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Satow’s Perception of the Meiji Revolution

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Mon, 26 Feb 2018

Between 1853 and 1868, Japanese society underwent a profound and violent societal, economic, and cultural upheaval, the likes of which it had not seen in over 200 years. The ruling military government of Japan, the clan-pure Tokugawa Shogunate and its ancient feudal system of governance, disintegrated under internal pressure to reform to meet the challenges of the Industrial Age, embodied by foreign interests, particularly that of the United States and England, which used the threat of their military and technological superiority to force the Japanese to accept trade agreements.

In doing so, the Shogunate wrote its final chapter and set the state for a return to power of the Emperor, a quasi-religious position which since the 1600s had been relegated to ceremonial duties as the spiritual godfather of Japan, while the Shogunate and its samurai warrior culture administered the country’s affairs. TheBritish Empire of the time was preoccupied initially with wars with Russia and China, but observed with keen interest the initial rumblings of discontent and reform within Japan, precipitated by the bold moves of the United States to establish relations with Japan. Once the British wars had been concluded and Americans had done the proverbial dirty advance work of opening Japan up, the British established their own presence within Japan as it underwent a rapid societal metamorphosis. Over time, various representatives of foreign governments, most notably the eminent British interpreter and diplomat Ernest Satow, went beyond active interest to active involvement in the internal affairs of the Japanese transformation from Tokugawa Shogunate rule to restoration of the power of the Emperor, known as the Meiji revolution. Some of this involvement was self-serving and destructive; some of it was noble, altruistic, and reflected a genuine appreciation and compassion for the Japanese and their unique, noble, and astonishingly complex culture. As with most chapters in history, it is often difficult to discern in retrospect where altruism and self-interest intersected and diverged; the history of Japan’swrenching introduction into the modern age is particularly messy, but only more fascinating for being as such.

In order to explore this era, some chronological narrative is of course required, but a strictly linear structure is not necessarily the most effective way to approach the issues. Therefore, this dissertation will alternate between historical narrative and cultural explication, sometimes moving backwards and forwards in time, and indulging in anecdotal tangents as well as delvings into the personal histories of some of the players in question, all in hopes of painting a full and complex picture of the interlocking forces – Japanese, American, and British, which turned this tiny country upside down in the short space of 15 years and set the stage for its rise to global power. (A full investigation of the Japanese relations with Russia, China, and the Dutch could easily comprise a dissertation of its own, but we will limit most of our focus here to the often tragic, but often edifying interaction of the Japanese with the two aforementioned Western powers.) Lastly, it is important to note that no exploration of Japan’s relations with the West during the Tokugama Shogunate /Meiji Revolution era, or any era for that matter, is complete without dwelling occasionally in details of Japanese culture, which are alternately arcane and compelling. Such moments will be interwoven with the historical narratives and observations as required.

In 1854, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, which opened up Japan economically and culturally to the West for the first time. Up until this point in time, ancient Japanese law forbade trade with any foreign nations other than China and the Dutch, the latter of which were allowed to visit Japan twice a year to do business solely at the port of Nagasaki; even then, the foreigners’ presence was confined to the small island of Deshima. The signing of the treaty was a momentous occasion for both the United States and Japan, but it was not necessarily an egalitarian or mutually beneficial agreement, nor did both parties come to the signing ceremony of their own free will.Commodore Matthew Perry, representing the United States, essentially forced the Japanese into signing the treaty by virtue of the threat of his heavily armed four-warship fleet which arrived in Edo Bay (Tokyo’sharbor; Tokyo was known as Edo during Tokugawa Shogunate dynasty) – aport forbidden to foreigners — in July 1853 and refused to depart until the Japanese consented to enter into a trade and peace agreement between the two nations. Perry was acting under orders from the highest authority in the United States, his Commander in Chief, President Millard Fillmore. Perry arrived bearing a letter fromPresident Fillmore to Emperor Kōmei (who reigned from 1831-1867 and was the 121st imperial ruler of Japan). The letter was an eager one, and contained several passages full of obsequious language:

I entertain the kindest feelings toward your majesty’s person and government, and that I have no other object in sending [CommodorePerry] to Japan but to propose to your imperial majesty that the UnitedStates and Japan should live in friendship and have cornmercial intercourse with each other… The Constitution and laws of the UnitedStates forbid all interference with the religious or political concerns of other nations. I have particularly charged Commodore Perry to abstain from every act which could possibly disturb the tranquility of your imperial majesty’s dominions… We have directed Commodore Perry to beg your imperial majesty’s acceptance of a few presents. They are of no great value in themselves, but some of them may serve as specimens of the articles manufactured in the United States, and they are intended as tokens of our sincere and respectful friendship.(Fillmore, 1852)

