This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Japan’s Emperor Restored.
Everybody knows the story of the transformation to the New Japan in the last part of the nineteenth century so far as it relates to her rapid adoption of the industrial ideas and processes of the Western World. But we are by no means so familiar with the changes by which her government — a monarchy supported by a feudal system — was made constitutional, conforming closely to European models. As usual, this cost a struggle, with frequent rise and fall of cabinets, and a step backward for every two steps forward. But a foreign war seldom fails to unite any people in support of their government, and this was the case when war arose between Japan and China in 1894, and still more markedly, if possible, in the struggle with Russia. We have here, from Japanese authors, an account of Japan’s progress toward constitutionalism. The turn to militarism by violence and murder occurred decades later.
The selections are from:
- Japan by the Japanese by Yoshitami Sannomiya.
- New Japan and Her Constitution (in Contempory Review, Vol. LXXIV) by Tokiwo Yokio published in 1898.
- Japan by the Japanese by Ito Hirobumi
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Summary of daily installments:
|Yoshitami Sannomiya’s installments:||2|
|Tokiwo Yokio’s installments:||3|
|Ito Hirobumi’s installments:||3|
We begin with Yoshitami Sannomiya.
Time: October 14, 1867
The dawn of the Restoration broke when the Shogun’s Government became the center of public enmity. Its failure in both internal and external politics produced the greatest dissatisfaction throughout the country. The majority of the daimios and the samurais longed ardently for the restoration of the ancient state of the Emperor’s rule. The Emperor Komei and his Court also inclined to the abolishment of the Shogunate. Shimazu of Satsuma, Mori of Choshiu, Yamanouchi of Tosa, and others whose forefathers had stood upon an equal footing with Tokugawa, would no longer recognize the supremacy of the latter. All endeavored to maintain an equal standing with Tokugawa under the Emperor’s rule. Preparations to carry out this plan had been begun long before the rise of the schism within the Shogun’s Government. As has been said, they introduced to a great extent the element of Western civilization, and trained their troops after the European system, thus preparing, if necessary, to enforce their demands against the Shogunate. Shimazu and Mori first sought to establish a close connection with the Emperor’s Court. A mutual relationship existed between them and the courtiers, among them Sanjo, father-in-law of the present Prince Sanjo; Iwakura, father of the present Prince Iwakura, and others who also cherished the idea of abolishing the Shogunate. They all supported the cause of the Emperor in the national aspiration of abolishing the Shogunate, and amending its dishonorable concession to the foreigners.
The seat of the Imperial Government was then, in 1862 (second year of Bunkyu), filled with patriots from every part of Japan, who gathered themselves near the palace to persuade the Emperor to assume in himself the exercise of the sovereign power. Shimazu and Mori began to take independent action, and entered Kioto with their respective troops, alleging as an excuse the desire, if necessary, of suppressing the confusion surrounding the Emperor. The same policy was soon followed by Yamanouchi of Tosa. This was really the first opportunity given to them to play a prominent ro1e in the Restoration. The untiring energy of Iwakura and Sanjo at last obtained an Imperial decree ordering Shimazu and Mori to admonish the Shogun’s Government to change the tone of its foreign policy. Another decree was issued at the same time to the Shogun Iyemochi, and in consequence a decisive measure of reformation was obtained in his Government. The exercise of the sovereign power was thus practically restored to the Emperor, and the Shogun stood in the difficult situation of having to choose between expelling the foreigners and disobeying the Emperor’s decree. This well-schemed plan was thought out by the eminent politicians of the time — Saigo, Okubo, Kido, Goto, and many others, assisted by such courtiers as Iwakura. The success of this plan was followed by a long period of indecision on the part of the Shogunate Government. Popular tumults rose against them, and many daimios withdrew their allegiance as faithful allies.
Ultimately temporary success was, however, gained by the Shogun in 1863 (third year of Bunkyu). The troops of Choshiu were driven out of Kioto, and those of Aizu Matsudaira, one of the Shogun’s faithful followers, occupied the place. Sanjo and six other courtiers fled to Mori’s province, and the even balance between the Shogun and the anti-Shogun parties was thus established at the Emperor’s Court.
Iyemochi, however, not fully satisfied with this successful establishment of his authority, was always desirous to demonstrate his power. He found a pretext in Mori’s independent action against foreign vessels at Shimonoseki (1863), and appealed to the Emperor for sanction to carry out his first campaign in 1864 (first year of Genji) against Mori, hoping at the same time to suppress the ambitions of the other daimio by a war against him. This campaign ended successfully for him, but he suffered a great defeat in his second campaign, undertaken in 1866 (second year of Keio), against the advice of his own statesman, Matsudaria of Yechizen; and the fall of the military supremacy of the Shogunate Tokugawa dates from this time. A great many of the daimios utterly refused to obey the Shogun’s commands. He died in the midst of great calamity at Osaka in 1866 (second year of Keio). The fifteenth Shogun, Keiki, soon succeeded him, and became the Seii Taishogun. At the end of the same year the Emperor Komei died, to the great regret of the whole nation, without being able to reap the fruit of the Restoration, which had been planted during his hard reign in both internal and external relations. The throne was immediately inherited by the present Emperor.
The Shogun was declared at this time by the majority of the daimios to be incapable of being vested with the authority of the sovereign power, as his predecessors had so singularly failed in foreign affairs, and had lost both civil and military power. Yamanouchi of Tosa and Asano of Aki advised the Shogun Keiki to resign his office. As such politicians as Goto of Tosa, Komatsu and Okubo of Satsuma, and Katsu of his own Government persuaded him to the same course, he finally decided upon it. On October 14, 1867 (fourth day of the tenth month of the third year of Keio), the Shogun Keiki confirmed his decision, and appealed to the Emperor to allow him to resign from his office, which was promptly granted on the following day. This is a memorable event in the history of New Japan, for from this day the present Emperor de facto assumed in himself the exercise of the sovereign power, and the Imperial Government was restored to the state that had already existed before the fifty- sixth Emperor, Seiwa, in 859-876. This is the reason why it is called the “Restoration.”
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history