Awakening of Japan (1853-1868)

a) Treaty-making (1853-1858). - As already stated in the previous chapter, July 14, 1853, was the real birthday of New Japan, because the receipt on that day of a letter from the President of the United States of America by representatives of the Shōgun, in whom was vested the administration of affairs, in opposition to the old law absolutely forbidding all communication with foreign nations except through the Dutch at Nagasaki, sounded the death knell of the old régime of seclusion. It was truly the beginning of the end of Old Japan. Of course, the Japanese authorities expected that the matter would end there and that they would be able in some way to evade the necessity for a reply to the letter from President Fillmore. Soon after Perry had left, with the assurance that he would return the next spring for the answer to the letter, "the Shōgun Iyeyoshi, who had been ill since the beginning of the summer, was rendered very anxious about this sudden and pressing affair of the outer barbarians" and died.

The new Shōgun, Iyesada, at first influenced by the old Prince of Mito, began to make preparations for a warlike reception; but afterward impelled, partly by other counsels, and partly by the impossibility of making the military preparations efficient in time, decided to receive the Americans "peaceably." He therefore appointed one Hayashi, a good Chinese and Confucian scholar, with the title of "Regent of the University" (Daigaku no Kami), to treat with Commodore Perry, who returned in February, 1854. It is scarcely worth while to go into the details of the negotiations; it is sufficient to state here that on March 31, 1854, a treaty of peace and amity was signed at Kanagawa (Yokohama). As this was the first treaty made by Japan in modern times with a foreign nation, the following synopsis may be interesting:

I. Peace and friendship.
II. Ports of Shimoda and Hakodate open to American ships, and necessary provisions to be supplied them.
III. Relief to shipwrecked people; expenses thereof not to be refunded.
IV. Americans to be free as in other countries, but amenable to just laws.
V. Americans at Shimoda and Hakodate not to be subject to restrictions; free to go about within defined limits.
VI. Careful deliberation in transacting business which affects the welfare of either party.
VII. Trade in open ports subject to local regulations.
VIII. Wood, water, provisions, coal, etc., to be procured through Japanese officers only.
IX. Most-favored nation clause.
X. United States ships restricted to ports of Shimoda and Hakodate, except when forced by stress of weather.
XI. United States consuls or agents to reside at Shimoda.
XII. Ratifications to be exchanged within eighteen months.

After that it was no difficult matter, of course, for other nations to obtain the same privileges; so that similar treaties were signed as follows: British, October 15, 1854; Russian, February 7, 1855; and Dutch, January 30, 1856.

It goes without saying that these treaties produced a great commotion in Japan. "It was charged against the Shōgun that, in making treaties with foreign nations, he had transcended the power that rightly belonged to him. He was not the sovereign of Japan and never had been. He was only the chief executive under the Emperor." And such facts as that Yedo was visited in 1855 by a terrible earthquake, followed by an immense conflagration, in which 100,000 people are said to have lost their lives; that the eastern section of the Empire was devastated by a storm in the same year; and that the annals of the years 1854 to 1856 record pestilence, floods, fires, earthquakes, wind-storms, etc., in various localities - all these were both single and cumulative evidences that the Japanese gods were wroth and were visiting the nation with such calamities by way of punishment for breaking the laws and traditions of the Empire.

But a very important figure appeared on the scene in the person of Townsend Harris. He had been appointed United States Consul-General to Japan in 1855 and arrived at Shimoda in August, 1856. There, on September 4, he hoisted the "first consular flag ever seen in this Empire"; and, having carried the American flag from Shimoda to Yedo, on November 30 entered the Shōgun's capital as the "first diplomatic representative that has ever been received in this city"; and on December 7 was received in audience by the Shōgun - the first foreign representative to be so honored. Then followed several months of tedious and trying formal negotiations for a new treaty, the details of which are not uninteresting, but need not be given here.

One can now, from the better knowledge of Japanese history than Townsend Harris possessed, sympathize a little with the Japanese in their dilemma, due to complications of national politics; but we must also feel glad that the negotiator on the other side was a man who had patience, perseverance, common-sense, tact, and honesty. The fine tribute by the British official and historian Longford is worth quoting, as follows:

The story of how, unbacked by any display of force under his country's flag, he succeeded by his own personal efforts in overcoming the traditional hatred of centuries to even the smallest association with foreigners, is one of marvellous tact and patience, of steady determination and courage, of straightforward uprightness in every respect, that is not exceeded by any in the entire history of the international relations of the world. He won the confidence and trust of the Japanese.
Much to the surprise of Mr. Harris, the only article of his draft which was at once accepted was that which called for the abolition of the practice of trampling on the cross and gave Americans the free exercise of their religion. On the other hand, the article upon which it was most difficult to come to an agreement was that relating to the opening of new ports and other cities.

