Category Archives: economics

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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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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Kalakaua Visits Meiji, 1881

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 346-347:

On February 23 the emperor had word from John Bingham, the American minister, that King Kalakaua of Hawaii would be arriving in Japan on a round-the-world journey. The king would be traveling incognito, but he had some state business to transact: he wished to encourage Japanese migration to Hawaii and to sign a treaty with the Japanese government. He was accordingly treated as a state visitor, and Prince Yoshiaki was appointed as the commissioner for the visit. Two other officials were charged with entertaining the king.

Kalakaua arrived in Yokohama on March 4. He was greeted with twenty-one-gun salutes by Japanese and foreign warships anchored in the bay. When the boat sent by the Japanese to take the Hawaiians from the Oceanic to their hotel touched shore, they heard the Hawaiian national anthem, played with explosive vigor by a Japanese military band. They were astonished that the Japanese musicians had learned the anthem of so remote and unimportant a country. The king and the others of his retinue, touched, were all but in tears. Along the way to the palace where they were to stay, they noticed that the houses of Yokohama were decorated with crossed Japanese and Hawaiian flags. The king and his party were stunned by the welcome.

Kalakaua traveled to Tōkyō the next day aboard the imperial train and, after receiving an official reception at Shimbashi Station, proceeded directly to the Akasaka Palace. The emperor, following the etiquette of European courts that requires a monarch to receive a visiting monarch at the threshold of his palace, went to a room close to the entrance of the palace to meet his royal visitor. He was resplendent in a dress uniform studded with medals. The two monarchs shook hands. The Hawaiians, having been informed that the emperor normally did not shake hands, interpreted the gesture as a special honor. The two monarchs, after exchanging formal greetings, walked side by side into an interior room. W. N. Armstrong, the king’s chamberlain and the chronicler of his journey around the world, had heard that because of his divine origin, the emperor had never before permitted anyone to walk by his side; even the empress followed him. “But, for the first time in his own reign, and in those of his predecessors, he walked by the side of his kingly guest.”

The empress was waiting for the royal visitor in the audience chamber. Meiji presented Kalakaua to the empress. “She did not rise, but returned the king’s salutation with the least movement of her head and eyes.” Sueko, the daughter of Inoue Kaoru, who had spent several years in England, served as her interpreter. (Armstrong wrote that she spoke perfect English.) Refreshments were served, but the Hawaiians, having been previously informed that they should not eat in the presence of the emperor, declined them.

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Gen. U.S. Grant in Japan, 1879

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 318-319:

Grant was depicted in numerous woodblock prints that commemorated his visits to the horse races, exhibitions of calisthenics by schoolchildren, the great waterfall at Nikkō, and the theater. In August he presented a curtain to the Shintomi Theater to express his gratitude for the kabuki play he had attended there on July 16. The play (in one act with two scenes) was by the outstanding dramatist of the time, Kawatake Mokuami, and was called A Military Account of the Later Three-Year War in Ōshū. Although it ostensibly depicted how the eleventh-century general Minamoto Yoshiie put down a revolt in the Ōshū region, the play was intended to represent the triumphs of General Grant himself. At the first performance, seventy-two geishas danced, wearing kimonos derived from the American flag—red and white stripes for the body and left arm, and stars on a blue background for the right arm. [The book includes a woodblock-print image of the dancers.]

Grant was otherwise immortalized by a quasi-biography called Guranto-shi den Yamato bunshō (Biography of Mr. Grant: Japanese Documents) by the popular novelist Kanagaki Robun. The covers of the little booklets in which the work was printed from woodblocks show the seventy-two geishas as well as Mr. and Mrs. Grant, both holding fans.

Perhaps Grant’s most important contribution to the arts came as the result of watching a program of nō plays at the residence of Iwakura Tomomi. Just at a time when Iwakura had decided to support the revival of nō, Grant arrived in Japan and indicated to Iwakura that he would like to see Japan’s classical arts. This was hardly typical of Grant. In Europe he had been invited to the opera frequently and thought of it as “a constant threat.” When invited to the opera in Madrid by the United States minister, the poet John Russell Lowell, “After five minutes he claimed that the only noise he could distinguish from any other was the bugle call and asked Mrs. Lowell, ‘Haven’t we had enough of this?’”

Grant’s reactions to nō were quite different. He is reported to have been profoundly moved by the program consisting of Hōshō Kurō in Mochizuki, Kongō Taiichirō in Tsuchigumo, and Miyake Shōichi in the kyōgen Tsurigitsune. Afterward he said to Iwakura, “It is easy for a noble and elegant art like this one, being influenced by the times, to lose its dignity and fall into a decline. You should treasure it and preserve it.”

