Category Archives: Japan

Japan’s Two Capitals

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 188-189:

Earlier in 1869 when Emperor Meiji was about to leave for his second visit to Tōkyō, the people of Kyōto had been informed that he would return to their city in April or May of the following year and would celebrate his Daijō-e [大嘗会 ‘great tasting meeting’ = Daijō-sai ‘great tasting ceremony’] there in the winter of that year. This announcement had quieted their anxiety, only for them to be informed in the spring of 1870 that the emperor’s return to Kyōto had been unavoidably delayed because of unsettled conditions in parts of the country and the pressure of state business. A year later, on May 15, 1871, it was announced that the Daijō-e would be performed in Tōkyō instead. On May 24 Major Counselor Tokudaiji Sanetsune was sent as a special envoy to Kyōto to report to the tomb of Emperor Kōmei [Meiji’s father] that conditions in the world and an increased burden of state duties had compelled the emperor to postpone his return to Kyōto. Tokudaiji also visited the empress dowager and informed her that the emperor’s return to Kyōto would be delayed for several years.

The emperor did not in fact return to Kyōto (except for brief visits) until 1877. At no point was it officially announced that the capital was now Tōkyō and not Kyōto. All the same, when Meiji at last returned to Kyōto, his journey was characterized as gyōkō [行幸 ‘go luck’], a going away from his residence, rather than as kankō [還幸 ‘return luck’], a return to his residence, the term used when he returned to Kyōto from Tōkyō in 1868. By 1877 Tōkyō was functionally the capital of Japan, not only because it was the seat of the emperor and all organs of the government, but also because the foreign legations were situated there. However, the government hesitated to make this official, perhaps fearing the reactions of the people of Kyōto. Meiji would be buried in Kyōto, and the coronation of his son, Emperor Taishō, would also take place there in 1915, suggesting the persistence of the belief that in certain respects anyway, Kyōto was still the capital. It might even be argued, in the absence of a proclamation to the contrary, that Kyōto remains to this day the capital of Japan.

This must have been a confusing time for early railway timetable makers. Nowadays, trains “ascend” toward Tokyo, but “descend” away from Tokyo. However, the Kyoto Railway Museum displays an old timetable (from the 1870s or 1880s) whereon “ascending” destinations include Osaka, Himeji, and Maibara to the south, while “descending” destinations include Kanazawa, Toyama, Niigata, and Ueno (in Tokyo) to the north.

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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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Japanese Era Names After 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 159:

As a further step in cementing the ties between the emperor and his people, the emperor’s birthday was proclaimed a national holiday, the Feast of Tenchō [天長節]. Observance of the emperor’s birthday as a holiday had begun as far back as 775, but the custom had long since fallen into abeyance. Its revival at this time was thus another instance of the intention to restore ancient practices.

On October 23 [1868]  it was announced that the nengō [年号] had been changed from the fourth year of Keiō to the first year of Meiji and that henceforth there would be only one nengō for an entire reign. The name Meiji was derived from a passage in the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination: “The sage, facing south, listens to the world; facing the light, he governs.” The day before the new nengō was announced, the emperor himself had visited the sanctuary (naishidokoro [内侍所 ‘inner samurai place’]) where he drew lots to determine the new nengō from among several names submitted by scholars. Although he probably did not realize it at the time, the emperor had also chosen the name by which posterity would know him; earlier emperors were known by a place-name from the site of their residence or (as was true of Meiji’s father and grandfather) by a posthumously chosen title. The name Meiji [明治], interpreted as meaning “enlightened rule,” came to seem an accurate description of his reign. Names like those of his father and grandfather, auspicious though they were, would have been less appropriate to the era.

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Meiji and The Mikado

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 136:

Three days after [British envoy Sir Harry] Parkes and [junior interpreter A. B.] Mitford were presented to the emperor, the first clash occurred between the imperial forces advancing on Edo and the Shinsengumi, a band of some 200 men under the command of Kondō Isami (1834–1868). The imperial forces under Itagaki Taisuke were victorious. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the march of the imperial troops to Edo was the song they sang, “Tokoton’yare,” composed by Shinagawa Yajirō (1843–1900) during the battles at Toba and Fushimi. This song spread not only throughout Japan but also to England, where the music and part of the Japanese words were incorporated into the operetta The Mikado, composed in 1885: Miyasama, miyasama, ouma no mae no, pira pira suru no wa nan jai na, tokoton’yare ton’yarena. Arya chōteki seibatsu seyo to no nishiki no mihata ja shiranka, tokoton’yare ton’yare na.

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Hidden Christians Unhidden, 1868

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 109-110:

Now that the long-debated issue of the port of Hyōgo [Kobe] had at last been settled, on July 7 the shogunate further decided to permit foreigners to conduct business in Edo and Ōsaka. With this, full compliance with the provisions of the treaties signed with the foreign nations had been achieved. This did not signify that all the shogunate’s problems had been solved: major and minor problems constantly arose, and increasingly the young emperor was obliged to take part in decisions.