However, the letter also contained notable amounts of braggadocioregarding the economic and technological might at the disposal of theUnited States:
The [territories of the United States of America reach from ocean to ocean, and our Territory of Oregon and State of California lie directly opposite to the dominions of your imperial majesty. Our steamships can go from California to Japan in eighteen days… Our great State of California produces about sixty millions of dollars in gold every year, besides silver, quicksilver, precious stones, and many other valuable article… America, which is sometimes called the New World, was first discovered and settled by the Europeans. For a long time, there were but a few people, and they were poor. They have now become quite numerous; their commerce is very extensive. (Fillmore, 1852)

The subtext was clear. Though polite and solicitous to almost comic fault, Fillmore made it clear that it was in Japan’s best interests to cooperate with the United States in opening itself up to foreign trade, or Japan might meet the same fate as Mexico, which the United States had obliterated and territorially eviscerated in a warning just four years prior to Perry’s visit to Japan. To punctuate the subtext of his letter, Fillmore did not send Perry across thePacific Ocean in a yacht armed only with flowers; Perry sailed into Yedo Bay with an unmistakable symbol of United States might, his state-of-the-art mini-fleet.

Why the particular interest in Japan, a relatively small nation? Itwas strategically located, a gateway to the Far East, and influence over/in, and/or control of Japan would greatly expand American’smilitary and economic power. Japan was also a nation of important natural resources that could be used to feed the hungry monster of theWest’s burgeoning Industrial Revolution. As samurai scholar MarcelThach notes, “after the colonization of China, the Western Powers –America in particular — turned their eye towards Japan and saw a country rich with coal deposits, one which they could colonize and exploit as they had China and other East Asian nations such as India.”(Thach, 2002)

The Japanese were initially unmoved by President Fillmore’s letter, leaving Commodore Perry to stew in the harbor with the expectation that he would simply tire and go home. This was not to be the case, however, as Perry quickly saw fit to turn up the proverbial heat on the Japanese by sending a letter of his own to the Emperor. In it, Perry reiterated some of the niceties expressed by President Fillmore, but then delivered some language of a level of candor to which the Japanese were not accustomed:

[I] hope that the Japanese government will see the necessity of averting unfriendly collision between the two nations, by responding favourably to the propositions of amity, which are now made in all sincerity… Many of the large ships-of-war destined to visit Japan have not yet arrived in these seas, though they are hourly expected; and the undersigned, as an evidence of his friendly intentions, has brought but four of the smaller ones, designing, should it become necessary, to return to Edo in the ensuing spring with a much larger force. (Perry, 7 July 1853)

The Japanese remained unmoved, provoking Commodore Perry’s temper. Diplomatic subtleties were abandoned, and on July 14, 1853, he delivered an imperious admonishment accusing the Japanese of a sin against God, in effect, and threatened to fire upon the harbor:
You have … acted against divine principles and your sin cannot be greater than it is… If you are still to disagree we would then take up arms and inquire into the sin against the divine principles…When one considers such an occasion… one will realize the victory will naturally ours. (Perry, 14 July 1853)

At this juncture, the virulent and ingrained xenophobia of the Japanese culture was forced to yield to common sense. The Japanese had no navy to speak of, and though Perry’s four ships were unlikely to comprise enough force to cause the Japanese to comply, the threat of an imminent arrival of a bona fide armada induced the Japanese to capitulate and sign the treaty of Kanagawa. (In the wake of the capitulation, the Japanese dispatched an order to their Dutch trading partners to commission the building of a warship, which was named theKanrin-maru and was 49 meters in length, with 12 canons and three masts. It was delivered somewhat belatedly in 1857, but was put to good use as a military training vessel.)