These words, coming from a foreign dignitary, were not ignored. Iwakura realized more than ever the necessity of saving nō and, enlisting the support of former daimyos and members of the nobility, took active steps to ensure its survival. On August 14 a special performance at his residence was attended by the emperor, the prime minister, four councillors, and other dignitaries. The revival of nō was definitely under way. General Grant took leave of the emperor at a ceremony held in the palace on August 30. Grant expressed his gratitude for the kind and joyful reception he had received everywhere. He had noticed that in Japan there were neither extremely rich nor extremely poor people, a praiseworthy situation that he had not observed elsewhere during his journey. The country was blessed with fertile soil; large areas of undeveloped land; many mines that had yet to be exploited; good harbors where huge, almost limitless catches of fish were unloaded; and, above all, an industrious, contented, and thrifty people. Nothing was wanting in Japan’s plan to achieve wealth and strength. He urged the Japanese not to let foreigners interfere in their internal government, so as to enable the country to amass wealth and not be forced to depend on other countries. He concluded by saying that his wishes for the complete independence and prosperity of Japan were not his alone but were shared by the entire American people. He ardently hoped that the emperor and the people would enjoy the blessings of Heaven.

The emperor thanked Grant in a brief speech. According to Young, he read it in a clear, pleasant voice, quite a contrast from the inaudible whispers of his first encounters with foreigners. Here is how Young described his last impressions of the emperor: “The emperor is not what you would call a graceful man, and his manners are those of an anxious person not precisely at his ease—wishing to please and make no mistake. But in this farewell audience he seemed more easy and natural than when we had seen him before.”

Grant’s visit had been an immense success in all respects save one: it did not enable him to get reelected as president. But he would not forget Japan, and the Japanese, from the emperor down, would remember this unaffected man who behaved so little like a hero.

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Japan’s Treaty with Korea, 1876

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 256-257:

The first meeting between representatives of the two countries lasted for four days. The negotiations were conducted with ritual politeness on both sides but consisted mainly of repetitions of familiar arguments. The Japanese wanted to know why their attempts to secure a treaty of peace and friendship had been consistently rebuffed; the Koreans in return wanted to know why the Japanese had used titles for their emperor that put him on an equal footing with the emperor of China, thereby placing Korea in a subordinate position. After denying any intent of asserting suzerainty over Korea, the Japanese asked why their ship had been fired on at Kanghwa. The Koreans answered that because the Japanese marines were dressed in European-style uniforms, they were mistaken for either French or Americans. They failed to apologize, saying merely that the provincial officials had not recognized that the ships were Japanese. The Japanese delegates then demanded why the Korean government had not informed its provincial officials of the flags flown by Japanese ships and insisted that this required an apology. The Korean commandant replied that he was charged only with receiving the Japanese visitors; he was not authorized to make an apology.

The negotiations dragged on, interrupted by periods of consultation between the Korean commissioners and their government in Seoul, but on February 27, 1876, a treaty of friendship was at last signed between Japan and Korea. After the signing ceremony, the Japanese offered presents to the Koreans, not only the traditional bolts of silk, but a cannon, a six-shooter, a pocket watch, a barometer, and a compass. The gifts (with the exception of the silk) were strikingly like those the Americans had given the Japanese when the first treaty between the two nations was signed, and the treaty itself had almost identical significance: Japan was “opening” Korea, the hermit nation, to diplomatic relations and to trade. One Western scholar later commented,

As the Western Powers had done with herself, so did she now, without one particle of compunction, induce Korea to sign away her sovereign rights of executive and tariff autonomy, and to confer on Japanese residents within her borders all the extraterritorial privileges which were held to violate equity and justice when exercised by Europeans in Japan.

When word of the signing of the treaty reached the diplomatic community in Tōkyō, the ministers of the various countries asked for an audience with the emperor so that they might express their congratulations. The emperor invited them to a banquet at the Shiba Detached Palace, where each minister had the opportunity to convey joy over the signing of the treaty and hopes for greater and greater friendship between Japan and Korea.

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Reactions to Abolishing the Clans, 1871

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 199-200:

The need for abolishing the domains had by this time become clear to men like Ōkubo as an administrator and to Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922) as a military man. Yamagata had just returned to Japan after a year in Europe where he had studied different military systems. Although the government seemed not to be menaced by any immediate threat of an uprising, it was obvious that like any other government, it needed military forces to deal with whatever unforeseen crises might arise. William Elliot Griffis said of the government of that time: “Without one national soldier, it possessed only moral power, for the revolution had been carried through because of the great reverence which the Mikado’s name inspired.”