Finally, however, both sides succeeded in agreeing upon the terms of a treaty of amity and commerce, which was signed July 29, 1858, to go into effect July 4, 1859, and was, therefore, in force forty full years - till July, 1899. This treaty was followed by treaties, on similar terms, with Great Britain, Russia, France, Holland, Prussia, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Spain, Denmark, Hawaii, Sweden and Norway, Portugal, and Peru, which countries, together with the United States of America, constituted what were known as the sixteen "treaty-powers."

b) Civil commotions (1858-1868). - Again at a critical period in Japanese history (1858), the Shōgun (Iyesada) died, and was succeeded by his son, Iyemochi, who was only twelve years of age. Thus the real power and authority were in the hands of his Chief Minister(Tairō), Ii Kamon-no-Kami, who had had the audacity to cause the Shōgun to sign the treaties without waiting for the Emperor's sanction. In 1859, Kanagawa (or Yokohama) (in place of Shimoda, destroyed by an earthquake), Nagasaki, and Hakodate were opened to foreign trade, and began at once to become populous and prosperous. In the same year Harris was promoted to the position of Minister, and (Sir) Rutherford Alcock arrived as the first British Minister. This was a red-letter year, not only for merchants but also for missionaries. Roman Catholic priests, who had been waiting in the Riūkiū Islands for the opportunity now afforded by the treaty with France, at once came to Nagasaki to reopen their work, after the long interval of two hundred and fifty years. The first Protestant missionaries, Liggins and Williams (American Episcopal), Verbeck, Brown, and Simmons (Dutch Reformed), and Hepburn (American Presbyterian), arrived in the spring and fall of the same year. And in 1860 came Jonathan Goble (Baptist), who had been a sailor with Perry: he was to win greater fame as inventor of the jinrikisha.

Early in 1860 the Shōgun sent envoys to the United States of America to confirm the treaty. In the same year occurred what is known as the "Sakurada affair," because it took place just outside the Sakurada Gate of the Shōgun's, now the imperial, palace. The Shōgun's Minister, Ii, had stirred up so much enmity against him on the part of those who were in favor of driving out the "barbarians" instead of opening the country, that he was marked for assassination. Finally, a band of Rōnin, chiefly old Mito retainers, succeeded in carrying out their purpose in the midst of a snowstorm on March 24. This event gave some impetus to the "anti-foreign" movement, and frequent attacks on foreigners followed. In 1861, Mr. Heusken, the first interpreter of the United States legation, was assassinated, and the British legation was attacked by Mito Rōnin. The Shōgun's government really seemed to be too weak to prevent such outrages. Thereupon all the foreign representatives, except Harris, left Yedo for Yokohama, where they remained a few weeks, but returned when they were assured of protection.

The following year (1862) was marked by three important events. One was the dispatch of an embassy to America and Europe to ask for a postponement of the dates for the opening of Hyōgo and Niigata and the establishment of "foreign concessions" in Yedo and Osaka. It succeeded in securing a postponement for five years - to January 1, 1868.

Another event was the "Richardson affair," which, though apparently trivial, produced tremendous results. Richardson was an Englishman who, with two other gentlemen and one lady, was out on a ride from Yokohama to Kawasaki on September 14. A little beyond Kanagawa they met the feudal train of the Prince of Satsuma and in some way or other failed to satisfy the demands of Japanese etiquette on such occasions. Thereupon the Satsuma samurai attacked the party, killed Richardson, and wounded the two other gentlemen. The British immediately demanded the punishment of the assassin of Richardson and indemnities from both the Shōgunate and the Prince of Satsuma. When the latter failed to respond to these demands, a British squadron was dispatched to Kiūshiu, and bombarded Kagoshima till it was "almost completely destroyed by fire."

In that same year (1862), American, French, and Dutch ships, passing through the Straits of Shimonoseki, were fired upon by the shore batteries which the Prince of Chōshiu had erected on his own territory. American and French vessels were at once dispatched, by which these batteries were silenced. And later, when negotiations for damages failed to accomplish anything, an expedition was organized under British, Dutch, French, and American auspices, to bombard Shimonoseki. After an attack of several days, the Prince "gave in his absolute submission." A convention was held later, by which Japan was forced to pay an indemnity of $3,000,000 to the four powers. The language of Murray concerning this "dollar diplomacy" seems scarcely too strong: "It has always been felt that the exaction of this large indemnity was a harsh if not unwarrantable proceeding." But it remains to the everlasting credit of the United States that, in 1883, her full share of that indemnity was returned to Japan for use in educational work.