It is important to pause here to explicate the amorphous term “the Japanese.” At the time of Perry’s arrival in Tokyo, Japan was indeed technically ruled by an Emperor, but he was largely a spiritual and traditional figurehead who wielded minimal political power. The locus of decision-making was controlled by a chief shôgun (which in Japanese means “great general”), a direct descendent of Tokugawa leyasu, who in1603 defeated rival warlords to bring a semblance of organizational coherence to a Japanese society dominated by the fractious conflicts between feudal warlords. (In fact, the Tokugawa Shogunate, as the organization came to be known, ruled in relative peace for the next 250 years in what was called the Edo Period, after the ancient name for the city of Tokyo.) From 1603 on, the chief shôgun henceforth always carried the Tokugawa clan title, and maintained power by executing rivals and replacing them with family members and trusted allies, who were forbidden to marry outside the Tokugawa clan and allowed to rule their individual local dominions with a relatively free and arbitrary hand as long as they loyally served the chief shôgun.

Furthermore, all other shôguns and feudal lords were forced to attend a grand gathering in Tokyo / Edo every other year under the watchful eye of the Tokugawas hôgun, where loyalties were reinforced and tested, and suspected traitors ferreted out. Additionally, other lords were required to keep heirs or wives in Tokyo while they were administering to their duties in their respective feudal domains, which was another powerful tool of the Tokugawa clan to maintain its control. A strict hierarchical caste system had also established by the Tokugawa Shogunate; atop this pyramid was the infamous warrior class of the samurai, the subjects of much awe and reverence among Western cultures. Below the samurai were farmers, artisans, and traders. Meanwhile, the Emperor himself resided in Kyoto, accompanied by a few servants and bureaucrats to tend to his ceremonial needs, but he exercised virtually no governing power at all.

It was under this repressive cloak that the xenophobic culture ofJapan was cultivated and its restrictive trade policies enacted into law. The third in the Tokugawa shôgun lineage, Tokugawa Iemitsu, established the rules forbidding almost all foreign trade and interaction. Only inbound trading ships were permitted, and of the visitors, the Dutch and the Chinese were the only ones allowed. This was not merely an exercise in preserving Japanese culture purity, however. Tokugawa Iemitsu was keenly concerned with maintaining his clan’s power over the opposing feudal warlords, and he knew that cultural, religious, military, and economic influences from other countries could destabilize the already precarious balance of power.The economic and cultural modernization and maturation within the large cities was, by the 19th century, starting to create conflict within the caste system, which began to teeter under the weight of its own stubborn antiquity. This was the complex environment into which Commodore Perry sailed his four ships in July 1853: a paranoid, secretive, and warlike culture steeped in Byzantine traditions but also militarily and technologically steeped in the past, and thus unable to defend its sovereignty. The forced signing of the treaty was the beginning of a long road of resentment towards the United States and the West that culminated in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In the immediate meantime, however, the Treaty of Kanagawa was finally signed on March 31, 1854 after Commodore Perry’s return toJapan. It stipulated that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate would be opened to American ships seeking supplies, that American sailors who had been shipwrecked would be rescued and well-treated, and agreed that an American consulate would be established in Shimoda for the purposes of negotiating a further and more comprehensive trade agreement. This treaty was the beginning of a succession of agreements forced upon the Japanese that brought about a great influx of foreign investment, trade, and business into Japan, but the economic effects of this phenomenon were not all salutary. One such deleterious effect was massive inflation of the Japanese currency. The caste system under the Tokugawa Shogunate mandated a rigid system of taxation on the peasantry; the taxes were fixed and not fairly tied to inflation or other economic vagaries, and thus the taxes gathered by the rulingshôguns fell steeply in the wake of the Treaty of Kanagawa, causing ironic clashes between the well-to-do working class and their rulers.Arguably better warriors than macro-economists, the shôgun were unable to curtail this inflation, and the resultant economic instability and hardships inflicted on the Japanese people caused a popular unrest that could not be quelled for very long, and fact led to civil war. By1867, the Shogunate had been overthrown in what became known as the Meiji Rebellion, which restored the Emperor to true power beyond the ceremonial, and brought about a thorough reform of the organization of Japanese government and society.

