Monthly Archives: January 2022

Itō Hirobumi’s Iron Fist in Korea, 1905

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 640-642:

The discussion between Emperor Kojong and Itō Hirobumi lasted for four hours. The emperor must have felt humiliated, but he had no choice but to yield: Itō had made it clear that if he refused, the Japanese would intervene militarily and overthrow his dynasty. In descriptions of Itō in other situations, he is usually portrayed as an urbane, highly civilized man, but he now demonstrated he had an iron fist inside his velvet glove. His refusal to allow the emperor even the barest modicum of self-respect—by pretending that orders actually issued by the Japanese had originated with the emperor—was couched in suitably polite language, but Kojong recognized the seriousness of the threat. Kojong himself, hitherto described in most sources as a nonentity, especially in contrast with his consort, Queen Min, showed dignity and strength in this great crisis of his reign.

On November 16 Itō invited members of the Korean cabinet and senior statesmen to his hotel for a friendly chat which turned into a fierce argument that lasted until midnight. According to one Korean account: “The ministers, before coming to the hotel, had sworn to one another that they would not yield to the Japanese demands under any circumstances. The Japanese used every kind of reasoning, offered them immense bribes, cajoled them, and finally threatened to kill them if they refused to yield.”

On the following day a meeting between the Japanese (Itō, Minister Hayashi Gonsuke, and General Hasegawa Yoshimichi) and the Korean cabinet took place at the Japanese legation. Members of the cabinet continued to voice their opposition to the treaty, and no decision could be reached. The emperor appealed to Itō for a delay, lest forcing the issue lead to disorder, but Itō refused. Instead, the Japanese army and military police were called out. The same Korean account states, “Machine guns were everywhere in the streets, and even field guns were brought out to command the strategic points of the city. They made feint attacks, occupied gates, put their guns into position, and did everything short of actual violence to prove to the Koreans that they were prepared to enforce their demands.”

On November 18, 1905, the treaty of protection was signed. It was in five articles:

1. Japan would henceforth conduct foreign relations for Korea and, through its diplomatic and consular personnel abroad, protect Korean subjects and their interests.

2. Japan would carry out the provisions of treaties already concluded by Korea with foreign countries, but Korea would promise henceforth not to conclude international treaties without the prior consent of the Japanese government.

3. Japan would station in Korea as its representative a resident general who would be concerned exclusively with foreign affairs. He would have the privilege of audiences with the emperor. The Japanese government would station “residents” at opened ports and such other places in Korea as it deemed essential.

4. All existing agreements between Japan and Korea would remain in force, providing they did not conflict with the provisions of the present treaty.

5. Japan guaranteed it would preserve the safety and dignity of the Korean imperial household.

There was naturally bitter resentment in Korea over the treaty imposed by Japan. Word of how the ministers had voted soon leaked out to the press, and newspapers courageously published editorials denouncing the treaty and those ministers who had betrayed their country by yielding to the Japanese demands. The following days were marked by “howls of grief” and mass demonstrations in the square in front of the palace. Shops and schools closed in protest, and Christian churches were filled with the sounds of lamentation.

Itō Hirobumi was appointed as the first resident general on December 21, 1905. His activities in Korea, despite his assurances to Emperor Kojong, were by no means restricted to foreign affairs. He determined, for example, to rid the palace of corruption in order to end its protection of banditry and uprisings elsewhere in the country. With the permission of the Korean emperor, Itō took personal command of the palace guards.

Itō’s assassin, An Jung-geun, later listed 15 reasons why Itō should be killed at his trial.

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Origins of the Japanese-British Alliance, 1902

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 573-574:

The proposal to create an alliance between England and Japan had its origins in Russian policy in the Far East. As noted earlier, after the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese had been forced by three European powers to return the Liaotung Peninsula to China. However, Russia not long afterward leased this territory, signed a secret treaty with China, and began constructing a railway. The Russians now administered Port Arthur and Dairen and were steadily expanding their hold over northwestern China. Russian towns had been founded along the railway line. Other countries with interests in East Asia were concerned about Russia’s moves in Korea, and many believed that a clash between Russia and Japan was inevitable. However, the Japanese were by no means adequately prepared for such a conflict, and it was obvious that it would be extremely difficult for the country, unaided, to dislodge the Russians.

