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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

It is necessary to revert to Kyoto

It may be doubted whether any state would have hesitated to apply that remedy. Yet by the foreigner it was censured as a "gross violation of treaty right" and as "a deliberate attempt on the part of the Japanese authorities to raise all the prices of the native produce two hundred per cent, against the foreign purchaser." The British representative, Sir Rutherford Alcock, in a despatch written to his Government, at the close of 1859, penned some very caustic comments on the conduct of his countrymen, and did not hesitate to declare that "in estimating the difficulties to be overcome in any attempt to improve the aspect of affairs, if the ill-disguised enmity of the governing classes and the indisposition of the Executive Government to give partial effect to the treaties be classed among the first and principal of these, the unscrupulous character and dealings of foreigners who frequent the ports for purposes of trade are only second and scarcely inferior in importance, from the sinister character of the influence they exercise."

It is only just, however, to note the other side of the picture, and to observe that the foreign merchant had many causes of legitimate dissatisfaction; that his business was constantly hampered and interrupted by Japanese official interference; that the ready recourse which Japanese samurai had to deeds of blood against peaceful strangers seemed revoltingly cruel; that he appeared to be surrounded by an atmosphere of perplexity and double dealing, and that the large majority of the Anglo-Saxon tradesmen visiting Japan in the early days of her renewed intercourse had nothing whatever in common with the men described in the above despatch.


In order to follow the sequence of events, it is necessary to revert to Kyoto, which, as the reader will have perceived, was the centre of national politics in this troublous era. An incident apparently of the greatest importance to the Bakufu occurred in 1861. The shogun received the Emperor's sister in marriage. But the auspicious event had to be heavily paid for, since the Bakufu officials were obliged to pledge themselves to expel foreigners within ten years. This inspired new efforts on the part of the conservatives. A number of samurai visited Yokohama, and promised death to any Japanese merchant entering into transactions with the aliens. These conservatives further announced the doctrine that the shogun's title of sei-i (barbarian-expelling) indicated explicitly that to expel foreigners was his duty, and the shogun's principal officials were so craven that they advised him to apologize for failing to discharge that duty instead of wholly repudiating the extravagant interpretation of the anti-foreign party.

Encouraged by these successes, the extremists in Kyoto induced the sovereign to issue an edict in which, after speaking of the "insufferable and contumelious behaviour of foreigners," of "the loss of prestige and of honour constantly menacing the country," and of the sovereign's "profound solicitude," his Majesty openly cited the shogun's engagement to drive out the aliens within ten years, and explicitly affirmed that the grant of an Imperial princess' hand to the shogun had been intended to secure the unity required for that achievement. Such an edict was in effect an exhortation to every Japanese subject to organize an anti-foreign crusade, and it "publicly committed the Bakufu Court to a policy which the latter had neither the power to carry out nor any intention of attempting to carry out."

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