One of the intermediary steps on the way to the weakening of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor’s rule was another treaty between the United States, The Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between theUnited States and Japan, better known historically as the Treaty of Townsend Harris, named after the persistent American diplomat who persuaded the Japanese to sign it. As alluded to previously, the Treaty of Kanagawa had stipulated the creation of an American Consulate in Japan, which would open up negotiations on the specifics of trade negotiation. President Franklin Pierce, who had replaced President Fillmore in March 1853, dispatched Townsend Harris from New York in November 1855 to establish the Consulate and coax the Japanese into actual trade, not simply the intent to trade. Harris arrived in Shimoda in August 1856, having cannily brought along a Dutch-speaking secretary and interpreter named Henry Heuksen to facilitate the difficult and delicate nuances of discourse with the Japanese.However, the Japanese, in a typical stalling maneuver, asked Harris to leave and return in a year. He refused; the Japanese asked him to proceed to Nagasaki, which he declined to do; then, in a final – and rather creative – attempt to rid themselves of Harris, they asked him to write a letter back to the President James Buchanan (who had succeeded Pierce in the November 1856 election) requesting a cancellation of his diplomatic mission. The indefatigable Harris refused this request as well, and eventually the Japanese allowed him to set up an office at the port of Shimoda. Nonetheless, they continued to stonewall Harris by referring any request or question, whether trivial or consequential, to the Emperor’s palace in Edo.Harris demanded an audience with the shôgun in the capital, but over a year passed before Harris received permission to travel to Edo.

Harris did not sit idly by, however; he used the intervening time to cultivate favor and good will with the powers-that-were in Shimoda, the local members of the Tokugawa bafuku. (Bafuku is a Japanese word loosely translated to mean “tent government” and is an arm, during this historical period, of the Tokugawa Shogunate) Harris was well aware that the British had paid a visit to the Japanese in 1854 that did not go well and left a bitter taste in the proverbial mouths of both parties. The British, mired in a conflict with the Russians that led to the Crimean War (1854-1856) had dispatched Sir James Stirling fromChina in 1855 to request that the Japanese deny Russian ships access to their ports and attempt to secure some sort of initial trade understanding with the Japanese. Stirling did conclude a treaty, but it was hopelessly vague and of limited utility, in part because of an incompetent translator (a hitch keenly noted by Harris) and was sent on his way. The British lurched from the Crimean War to the Second OpiumWar with China in 1856, distracting them from immediate focus on Japan,but Harris correctly surmised it would only be a matter of time before the British turned their attention to Japan again, and used it, albeit with some fictional license, as leverage in his negotiations against the Japanese.

Despite managing to offend the chief shogun, the aged TokugawaIesada, and his Court by wearing shoes during his visit to the Palace in Edo in December 1857, Harris’ otherwise impeccable statesmanship impressed the Shogunate sufficiently that they gave their blessing for the treaty negotiations, and they gave permission for Bakufu GrandCouncillor Hotta Masayoshi, with whom Harris had been negotiating, to continue working with Harris to complete the treaty. Harris immediately set to work convincing Masayoshi with a combination of exaltations of American good intentions and fears of an inevitable British arrival on Japanese soil which would demand treaty terms far less generous than that ‘suggested’ by the American. Specifically, Harris preyed on the fears of the Japanese that the only thing standing between Japan and the imperial pressure of the British was their soon-to-be-concluded war against China. The Japanese had long heldChina in a place of cultural reverence in the Far East and had been profoundly shocked at the relative ease with which the French and British were defeating the Chinese in the Second Opium War. Aware of this, naturally, Harris used it to his advantage. In his December 12, 1857 audience with Masayoshi, Harris had this to say:

On my way to Japan I met the English governor of Hong-Kong, JohnBowring, who told me that he was about to be appointed an ambassador to go to Japan, and I have received four letters from him since my arrival in Japan. Our conversation was of course private, but in his letters he discusses Japanese Government matters. He says he intends to bring with him a larger fleet than the Japanese have ever seen, and anchor at Yedo, {Edo] where the discussions will be carried on. He says also that Yedo is the only place to hold consultation with the Japanese; that his object is, first, to get permission for a minister or agent of England to reside in Yedo, and, secondly, to get permission to carry on free trade at several places in Japan. If these two things are not granted war will be declared at once. The sending of this ambassador he says is delayed by the war in China. He said he would be in Yedo in the third month, but he has been detained by the war. (Harris, 1857)

In another dramatic touch, Harris also asserted that the British intended to addict the entirety of the Japanese population to opium:

It appears that the English think the Japanese … are fond of opium, and they want to bring it here also. If a man use opium once he cannot stop it, and it becomes a life-long habit to use opium; hence the English want to introduce it into Japan. The President of theUnited States thinks that for the Japanese opium is more dangerous than war. (Harris, 1857)

What Harris neglected to mention was that in truth, the British were loathe to try to force an opening into Japan at this particular juncture in time. They had squandered vast military and political capital in pursuit of their war with China, and there was domestic unrest to contend with as well:

Despite popular perceptions of British imperialism at this period, official British policy was in fact against the use of force in opening up Japan and British Ministers were mindful of humanitarian considerations that might lead to criticism in Parliament. They instructed British representatives to avoid provocative acts and the threat or use of force. (Cortazzi, 1999)

Nonetheless, Harris then went on to claim that the United States had studiously avoided joining Britain in the war against China, despite the fact that newly elected President Buchanan was a veteran diplomat and former Secretary of State who, in his former diplomatic position,and now, as President-elect, was actively working towards mending old grievances with Britain. Harris suggested that if the Japanese come to mutually satisfactory terms with the United States, particularly with respect to the issue of opium trade – Harris suggested that the Japanese could burn any opium which American traders might bring to ports in the future – then in effect, the United States would form a defacto protective buffer between Japan and the European powers, and at the very least, treaty terms with Britain or France could be no worse for the Japanese than the benevolent terms of a treaty with the UnitedStates. In fact, the treaty proposed (in Article II) that in any dispute between Japan and European powers, the United States president would serve as mediator.

Hotta Masayoshi was no fool, and despite the fact that the Shogunate had responded to Commodore Perry’s presence by commissioning military vessels from its Dutch trading partners, Masayoshi knew the Japanese had little choice at this particular juncture in time but to accede toHarris’ terms. Negotiations on Treaty of Townsend Harris were concluded in February 1858 and the treaty was signed on July 29, 1858.(Ironically, Commodore Perry died in New York City the same day.)Harris, never one to miss an opportunity for some patriotic public relations, ensured that the treaty was stipulated to take effect on July 4, 1859, on American Independence Day. Little did the Japanese know that they had taken another ominous step towards the erosion of their own cultural-economic independence.

The treaty provided for the opening of four additional ports to American trading ships: Kanagawa and Nagasaki, on July 4, 1859;Niigata, on the January 1, 1860; and Hyogo, on the January 1, 1863; the port of Shimoda would be closed to American beginning in January 1860.Starting on July 4, 1862, Americans would also be allowed to take up residence in Edo. It provided for tariffs to be applied to American goods imported into Japan and exported to the United States, and forbade the trade of opium between the Unites States and Japan. The tariffs – unsurprisingly — favored imported American products with a five percent tax on most goods and raw materials. The treaty stipulated that this tariff was fixed until the treaty came up for revision and renegotiation in 1872, sowing the seeds for the economic instability, alluded to above, that led to the downfall of the Shogunate. In particularly surprising concession, the treaty stipulated that Americans in Japan would be allowed free exercise of their religious beliefs, which extended to permission to construct places of worship. This was a significant break with Japanese tradition, which had long been steeped with animosity towardsChristianity. In fact, Christianity was essentially forbidden, andHarris had taken a considerable personal risk by making a show of his Christian beliefs when he visited the Shogunate in Edo in 1858.Despite a clause in the treaty that seemed to forbid Christian proselytizing (“The Americans and Japanese shall not do anything that may be calculated to excite religious animosity” (Article VII), the influx of Christianity into the Japanese homeland was deeply offensive to many traditionalist and contributed to the erosion of support for the Shogunate.

Another interesting stipulation of the treaty is that diplomatic envoys from Japan would be sent to the United States for the purposes of cultural exchange and for a ‘formal’ treaty-signing ceremony. Three Japanese were selected for the journey: Shimmi Masaoki, the senior ambassador, who was only 35 years of age; Oguri Tadamasu, who carried the title of ‘official inspector’ for the diplomatic mission; andMurgaki Norimasa, who kept a detailed diary of the delegation’s visit.Each were samurai warriors, consistent with the ruling class from which they came, and knew next to nothing of American culture or the peculiarities of Western culture, much less the American government;for example, the Japanese found it bizarre that the Americans had gone through three elected leaders in a peaceful transition of power between the time Commodore Perry had paid his infamous visit and the Japanese delegation left to visit the United States. In an attempt to show strength and regal power, the three Japanese did not travel alone –their party numbered 77, including six cooks, 51 guards and servants, three doctors, and three interpreters. It was quite a showcase:

On February 13, 1860, the ambassadors and their staff sailed from Yokohama with 50 tons of Japanese baggage (including the treaty in its special box), 100,000 readily negotiable Mexican dollars, and a large supply of Japanese food. Appropriately, perhaps, the vessel that carried them from Japan to San Francisco was the navy frigate Powhatan, one of the steam-powered paddle-wheelers Perry had employed in”opening” Japan. (Finn, 2002)

The America into which the Japanese were received in May 1860, was teetering on the precipice of a civil war which would forever alter its destiny, mirroring the dark seeds of revolution which were germinating back home in Japan. To say that the Japanese experienced culture shock was an understatement; it was a precursor to the shocks that would reverberate through Japanese culture in their homeland due to the floodgates of external Western cultural influence that were being opened by the Harris Townsend Treaty that the Japanese envoys signed with President Buchanan on May 18.