Japan had two possible courses of action. One (favored by Itō Hirobumi) was to reach an understanding with Russia whereby Manchuria would be yielded to the Russians. In return, Japanese predominance in Korea would be recognized. The other (favored by most other Japanese officials) was for Japan to act in concert with major European powers in order to contain Russia. It was unlikely that France would join an anti-Russian coalition, as France and Russia had recently concluded an alliance. Japan’s most likely partners were Germany and England, both of which were convinced that the Russians were infringing on their rights in East Asia. In April 1901, in conversation with Lansdowne, Hayashi had voiced the opinion that in order for there to be permanent peace in East Asia, a firm relationship between Japan and England was essential. Lansdowne agreed, but this was only the private opinion of the two men.

Even before this time, men in Japan and England had advocated such an alliance. In 1895 Fukuzawa Yukichi had written an editorial proposing an alliance; and in England Joseph Chamberlain, the minister for the colonies, had informally discussed the subject with the Japanese minister. In 1898 the Japanese government, about to end the occupation of Weihaiwei, consented to the British proposal to lease the city from the Chinese, adding that it hoped that the British would in return be sympathetic and offer help if Japan needed to take action to ensure its security or promote its interests. A pro-Japanese mood swept England in 1900 after the Japanese army rescued British subjects in Peking besieged by the Boxers. Hayashi Tadasu, who became minister to Great Britain that year, concluded that England was the only country with which Japan could form an alliance against Russia.

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Japan’s Industrial Pollution in 1897

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 532-534:

Another internal matter that disturbed the emperor in 1897 and would have future ramifications was the copper poisoning caused by the mines at Ashio. On March 24 a cabinet committee was established to investigate the situation. The extent of the harm to the environment and the suffering of the inhabitants of the region could hardly be exaggerated. Fish had disappeared from the Watarase River and its tributaries. Innumerable dry and wet fields had been ravaged. In recent years there had been frequent flooding, and the damage increased each year. At every session of the Diet, [early environmental activist] Tanaka Shōzō (1841–1913), a member of the House of Representatives, described the terrible damage, appealing for preventive measures and relief. However, neither the government nor the mine owners did anything to help the people of the region, and it was feared they might stage a march on Tōkyō to appeal directly to the government.

Shortly before the investigating committee was established, the minister of agriculture and commerce, Enomoto Takeaki, traveled to Ashio in mufti to observe the effects of mineral poisoning. He was so shocked by what he saw that he resigned his post, taking blame for the disaster. The emperor was much upset when he was informed of conditions in Ashio, and on April 7, at his request, Tokudaiji Sanetsune sent letters to the governors of Gumma, Tochigi, Saitama, and Ibaraki Prefectures asking if they thought that the sudden spate of public criticism was occasioned by the damage caused by the flooding of 1896 or if it went back to 1892 and 1893 when the frightening effects of pollution were first discovered.

At the time some observers blamed the disasters on the indiscriminate felling of trees, resulting in landslides that filled the riverbeds. The rivers, unable to flow freely in their normal courses, had broken through the embankments and spread the poison in their water over the land. The governors were requested to reply without concealing anything and appending relevant documents.

As a result of the reports received from the cabinet committee, on May 27 [“Copper King”] Furukawa Ichibei, the operator of the mines, was issued a set of thirty-seven orders requiring him to provide settling ponds, filter beds, and similar facilities to prevent the mine water from overflowing and to eliminate smoke pollution. He was told that these improvements must be completed within 150 days and that mining operations would be halted until the settling ponds and filter beds were ready. In the event that Furukawa disobeyed these orders, he would be forbidden to engage in further mining.

