the new ideas were being brought to the man on the street.

Even in religion, that most conservative side of a people's life, innovations were being made. By their experiences of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Japanese had been taught to view Christianity with mingled fear, contempt, and hate. The stringent prohibitions against it remained on the public edict-boards until 1872 and complete religious toleration was not granted until after the promulgation of the constitution. As late as the sixties a few remnants of the church of the seventeenth century that had preserved their faith through more than two centuries of the severest prohibitions were discovered and persecuted. Under the shelter of the treaty ports, however, missionary activity was begun by foreign representatives of Protestant, Greek, and Roman Catholic communions, and the foundations of the church were laid anew. A number of notably able men were among the missionary pioneers, and had a share in remolding not only the religious thought but other phases of national life. In the eighties, when all things foreign shared in the popularity that attended the national enthusiasm for transformation, the Christian church grew rapidly. The centuries of prejudice could not be entirely forgotten, however. A reaction took place during the nineties and Christianity for a while gained ground but slowly.


To the traveller or foreign resident in Japan the years of marked transition were at times amusing, at times bewildering, and always interesting. With the momentous alterations in political institutions, in commerce, transportation, industry, education, thought, and religion, there were other changes, some of them much more superficial, but all of them significant. A mixture of costumes was to be found, often ludicrous. To Japanese houses were added foreign rooms fitted out with European furniture. Business blocks and public buildings were erected either in an avowedly foreign architectural style, or in a curious mixture that was neither Occidental nor Oriental and that tried to be both. The nation was attempting to find itself, to adjust itself to the new world into which it had been forced.

By 1894 the crisis of the transition period had passed. The government had been completely reorganized and a constitution had been given several years of trial. An army and navy had been built up after approved Western models. A modern school system was in successful operation. Tariff and judicial autonomy were on the point of being granted. Industry and commerce were giving promise of vigorous life. The reorganization was not complete and its fruits were only beginning to be seen, but in the main the shock caused by internal adaptation to the modern world was over. From 1894 on, the reorganized Japan was to expand and take her place as an equal and an increasingly important member in the family of nations.

For further reading see: Griffis, The Mikado's Empire; Brinkley, Japan, Its History, Arts, and Literature; Brinkley, A History of the Japanese People; McLaren, A Political History of Japan during the Meiji Era; Okuma, Fifty Years of New Japan; Cary, A History of Christianity in Japan.