Upon their return home in November 1860, the Japanese delegation was greeted coolly, as the elements in the Shogunate that had approved the treaty had begun to fall from favor. Murgaki Norimasa and ShimmiMasaoki received promotions but were soon forced into retirement.Oguri Tadamasu went on to become a powerful military leader for theShogunate, but he refused to accept their downfall and the eventual re-ascension of the Emperor; he and his son were executed in 1868.

The interior map of Japanese political and cultural power was a tumultuous mess by the time the delegation returned to Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate had splintered into two warring factions due to the controversy regarding the signings of the two treaties with the UnitedStates and fears of imminent meddling by the British into Japanese affairs. Tokugawa Iesada had become an old and infirm man and was barely able to carry out his duties during the negotiations over the Townsend Harris Treaty. Compounding the fractious debate over whether or not to agree to the treaty was a struggle brewing over who would succeed Iesada, as Iesada had no natural heir. The two leading contenders were Tokugawa Yoshinobu (aka Keiki), and a 12-year old boy, the Daimyo of Kii. In an attempt to solidify the ebbing power of the Tokugawa clan and to end the debate over the the treaty signings, the latter of which he had brokered, Hotta Masayoshi broke with precedent and traveled to Kyoto to visit Emperor Komei to seek his approval for the Harris Treaty and for the ascension of the Daimyo of Kii to head the Shogunate. Unfortunately for Hotta, his gamble backfired. TheEmperor communicated his unhappiness with the treaties and refused to offer his support for Tokugawa Yoshinobu / Keiki. Hotta was humiliated and was replaced in April 1858 by Ii Naosuke, who was appointedTokugawa Regent, making him the effective military leader of Japan and head of the shogun council.

Ii immediately approved the Townsend Harris Treaty, effectively snubbing the Emperor, which caused a widespread rebellion amongst Imperial Japanese loyalists who literally revered the Emperor as a god and who viewed action against his wishes to be a mortal sin.Undaunted, Ii then proceeded to arbitrarily appointed the boy Daimyo of Kii as the Shogunate heir, spawning a massive rebellion. Those who opposed his sanctioning of the Treaty and/or his appointment of theShogunate heir were executed en masse, in a bloodbath dubbed the AnseiPurge. Being of tender age, naturally, the Daimyo of Kii – who assumed the name Tokugawa Iemochi — was unable to assert his sovereign will or assume his duties, leaving Ii firmly entrenched in power, or so he thought. His rule did not last long; he was beheaded by anti-foreigner, pro-Emperor elements in March 1860. After Ii was assassinated, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who had been Tokugawa Iemochi’searlier rival for the position of Shogun, assumed effective control of the Shogunate by assuming a position of power similar to the one held by Ii and Hotta before him. After Tokugawa Iemochi’s death in 1866, Tokugawa Yoshinobu assumed the official ceremonial title and power of Shogun. He was to be the fifteenth and last Shogun in Japanese history.

Certainly, the arrival of the Americans and the treaties they forced upon the Shogunate were a leading cause of their downfall, but the Shogunate was already weakening under its own antiquated weight by the time Commodore Perry arrived in Japan in 1853. Though very stable and consistent, the philosophy and structure of the Shogunate government was change-averse to a fault; it was 200 years old, and had simply outlived its usefulness:

The simple concept of the division of classes into rulers, warriors and commoners had little relation to Japan of the 19th century with its teeming cities, rich merchants, restless samurai, and discontent peasantry… Despite the division of the land into a large number of feudal fiefs, the people had developed a strong sense of national consciousness. The growth of nationalism and the development of a modern commercial economy had made Japan ready for the more efficient political forms of the modern nation. (Norman, 1940)

To some degree, the nationalism of the Japanese was reflective of the psychology of isolation, i.e., the Japanese,


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