On November 27 the cabinet, satisfied that the work of the committee investigating the mineral poisoning at Ashio was more or less completed, relieved the committee of its functions, and assigned to the appropriate ministries the supervision of preventive measures and restoration of affected land. Judging from the persistence into the late Meiji era of the issue of copper poisoning, it is obvious that the pollution controls ordered by the government at this time were not strictly enforced. The desire to build a modern, rich country was so strong that the Japanese tended to tolerate environmental pollution, even when it was as extreme as at the Ashio copper mines.

Eleven years earlier, in 1886, Suehiro Tetchō had published Setchūbai (Plum Blossoms in the Snow), a work often praised as the finest of the Meiji-period political novels. It is set in 2040, the 173rd year of the reign of Emperor Meiji, and opens with the sounds of cannons and bugles blowing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the constitution. The accompanying illustrations depict the Tōkyō of the future. It is a city of grim rows of brick buildings from which innumerable tall chimneys emit black smoke. Tetchō wrote enthusiastically, “Telegraph wires spread like spiders’ webs, and trains run to and fro to every point of the compass. The electric lamps are so bright that even at night the streets look no different than in broad daylight.”

A reader today may shudder at the thought of a city so devoid of amenities and so tainted by industrial pollution, but Tetchō undoubtedly believed that his readers would be delighted by a future rich with the progress represented by chimneys belching smoke; he seems to have thought that the more Tōkyō resembled London, the greatest of the Western cities, the happier the Japanese would be. The chamberlain Hinonishi Sukehiro recalled:

Whenever His Majesty made a journey in the Kansai region, a little before the train passed Ōsaka he would say, “We’re getting close to the smoke capital…. Now we’re in the smoke capital.” Whenever we approached Ōsaka, he would look out of the window at the landscape. When he saw a great deal of smoke rising, he would be extremely satisfied.

For Emperor Meiji, no less than for Suehiro Tetchō, the “smoke capital” was a term of praise; but the copper mines at Ashio served as a grim reminder of the cost to the environment and to human lives of such progress.

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Reactions to Atrocities at Port Arthur, 1894

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 492-493:

Everything seemed to be going favorably for the Japanese when reports sent by foreign newspaper men who had witnessed the occupation of Port Arthur not only horrified readers abroad but for a time threatened Japan’s reputation as a modern, civilized country. The first report on the Japanese troops’ actions after conquering Port Arthur was made by Thomas Cowen, a foreign correspondent of the Times of London. After leaving Port Arthur, he reached Hiroshima on November 29 and had an interview the following day with Foreign Minister Mutsu. Cowen astonished Mutsu with his detailed descriptions of the ghastly scenes he had witnessed. That night Mutsu sent a telegram to Hayashi Tadasu:

Today I met with a Times correspondent who has returned from Port Arthur. He says that after the victory the Japanese soldiers behaved in a outrageous manner. It seems to be true that they murdered prisoners who had already been tied up, and they killed civilians, even women. He said that this situation was witnessed not only by newspaper men of Europe and America, but also by officers of the fleets of different countries, notably a British rear admiral.

The immediate reaction of the Japanese government to this and similar dispatches that appeared in the foreign press was to send out reports favorable to the Japanese. Bribes were given to Reuters to circulate pro-Japanese articles. Some newspapers like the Washington Post were directly paid to print articles favorable to Japan. Various foreign journalists were by this time in the Japanese pay.

Military censorship of the Japanese press was initiated at this time. A set of four regulations was drawn up, headed by the following instructions: “Reports should record insofar as possible true facts concerning acts of loyalty, courage, righteousness, and nobility and should encourage feelings of hostility toward the enemy.” Those who violated these regulations would be suitably punished.

Worldwide attention was drawn to the events that had occurred at Port Arthur by a brief cable dispatch from James Creelman, a foreign correspondent of the New York newspaper the World:

The Japanese troops entered Port Arthur on Nov. 21 and massacred practically the entire population in cold blood.