It was also in the year 1864 that Rev. J. H. Ballagh had the honor of administering the first baptism to a Japanese convert in Japan proper in the person of Yano Riyu. It is, however, possible that an earlier convert was Wakasa-no-Kami, who was not baptized till 1866.

Meanwhile, the internal affairs of Japan had been getting into greater and greater confusion, of which Kyōto became the center. The Chōshiu clansmen were expelled from Kyōto, and in 1864 made a vain attempt to get back into the capital. Through the intervention of Satsuma, which had itself become reconciled with Chōshiu, peace was made between the latter and the Shōgun.

Then the representatives of the foreign powers, under the leadership of (Sir) Harry Parkes, the new British Minister, "made a demonstration" with their naval armaments at Hyōgo and Ōsaka, where the Shōgun was then staying, and urged upon him to obtain the Emperor's approval of the treaties. The Shōgun's guardian, Prince Keiki, was wise enough to recognize that the time had come to end the confusion, turmoil, and uncertainty. In reply, therefore, to a memorial from the Shōgun, the Emperor gave his formal sanction to the treaties and to a tariff convention (1865).

This is also the year when the new Roman Catholic cathedral at Nagasaki was dedicated to the memory of the twenty-six martyrs who had suffered death in that city in 1597. Within less than a month, on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, occurred the wonderful scene which is known as "The Finding of the Christians," or the discovery of thousands of Catholics who had "kept the faith" handed down during the centuries.

In 1866 came the third instance of a Shōgun's death at a critical time, and a few months later, in 1867, the Emperor Kōmei died from smallpox, which the superstitious conservatives attributed to the fact that he had sanctioned the treaties. The new Shōgun was the aforementioned Keiki, son of the old Mito prince, but adopted into the Hitotsubashi family; while the new Emperor, Mutsuhito, was a youth of only fifteen years of age.

The new Shōgun had already begun to realize that the time was ripe for a radical change in the form of government and that unification of administration was necessary. He was, therefore, ready to listen to the advice of the Prince of Tosa, who, in October of 1867, presented him with a memorial and a recommendation. We quote these few sentences:

The cause of this [situation] lies in the fact that the administration proceeds from two centres, causing the Empire's eyes and ears to be turned in two different directions. The march of events has brought about a revolution, and the old system can no longer be persevered in. You should restore the governing power into the hands of the sovereign, and so lay a foundation on which Japan may take its stand as the equal of all other countries.
Accordingly, on November 19, 1867, Keiki surrendered into the hands of the Emperor his authority as Shōgun; and he thus ended both the Tokugawa Dynasty and the whole Shōgunate system. All honor to Keiki, who had the vision to see, and the wisdom to recognize, that he was "the last of the Shōguns"!

But, in the reorganization of the government, early in 1868, the friends of the ex-Shōgun were dismissed, and the Satsuma and Chōshiu clans were given so much power that it looked as if the Tokugawa Shōgunate had merely been superseded by a Sat-Chō Shōgunate. The Tokugawa adherents, therefore, under the leadership of the warlike Aizu clan, persuaded the ex-Shōgun to attempt to "remove from the Emperor his bad councillors and try the issue with them by the sword." This move was met by military preparations on the part of the government at Kyōto; and in a battle at Fushimi the ex-Shōgun was defeated and retreated to his castle in Ōsaka. Later he fled to Yedo, where he finally surrendered and retired, first to Mito and then to Suruga (Shizuoka). His adherents kept up the contest in fierce battles at Uyeno in Yedo, at Wakamatsu, and in the Hokkaidō, where they tried to set up a republic!

The result of all this conflict was what is called by some the "Restoration" and by others the "Revolution." Certainly from the Tokugawa point of view it was a revolution, which ended the administrative power that the family had held for 265 years in the Shōgunate. And assuredly from the imperial point of view it was a restoration to the Emperor, the only lawful ruler, of his inherited legal authority. He now became sovereign both de jure and de facto, both in name and in fact.

"Thus at last was worked out the unification of Japan," says Lloyd, who also points out that it happened eight (seven?) years after the unification of Italy and three years before the unification of Germany, and that the unification of all presented "many of the same features." As the year 1867 had witnessed this restoration of the Emperor to his full authority, the next year, 1868, was made the first of a new era, called Meiji, or "Enlightened Rule."