The funds available to the government were also so limited that the need for cash had become desperate. The replacement of the domains, which had been more or less autonomous, by prefectures under the control of the central government seemed to reformers the only solution, but it was by no means easy to effect. Not only was it likely that the samurai class would fight for what it considered to be its rights, but the common people, most of them unaware of any higher authority than the daimyo, would hardly oppose a daimyo if he chose not to obey the emperor. The daimyo’s influence was pervasive, touching the daily lives of all who dwelled in his domain.

Griffis was present when the decree abolishing the domains was received in Fukui, the seat of the Echizen daimyo:

I had full opportunity of seeing the immediate effect of this edict, when living at Fukui, in the castle, under the feudal system. Three scenes impressed me powerfully.

The first was that at the local Government Office, on the morning of the receipt of the Mikado’s edict, July 18, 1871. Consternation, suppressed wrath, fears and forebodings mingled with emotions of loyalty. In Fukui I heard men talk of killing Yuri, the Imperial representative in the city and the penman of the Charter Oath of 1868.

The second scene was that in the great castle hall, October 1, 1871, when the lord of Echizen, assembling his many hundreds of hereditary retainers, bade them exchange loyalty for patriotism and in a noble address urged the transference of local to national interest.

The third scene was on the morning following, when the whole population, as it seemed to me, of the city of 40,000 people, gathered in the streets to take their last look, as the lord of Echizen left his ancestral castle halls, and departed to travel to Tōkyō, there to live as a private gentleman, without any political power.

Similar scenes were no doubt enacted in many others of the 270 domains, great and small. It is extraordinary that the daimyos, faced with a loss of hereditary privileges and compensated by only titular recognition as governors of the domains where they had reigned, accepted haihan chiken so calmly. The Meiji Restoration had shifted the apex of Japanese society without changing its structure. Haihan chiken [廃藩置県 ‘abolish clan establish prefecture’] had a far greater impact: close to 2 million people—the samurai class—had lost their income, formerly granted by the daimyos, and were faced with the prospect of permanent unemployment.

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First Foreign Enclave in Tokyo, 1869

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 164-165:

During Meiji’s stay in Tōkyō, negotiations were opened with the foreign diplomats living in Yokohama on a number of matters: the end of their policy of neutrality in the conflict between the government and the rebels; the destruction of the rebels in Hakodate; the disposition of the Japanese Christians; and the issuance of paper money. The negotiations did not go smoothly. The foreign representatives, headed by the redoubtable Sir Harry Parkes, refused to consider any request that seemed to threaten the sacred right to trade—in Hakodate and anywhere else.

On January 2 a foreign trade center was opened in Tōkyō at Tsukiji, which was also made available to foreigners for residence. Samurai were forbidden to enter the settlement without written permission. This restriction on the passage of samurai into the concessions was probably intended to allay the foreigners’ fear of sworded samurai, but it had the effect of lowering their prestige. Before long, the samurai were given the task of protecting foreign ships, something none of them could have foreseen. Ōnuma Chinzan wrote a poem on their plight:

A little Yang-chou—that’s the new Shimabara;
Our browbeaten Japanese warriors guard the barbarian ships.
“Please don’t come here wearing your swords—
Please come instead with a hundred thousand coins.”

In the winter of 1868, at the same time that daimyo mansions in Tsukiji were demolished to provide living space for the foreigners, a new licensed quarter, named after the old Shimabara in Kyōto, was opened nearby. The last two lines of the poem indicate that for the prostitutes of the new Shimabara, money counted more than a customer’s rank. This surely was no less humiliating for the samurai than the duty of protecting foreigners, despite their jōi [Expel the Barbarians] convictions of a few years earlier.

On January 5 and 6 the emperor received the ministers from foreign countries, evidence of his hope for increased and better relations between Japan and the rest of the world. In Western diplomatic practice, there was nothing remarkable about the emperor’s receiving foreign diplomats and providing refreshments for them, but it was unprecedented in Japan. It is all the more astonishing when one recalls that Kōmei, who considered that the presence of foreigners on the sacred soil of Japan was an unspeakable offense to the gods, had died less than two years earlier. The young emperor was willing not only to meet foreigners but was affable to them.