The defenseless and unarmed inhabitants were butchered in their houses and their bodies were unspeakably mutilated. There was an unrestrained reign of murder which continued for three days. The whole town was plundered with appalling atrocities.

It was the first stain upon Japanese civilization. The Japanese in this instance relapsed into barbarism.

All pretenses that circumstances justified the atrocities are false.

The civilized world will be horrified by the details. The foreign correspondents, horrified by the spectacle, left the army in a body.

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Japan’s Second National Elections, 1892

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 461:

Unlike the peaceable elections of the previous year, the election of 1892 was marked by violence and arson. Clashes between officials and ordinary citizens resulted in deaths and injuries in many parts of the country. Ruffians stole ballot boxes in Kōchi Prefecture, and made voting impossible in parts of Saga Prefecture. It was generally believed that these irregularities had been planned by Shinagawa, who had decided that political parties opposed to the government were disloyal and must be suppressed. Yet for all the scheming and brutality, the populist parties maintained their majority in the House of Representatives—163 seats against 137 for the progovernment forces.

Soon after the election, the emperor, disturbed by reports of intimidation and violence, sent chamberlains to the four prefectures where violations had been most conspicuous: Ishikawa, Fukuoka, Saga, and Kōchi. The new House of Representatives was convened on May 6. On May 11 the House of Peers passed a resolution condemning the manner in which the election had been conducted:

It needs hardly be said that officials should not have used their authority to interfere in the election of members of the House of Representatives. There was consequently no reason for the government to issue orders or warnings concerning interference. Nevertheless, at the time when the elections of members were held in February of this year, officials interfered in the contests, and this precipitated reactions on the part of the people, leading finally to terrible scenes of bloodshed. These events have been the focus of public attention and the subject of universal protest. In every region, there is now indignation over the interference of officials in the elections and the officials are looked on as enemies. The government must now speedily deal with this situation and demonstrate to the public its fairness. If this is not done immediately, it will truly harm the security of the nation, and will in the end invite great and irremediable misfortune. This House consequently hopes that the government will reflect deeply on the matter, and by taking appropriate action at present, end future abuse.

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Japan’s First National Elections, 1890

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 435-436:

Many problems remained before an elected, constitutional government could commence its activities. On June 28, immediately before the election, the administrative code was approved, and two days later the spheres of activity of the Privy Council and the Cabinet were defined in last-minute efforts to have the government in working order for the newly elected Diet.

The election took place on July 1. It was carried out under the provisions of the Law of Election of Members of the House of Representatives, which had been enacted by the emperor on February 11, 1889, at the same time that he sanctioned the constitution. A total of 300 seats were contested, covering the entire country with the exception of Hokkaidō, Okinawa, and the Ogasawara [a.k.a. Bonin] Islands. The franchise was severely limited. Women could not vote, and for men there were qualifications of age, residence, and property. A voter had to be twenty-five years of age, to have lived as a permanent resident in a prefecture for one year, and to have paid at least 15 yen in national taxes. This meant that only 450,365 men were entitled to vote, about 1.14 percent of a population of nearly 40 million. About 95 percent of those who were eligible to cast ballots did so, although there was no penalty for failing to vote, a mark of the great interest aroused by the election.

The elections were carried out without violence and with surprising smoothness, considering the civil strife that had torn the country not long before. On the whole there seem to have been few violations of the electoral laws, although petty deceptions may have been carried out when illiterates cast ballots. But as R. H. P. Mason commented, “in complete contrast to what went on at the time of the second general election two years later, the Government refrained from abusing its executive or judicial powers to secure the defeat of its opponents. The law was neutral, and so was its enforcement by the police and the higher political or judicial authorities.”

The emperor did not express his reactions to the election. It is hard to imagine that he was indifferent to the results, even if they did not affect him directly. His continued efforts to persuade Itō Hirobumi either to accept the post of president of the House of Peers or to resume his post as head of the Privy Council suggest his deep concern about the future of the government. Itō, although he repeatedly refused both appointments, eventually accepted the presidency of the House of Peers, provided he could resign after the first session of the Diet.

