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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Contributed materially to the ultimate fall of the Bakufu


One effect of the events related above was to direct Japanese attention to the necessity of coast defence, a subject which derived much importance from information filtering through the Dutch door at Nagasaki. Under the latter influence a remarkable book (Kai-koku Hei-dan) was compiled by Hayashi Shibei, who had associated for some time with the Dutch at Deshima. He urged frankly that Japan must remain helpless for naval purposes if her people were forbidden to build ocean-going vessels while foreigners sailed the high seas, and he further urged that attention should be paid to coast defence, so that the country might not be wholly at the mercy of foreign adventurers. The brave author was thrown into prison and the printing-blocks of his book were destroyed, but his enlightenment bore some fruit, for immediately afterwards the Bakufu prime minister made a journey along the coasts of the empire to select points for the erection of fortifications, and to encourage the feudatories to take steps for guarding these important positions.


It has already been stated that in the days of the shogun Yoshimune (1716-1745) the veto against studying foreign books was removed. But for some time this liberal measure produced no practical effect, since there did not exist even a Dutch-Japanese vocabulary to open the pages of foreign literature for Japanese study. Indeed, very few books were procurable from the Dutch at Deshima. The most accessible were treatises on medicine and anatomy, and the illustrations in these volumes served as a guide for interpreting their contents. Earnestness well-nigh incredible was shown by Japanese students in deciphering the strange terms, and presently the country was placed in possession of The History of Russia, Notes on the Northern Islands, Universal Geography, A Compendium of Dutch Literature, Treatises on the Art of Translation, a Dutch-Japanese Dictionary and so forth, the immediate result being a nascent public conviction of the necessity of opening the country,--a conviction which, though not widely held, contributed materially to the ultimate fall of the Bakufu.

The Yedo Court, however, clung tenaciously to its hereditary conservatism. Thus, in 1825, the Bakufu issued a general order that any foreign vessel coming within range of the coast batteries should at once be fired upon, and not until 1842 was this harsh command modified in the sense that a ship driven into a Japanese port by stress of weather might be given food, water, and provisions, but should be warned to resume her voyage immediately. Meanwhile, strenuous efforts were made to strengthen the littoral defences, and a very active revival of the study of the military art took place throughout the empire, though, at the same time, the number of patriots sufficiently brave and clear-sighted to condemn the policy of seclusion grew steadily.


ENGRAVING: TWO DRUMS AND TSUZUMI--A and D are Drums; B and C are Tsuzumi.




FROM the period of this shogun the strength of the Bakufu began to wane steadily, and the restoration of the administrative power to the sovereign came to be discussed, with bated breath at first, but gradually with increased freedom. It is undeniable, however, that the decline of the Tokugawa was due as much to an empty treasury as to the complications of foreign intercourse. The financial situation in the first half of the nineteenth century may be briefly described as one of expenditures constantly exceeding income, and of repeated recourse by the Bakufu to the fatal expedient of debasing the currency. Public respect was steadily undermined by these displays of impecuniosity, and the feudatories in the west of the empire--that is to say, the tozama daimyo, whose loyalty to the Bakufu was weak at the best--found an opportunity to assert themselves against the Yedo administration, while the appreciation of commodities rendered the burden of living constantly more severe and thus helped to alienate the people.

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