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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Its display did not tend to conciliate the Japanese



Nariaki, the Mito baron, now instructed his vassals to surrender the edict. He may have shared the views of his retainers, but he was not prepared to assert them by taking up arms against his own family. In the face of this instruction the conservative samurai had no choice but to disperse or commit suicide. Some twenty of them, however, made their way to Yedo bent upon killing Ii Kamon no Kami, whom they regarded as the head and front of the evils of the time. The deed was consummated on the morning of the 24th of March, 1860, as Ii was on his way to the shogun's castle. All the assassins lost their lives or committed suicide.


The slaying of Ii was followed by several similar acts, a few against foreigners and several against Japanese leaders of progress. Many evil things have been said of the men by whom these deeds of blood were perpetrated. But we have always to remember, that in their own eyes they obeyed the teachings of hereditary conviction and the dictates of patriotism towards their country as well as loyalty towards their sovereign. It has been abundantly shown in these pages that the original attitude of the Japanese towards foreigners was hospitable and liberal. It has also been shown how, in the presence of unwelcome facts, this mood was changed for one of distrust and dislike. Every Japanese patriot believed when he refused

to admit foreigners to his country in the nineteenth century that he was obeying the injunctions handed down from the lips of his most illustrious countrymen, Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, and Iemitsu--believed, in short, that to re-admit aliens would be to expose the realm to extreme peril and to connive at its loss of independence. He was prepared to obey this conviction at the cost of his own life, and that sacrifice seemed a sufficient guarantee of his sincerity.


It must be conceded, too, that the nineteenth-century foreigner did not present himself to Japan in a very lovable light. His demeanour was marked by all the arrogance habitually shown by the Occidental towards the Oriental, and though the general average of the oversea comers reached a high standard, they approached the solution of all Japanese problems with a degree of suspicion which could not fail to be intensely irksome to a proud nation. Even the foreign representatives made it their habit to seek for trickery or abuse in all Japanese doings, official or private, and though they doubtless had much warrant for this mood, its display did not tend to conciliate the Japanese. Many instances might be cited from the pages of official records and from the columns of local newspapers, but they need not be detailed here.

Moreover, there were difficulties connected with trade. The framers of the treaties had found it necessary to deal with the currency question, and their manner of dealing with it was to stipulate that foreign coins should be exchangeable with Japanese, weight for weight. This stipulation did not take into any account the ratio between the precious metals, and as that ratio was fifteen to one in Europe and five to one in Japan, it is obvious that, by the mere process of exchange, a foreign merchant could reap a rich harvest. Of course this was never intended by the framers of the treaty, and when the Japanese saw the yellow metal flowing away rapidly from the realm, they adopted the obvious expedient of changing the relative weights of the gold and silver coins.

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