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Opposition to the Shogunate, 1867

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 112-113:

The most pressing problem facing the shogunate was, of course, its continued existence. Because the mounting opposition to the shogunate is a subject already treated by many historians, suffice it to say here that the alliance between Chōshū and Satsuma, formerly bitter enemies, was the key factor in galvanizing the opposition to the shogunate. The anti-shogunate domains, mainly in west Honshū, Kyūshū, and Shikoku, had become increasingly dissatisfied with the shogunate’s monopoly of the highly lucrative foreign trade. But when discussing their grievances, they normally did not mention this; instead, they spoke of the need to restore imperial rule. A contemporary historian has written, “It needs hardly be said that the internal disturbances at the time of the Restoration were definitely not caused by loyalist convictions. Fundamentally, they resulted from the aspirations of the major domains in the southwest, headed by Satsuma and Chōshū, to be independent of the shogunate.”

Even if these were the real aspirations of Satsuma, Chōshū, and the other domains that ultimately overthrew the shogunate, they needed a rallying cry, and “Restore power to the emperor!” served this purpose. The shogunate under Tokugawa Yoshinobu, especially after its humiliating defeat in the war with Chōshū, took desperate measures to stave off collapse. With France’s help, it rapidly increased its store of modern weapons, and under Yoshinobu’s leadership, many reforms were launched. Senior shogunate statesmen, notably Oguri Tadamasa (1827–1868), attempted to push through plans for making the shogunate into an absolutist regime, believing this was the only way it could ensure its authority over rebellious domains. As early as 1866 Oguri privately discussed the advisability of abolishing the domains and replacing them with prefectures, a measure that eventually was adopted by the Meiji government in 1871, but the shogunate lacked sufficient support to carry out so daring a plan.

The daimyos of the major domains, especially in the west and south, joined forces in alliances. But for all the reverence they professed for the court in Kyōto, their chief concern seems to have been preserving their own power. Initially at least, they seem not to have hoped to substitute the absolute authority of the emperor for the authority of the shogunate, as hardly any of the daimyos or their retainers rose above anxiety over the survival of their particular domains to consider what was desirable for the country as a whole.

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Dutch Urge Japan to Open, 1856

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 30:

Two days after Harris’s arrival in Shimoda [1856], Jan Hendrik Donker Curtius (1813–1879), formerly the chief merchant of the Dutch trading station on Deshima but now the Netherlands government commissioner, sent (by way of the Nagasaki magistrate) a letter to the shogunate in which he urged that the policy of the closed country be abandoned. He predicted that if Japan persisted in this policy, it would lead to war with the major countries of the world. He also called for the old regulations against Christianity to be lifted, deploring in particular, as contrary to good relations with other countries, the use of fumie (images, generally of the Virgin Mary) that the Japanese were obliged to tread on to demonstrate that they were not Christians. He pointed out the advantages to Japan of trade with foreign countries and advised the Japanese to set up a schedule of import duties and encourage the production of wares suitable for export. He suggested also that men from countries with relations with Japan be permitted to bring their wives and children to live with them in the open ports. Finally, Curtius asked that the restrictions on foreign ships be lifted and the laws revised with respect to permission to leave the ports and to travel to Edo.

Twelve years earlier (in 1844) Willem II, the king of Holland, had sent a letter to the shogunate asking that the country be opened to trade. The haughty officials did not deign to respond, but since then the situation had changed dramatically, and the shogunate now felt that it had to give serious consideration to Donker Curtius’s suggestions. At the council meeting, virtually all those present spoke in favor of opening the country speedily. Only Abe Masahiro, worried about the reactions of the various domains and fanatical patriots, said that the time was not yet ripe for such action. No one defended the longstanding tradition of the closed country. The shift in policy had occurred with startling swiftness.

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Response to Russians at Nagasaki, 1853

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 20-22:

The court had not yet recovered from the shock of Perry’s unexpected visit when it was informed by the shogunate on September 19 that a Russian fleet of four ships, under the command of Vice Admiral E. V. Putiatin (1803–1884), had entered Nagasaki Harbor. On his arrival, Putiatin announced to the officials in Nagasaki that he had brought from his government a letter concerning trade between the two countries. His orders had initially called for him to proceed to Edo and conduct negotiations there, but the Russian government later decided it would be better to show respect for Japanese law by proceeding to Nagasaki, the port designated for intercourse with foreign countries, in this way establishing a contrast with the Americans, who had brazenly sailed into Edo Bay.

