MorrisonShip  Tokugawa coinage  Foreigner and Wrestler at Yokohama 1861

Note: MorrisonShip // Tokugawa coinage // Foreigner and Wrestler at Yokohama 1861



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History of Japan

Bakumatsu (幕末, bakumatsu, "the end (matsu) of the military government (baku, short for bakufu "tent-government")) refers to the final years of the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate ended. Between 1853 and 1867 Japan ended its isolationist foreign policy known as sakoku and changed from a feudal Tokugawa shogunate to the pre-modern empire of the Meiji government. The major ideological-political divide during this period was between the pro-imperial nationalists called ishin shishi and the shogunate forces, which included the elite shinsengumi swordsmen.

Although these two groups were the most visible powers, many other factions attempted to use the chaos of Bakumatsu to seize personal power. Furthermore, there were two other main driving forces for dissent: first, growing resentment on the part of the tozama daimyō (or outside lords), and second, growing anti-Western sentiment following the arrival of Matthew C. Perry. The first related to those lords who had fought against Tokugawa forces at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and had from that point on been excluded permanently from all powerful positions within the shogunate. The second was to be expressed in the phrase sonnō jōi, or "revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians". The turning point of the Bakumatsu was during the Boshin War and the Battle of Toba–Fushimi when pro-shogunate forces were defeated.

Foreign frictions

Main article: Sakoku

Frictions with foreign shipping led Japan to take defensive actions from the beginning of the 19th century. Western ships were increasing their presence around Japan due to whaling activities and the China trade. They were hoping for Japan to become a base for supply or at least a place where shipwrecks could receive assistance. The violent demands made by the British frigate Phaeton in 1808 shocked many in Japan. In 1825, the Edict to expel foreigners at all cost (異国船無二念打払令, Ikokusen Muninen Uchiharairei, "Don't think twice" policy) was issued by the Shogunate, prohibiting any contacts with foreigners; it remained in place until 1842.

Meanwhile, Japan endeavoured to learn about foreign sciences through rangaku ("Western studies"). To reinforce Japan's capability to carry on the orders to repel Westerners, some such as the Nagasaki-based Takashima Shūhan managed to obtain weapons through the Dutch at Dejima, such as field guns, mortars and firearms. Domains sent students to learn from Takashima in Nagasaki, from Satsuma Domain after the intrusion of an American warship in 1837 in Kagoshima Bay, and from Saga Domain and Chōshū Domain, all southern domains mostly exposed to Western intrusions. These domains also studied the manufacture of Western weapons. By 1852 Satsuma and Saga had reverbatory furnaces to produce the iron necessary for firearms.

Following the Morrison incident involving the Morrison under Charles W. King in 1837, Egawa Hidetatsu was put in charge of establishing the defense of Tokyo Bay against Western intrusions in 1839. After the victory of the British over the Chinese in the 1840 Opium War, many Japanese realized that traditional ways would not be sufficient to repel Western intrusions. To resist Western military forces, Western guns were studied and demonstrations made in 1841 by Takashima Shūhan to the Tokugawa Shogunate.

A national debate was already taking place about how to better avoid foreign domination. Some like Egawa claimed that it was necessary to use the foreigners' techniques to repel them. Others, such as Torii Yōzō argued that only traditional Japanese methods should be employed and reinforced. Egawa argued that just as Confucianism and Buddhism had been introduced from abroad, it made sense to introduce useful Western techniques. A theoretical synthesis of "Western knowledge" and "Eastern morality" would later be accomplished by Sakuma Shōzan and Yokoi Shōnan, in view of "controlling the barbarians with their own methods".

After 1839, however, traditionalists tended to prevail. Students of Western sciences were accused of treason (Bansha no goku), put under house arrest (Takashima Shūhan), forced to commit ritual suicide (Watanabe Kazan, Takano Chōei), or even assassinated as in the case of Sakuma Shōzan.

Commodore Perry (1853–54)

When Commodore Matthew C. Perry's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay) in July 1853, the bakufu (shogunate) was thrown into turmoil. Commodore Perry was fully prepared for hostilities if his negotiations with the Japanese failed, and threatened to open fire if the Japanese refused to negotiate. He gave them two white flags, telling them to hoist the flags when they wished a bombardment from his fleet to cease and to surrender. To demonstrate his weapons, Perry ordered his ships to attack several buildings around the harbor. The ships of Perry were equipped with new Paixhans shell guns, capable of bringing destruction everywhere a shell landed.

Fortifications were established at Odaiba in Tokyo Bay in order to protect Edo from an American incursion. Industrial developments were also soon started in order to build modern cannons. A reverbatory furnace was established by Egawa Hidetatsu in Nirayama to cast cannons. Attempts were made at building Western-style warships such as the Shōhei Maru by using Dutch textbooks.

The American fleet returned in 1854. The chairman of the senior councillors, Abe Masahiro, was responsible for dealing with the Americans. Having no precedent to manage this threat to national security, Abe tried to balance the desires of the senior councillors to compromise with the foreigners, of the emperor who wanted to keep the foreigners out, and of the feudal daimyō rulers who wanted to go to war. Lacking consensus, Abe compromised by accepting Perry's demands for opening Japan to foreign trade while also making military preparations. In March 1854, the Treaty of Peace and Amity (or Treaty of Kanagawa) maintained the prohibition on trade but opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American whaling ships seeking provisions, guaranteed good treatment to shipwrecked American sailors, and allowed a United States consul to take up residence in Shimoda, a seaport on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Edo. In February 1855, the Russians followed suit with the Treaty of Shimoda.

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