One minor problem arose as a direct consequence of the foreign settlements. On July 14 the Nagasaki magistrate arrested and imprisoned sixty-eight Christians. Christianity had been prohibited in Japan for about 250 years, but “hidden Christians” in the region of Nagasaki had preserved the religion without guidance from ordained priests or even from Christian books. Over the years the beliefs of these Christians had steadily drifted from orthodox teachings, and by now the hymns they sang, originally in Latin, had become gibberish, memorized by believers who had no idea of the meanings. Most of the Christians were poor fishermen and peasants. If suppressing such a cult had been a purely religious matter—if, say, it involved a heterodox Buddhist sect—it could have been achieved without difficulty, but the suppression of a Christian sect immediately involved the foreign powers, which were highly sensitive to attacks on their religion.

As far back as 1857, as the result of negotiations between Townsend Harris and the senior councillor Hotta Masayoshi, it had been agreed that foreigners should be able to practice their religions without hindrance, and the Americans obtained permission to erect a Protestant church in the foreign settlement. At the same time French priests were active in promulgating Catholicism, especially in the area of Nagasaki. The hidden Christians, overjoyed by the arrival of coreligionists, openly visited the church erected by the French and appealed to the French minister for support. Some, rejoicing that their hour had at last come, flaunted their new importance, leading to conflicts even within families. Buddhists, angered by the government’s slowness in punishing the Christians, even though the religion was still prohibited, threatened to take matters into their own hands and kill the Christians. The latter responded by arming themselves with bamboo spears. After the arrests on July 14 the French and Portuguese consuls in Nagasaki demanded the release of the Christians and, when this was refused, reported the matter to their legations, urging them to negotiate with the shogunate for release of the prisoners.

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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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Shogun’s Diplomats in Russia, 1867

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle p. 104:

Even after its defeat in the war with Chōshū, the shogunate remained the only effective central government. The most the court could do was to refuse to consent to plans made by the shogunate, especially with regard to foreign relations; it did not initiate plans of its own. The shogunate was, of course, far more experienced than the court in dealing with foreigners, but it was now faced with problems it had not encountered as long as sakoku [national seclusion] lasted.

A dispute with Russia over the future disposition of the island of Sakhalin made it necessary to send two shogunate officials to St. Petersburg to negotiate with the Russians. At the time both Japanese and Russian colonists were living on the island, giving rise to incessant clashes. The Japanese proposed that the island be divided at the fiftieth parallel; the Russians demanded the whole island but offered in exchange to yield Etorofu and three small islands to the Japanese. The negotiations dragged on, but finally, on March 18, 1867, a provisional treaty was signed that left the island open to people of both countries but urged that friendlier relations based on mutual sincerity prevail, a pious hope that could not have satisfied settlers from either country. The mission nevertheless marked an important step in the history of Japanese diplomacy: it was the first time that Japanese envoys traveled abroad to negotiate a treaty.

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Shogun Yields to Emperor, 1863

From Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912, by Donald Keene (Columbia U. Press, 2005), Kindle pp. 66-67:

The shogunate was faced with a dilemma. It clearly wished for better relations with the court, which necessitated obeying [Emperor] Kōmei’s injunction to expel the barbarians, but the most intelligent men in the shogunate—for example, Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837–1913) and Matsudaira Yoshinaga (1828–1890)—were aware that opening the country was inevitable. The shogun probably had no alternative in the end but to reply to Kōmei in terms of assurances that he fully intended to carry out the principle of jōi [攘夷 Expel the Barbarians].

The change in the relative importance of the emperor and the shogun was quickly noticed by the leaders of the different domains, and many daimyos found it necessary to visit Kyōto. The shogunate had strictly prohibited them from entering the capital, and the normal route taken by daimyos on their way to Edo from the west of Japan skirted the city of Kyōto; but at this juncture the prohibition had lost force, and daimyos now called regularly in Kyōto. Indeed, the center of politics had moved from Edo to Kyōto. Profiting by the sudden increase in its importance, the court used the influence of the visiting daimyos to persuade the shogunate to change features in the system that it found objectionable. This was the first time in at least 500 years that the emperor possessed such political importance. The main thrust of court politics was not, however, aimed at securing greater power for the emperor but at achieving the goal of jōi.

The change affected the nobles as well. Until this time they had nothing to do with national politics; instead, their political concerns were restricted to the palace and its ceremonies. Now, however, nobles began to take an active part in the government, a step toward the restoration of imperial authority.

The new importance of the emperor was underlined in 1863 when the shogun visited the capital, the first time there had been such a visit in more than 200 years. [Shogun] Iemochi wished to demonstrate both his reverence for the court and his profound desire to achieve kōbu gattai [公武合体 Union of Imperial Court and Shogunate]. The shogun was preceded by his most important advisers, including Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who visited the palace on February 27 and was received by the emperor. Three days later, Yoshinobu called at the Gakushū-in, the school for sons of the nobility founded by Kōmei’s father. On this occasion he proposed that the old practice of requiring junior members of the imperial family to enter Buddhist orders be discontinued; instead, they should be named shinnō ([新王] princes of the blood) and allowed to remain in the laity. He also proposed that after many years of confinement in the Gosho [御所 Imperial Palace], the emperor should tour the country in the spring and autumn in the manner of the monarchs of olden times. Finally, he suggested that Prince Son’yu (who had been condemned to perpetual confinement during the Ansei purge) be allowed to return to the laity. All three proposals were calculated to ingratiate him (and the shogun) with the emperor.

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