Soon after the arrival of the Russian ships, various Japanese dignitaries came aboard along with a Dutch interpreter. They were informed by the captain of the Pallada that Vice Admiral Putiatin had brought a letter from his government to the Japanese government. There was also a note for the Nagasaki magistrate that, it was said, should be delivered immediately. After some hesitation, the officials accepted the note. It contained a declaration in extremely polite language of the profound respect for Japanese law that had impelled the Russian fleet to call at Nagasaki rather than Edo. This was a mark of the czar’s ardent desire for harmonious relations between the two countries. The officials at once sent word to Edo reporting the arrival of the Russians and asking whether or not to accept the letter from the Russian government. After waiting some time for an reply, Putiatin sailed to Shanghai to pick up supplies and perhaps to find additional orders from his government.  When there was still no answer even after he got back from Shanghai, he announced that he had no choice under the circumstances but to go to Edo.

The alarmed Nagasaki officials sent word by fast messenger to Edo, mentioning how much more accommodating the Russians were than the Americans and suggesting that the Russians might be used to blunt the edge of American demands. They added that if the Russian overtures were met with the usual suspiciousness, Japan risked incurring the enmity of a country that was twice as big as the United States.

Shortly before the messages from Nagasaki reached Edo, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi died, and the senior officers of the shogunate, in mourning and faced with organizing a new regime, did not get around immediately to responding to the problem of how to answer the Russians. After considerable debate, they decided to accept the letter from the Russian court, falling back on the precedent established by accepting the American president’s letter.

The letter (in Russian but with translations into Chinese and Dutch) from Count Karl Robert Nesselrode, the minister of foreign affairs, expressed his hopes for establishing peace and good relations between the two countries, for settling the disputed border between Japan and Russia on the island of Sakhalin, and for opening ports to trade. Most senior members of the shogunate favored accepting the Russian requests, but Tokugawa Nariaki, the shogunate’s adviser on maritime affairs, was strongly opposed, and the discussions dragged on. The shogunate finally agreed that the best course was to delay.

Putiatin grew increasingly impatient over the failure of the shogunate officials to return with an answer from Edo, as promised by the Nagasaki officials, and threatened again to sail to Edo if they did not appear within five days. Four days later, the tardy officials … arrived with the shogunate’s reply to Nesselrode’s letter. First, it said, the establishment of the border was a difficult matter that would require considerable time to determine. Maps would have to be drawn, consultations made with affected parties, and so on. Second, the laws of their ancestors strictly prohibited opening the ports. However, in view of world developments, the government did recognize the necessity of opening the country, but a new shogun had just taken office and the situation was still too confused to give an immediate answer. Reports would have to be submitted to Kyōto and to the various daimyos. After due consideration of the issues, they expected to be able to come up with a proposal in three to five years.

It is apparent from the message’s wording how desperately the shogunate wanted to stall off a decision; but even more important was the admission that despite the long tradition of isolation, the Japanese now had no choice but to open the country. This awareness of the change in world conditions was not communicated to the court, however, because of the anticipated outraged resistance by Emperor Kōmei.

Putiatin was disappointed by the reply. He moved now to the offensive, informing the shogunate’s representatives that with the exception of the southern part of the island of Sakhalin, all the islands north of Etorofu (Iturup) were Russian territory. Tsutsui replied that Japan had possessed Kamchatka as well as (it went without saying) the Kuriles and Sakhalin. He proposed that shogunate officials be dispatched to Sakhalin the following spring to ascertain the situation. In the meantime, the Russians would be free to obtain firewood and water at any place on the Japanese coast except for the vicinity of Edo. He promised also that if Japan made trade concessions to another country, they would apply to Russia as well.

Putiatin was still not satisfied, but he left Nagasaki early in the first month of 1854, saying he would return in the spring. The most influential men in the country were by now aware that the policy of isolation could not last much longer. As early as the seventh month of 1853, as we have seen, Kuroda Nagahiro, the daimyo of Fukuoka, had formally proposed lifting the ban on constructing large ships. In the eighth month, Shimazu Nariakira, the daimyo of Kagoshima, sent a letter urging the shogunate to purchase ships and weapons from Holland. Abe Masahiro (1819–1857), the chief senior councillor (rōjū shuseki) of the shogunate, who had long advocated building ships that (unlike the small fishing boats that operated off the Japanese coast) were capable of making ocean voyages, decided on October 21 to lift a prohibition that had been in effect for more than 220 years. The shogunate ordered several steam warships from the Dutch, and soon several domains started building large ships, intended for the shogunate. In August 1854 the shogunate decided on the flag to be flown on the new ships: a red sun on a white ground.

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