The adoption of parliamentary government led to greater freedom of assembly and formation of political organizations than had been hitherto permitted. On July 25 a law was promulgated simplifying procedures for obtaining permission to hold political meetings or forming parties. At the same time, however, new regulations were imposed prohibiting women and children from attending political meetings or joining political parties. During sessions of the imperial Diet, outdoor gatherings or large-scale movements of people were prohibited within seven miles of the Diet buildings.

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Rise of State Shinto, 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 137-138:

The young emperor’s first act of major historical significance was undoubtedly the promulgation of the Charter Oath in Five Articles on April 7, 1868. The swearing of this oath before the gods of heaven and earth, in the presence of “the hundred officials” including nobles and daimyos, was preceded a day earlier by an edict that announced the renewal of various ceremonies of Shintō worship after the extremely long hiatus imposed by the military regime. The stated purpose of the edict was to revive the union of rites and rule that had existed in ancient times.

A central element in the plan of restoration was the reestablishment of the Jingikan [神祇官], the Ministry of Shintō. It had originally been established at the beginning of the eighth century, but for centuries had possessed little more than vestigial significance. Now, however, Shintō priests and the performance of Shintō ceremonies at the court and at shrines were to be placed under its supervision, and the priests were to resume functions that had long been left to surrogates. The renewed importance of the Shintō priesthood and the insistence on separating Shintō from Buddhism were made more explicit four days later when Shintō priests who served concomitantly as Buddhist priests were ordered to yield their Buddhist ranks and positions, give up their Buddhist robes, and let their hair grow out.

For more than a thousand years, most Japanese had believed simultaneously in both Shintō and Buddhism despite the inherent contradictions between the two religions. For example, according to Shintō belief, the present world is lovely and a source of joy, but yomi [黄泉 lit. ‘yellow springs’], the world after death, is a place of foulness and corruption. According to Buddhist texts, on the contrary, this world (shaba [娑婆 lit. ‘old-woman old-woman’!]) is a place of trial and suffering, but one’s actions in this life can enable one to enjoy after death the joys of paradise. These and other fundamental differences were generally minimized by those who discussed religious matters. Instead, the doctrine of honji suijaku [本地垂迹 ‘original-land hanging-trace’], which explained the Shintō divinities as avatars in Japan of the eternal Buddhist divinities, was widely accepted. In keeping with the projected return to the system of religion and government that had prevailed in the time of Jimmu, the first emperor, Buddhism, a foreign religion, was now rejected and even persecuted.

Even during the long period when Buddhism played a far more prominent role in the state and emperors regularly entered Buddhist orders and were known posthumously by their “temple names” (in []), Shintō was never neglected by the imperial family. The most important rites performed by the emperor were those of Shintō, beginning each year with shihōhai [四方拝], the ceremony of worship of the four directions, carried out at four o’clock on the morning of New Year’s Day. The emperor prayed to the star under which he was born, to the gods of heaven and earth of the four directions, and to the tombs of his father and mother for abundant crops, a long reign, and peace in the realm—all benefits in this world, in keeping with Shintō’s this-worldly outlook. Mention of the star under which the emperor was born was an indication that the Shintō rituals had been greatly influenced by Taoism. The court was dependent on on’yōji [陰陽師], priests of yin and yang, for predictions by divination of good or bad fortune. No action of consequence was undertaken in the palace without consulting an on’yōji.

Japanese religious life at the commencement of the Meiji era included elements of Shintō, Buddhist, Taoist, and other beliefs as well as what might be called superstitions. The decision to accord special importance to Shintō, and especially to the Jingikan, was, of course, closely connected with the enhanced importance of the emperor, who, according to Shintō belief, stood at the apex of the world.

The ritual accompanying the emperor’s pronouncement of the Charter Oath was entirely Shintō.

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