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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

This letter was circulated among the feudatories


COMMODORE

PERRY

In the year 1853, Commodore Perry of the United States Navy appeared in Uraga Bay with a squadron of four warships and 560 men. The advent of such a force created much perturbation in Yedo. Instead of dealing with the affair on their own absolute authority, the Bakufu summoned a council of the feudatories to discuss the necessary steps. Meanwhile, the shogun, who had been ill for some time, died, and his decease was pleaded as a pretext for postponing discussion with the Americans. Perry being without authority to resort to force, did not press his point. He transmitted the President's letter to the sovereign of Japan, and steamed away on the 17th of July, declaring his intention to return in the following year. This letter was circulated among the feudatories, who were invited to express their opinions on the document. Their replies are worthy of perusal as presenting a clear idea of Japanese views at that time with regard to foreign intercourse. The gist of the replies may be summarized as follows:

-The ultimate purpose of foreigners in visiting Japan is to reconnoitre the country. This is proved by the action of the Russians in the north. What has been done by Western States in India and China would doubtless be done in Japan also if opportunity offered. Even the Dutch are not free from suspicion of acting the part of spies.

-Foreign trade, so far from benefitting

the nation, cannot fail to impoverish it, inasmuch as oversea commerce simply means that, whereas Japan receives a number of unnecessary luxuries, she has to give in exchange quantities of precious metals.

-To permit foreign intercourse would be to revoke the law of exclusion which has been enforced for centuries, and which was the outcome of practical experience.

These opinions were subscribed by a great majority of the feudatories. A few, however, had sufficient foresight and courage to advocate foreign intercourse. The leaders of this small minority were, Ii Naosuke, baron of Hikone, historically remembered as Ii Kamon no Kami; Toda Izu no Kami, bugyo of Uraga; Takashima Kihei (called also Shirodayu, or Shuhan); Egawa Tarozaemon, bugyo of Nirayama; and Otsuki Heiji, a vassal of the baron of Sendai. The views of these statesmen may be briefly summarized as follows:

-It is not to be denied that many illustrious and patriotic men, anticipating injury to the country's fortunes and perversion of the nation's moral canons, are implacably opposed to foreign intercourse. But the circumstances of the time render it impossible to maintain the integrity of the empire side by side with the policy of seclusion. The coasts are virtually unprotected. The country is practically without a navy. Throughout a period of nearly two and a half centuries the building of any ship having a capacity of over one hundred koku has been forbidden, and in the absence of war-vessels there is no means of defence except coast batteries, which are practically non-existent.


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