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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley





It could not have: been expected that this manner of treating the samurai would obtain universal approval. Already, too, the strain of constructive statesmanship had developed friction among the progressist leaders who had easily marched abreast for destructive purposes. They differed about the subject of a national assembly, some being inclined to attach more practical importance than others to the Emperor's coronation oath that a broadly based deliberative assembly should be convened. A small number of zealous reformers wished to regard this as a promise of a national assembly, but the great majority of the progressist leaders interpreted it merely as a guarantee against the undue preponderance of any one clan. In fact, according to the view of the latter party the broadly based deliberative assembly was regarded solely as an instrument for eliciting the views of the samurai, and entirely without legislative power. Such an assembly was actually convened in the early years of the Meiji era, but its second session proved it to be nothing more than a debating club and it was suffered to lapse out of existence.

A more perplexing problem now (1873) presented itself, however. The Korean Court deliberately abandoned the custom followed by it since the time of Hideyoshi's invasion--the custom of sending a present-bearing embassy to felicitate

the accession of each shogun. Moreover, this step was accompanied by an offensive despatch announcing a determination to cease all relations with a renegade from the civilization of the Orient. It may well be imagined how indignantly this attitude of the neighbouring kingdom was resented by Japan. The prominent leaders of national reform at that time were Sanjo and Iwakura, originally Court nobles;* Saigo and Okubo, samurai of Satsuma, and Kido, a samurai of Choshu. In the second rank were several men destined afterwards to attain great celebrity--the late Prince Ito, Marquis Inouye, Count Okuma, Count Itagaki--often spoken of as the "Rousseau of Japan"--and several others.

*The distinction between Court nobles and territorial nobles had been abolished in 1871.


The first five, however, were pre-eminent at the moment when Korea sent her offensive message. They were not, however, absolutely united as to policy. Saigo Takamori held some conservative opinions, the chief of which was that he wished to preserve the military class in their old position of the empire's only soldiers. He had, therefore, greatly resented the conscription law, and while his discontent was still fresh, the Korean problem presented itself for solution. In Saigo's eyes an oversea war offered the only chance of saving the samurai, since the conscription law had not yet produced any trustworthy soldiers. He therefore voted to draw the sword at once, and in this he obtained the support of several influential men who burned to avenge the nation's disgrace. On the other hand, those in favour of peace insisted that the country must not venture to engage in a foreign war during the era of radical transition.

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