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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Which separates Saghalien from Yezo


NIJU-BASHI (DOUBLE BRIDGE) (Entrance to the present Imperial Palace, at Tokyo)




ONE of the problems which invited the attention of the new Government early in the Meiji era had been handed down from the days of feudalism. In those days, neither Yezo nor Saghalien nor the Kurile Islands were under effective Japanese administration. The feudatory of Matsumae had his castle at the extreme south of Yezo, but the jurisdiction he exercised was only nominal. Yet the earliest explorers of Saghalien were certainly Japanese. As far back as 1620, some vassals of the Matsumae feudatory landed on the island and remained there throughout a winter. The supposition then was that Saghalien formed part of the Asiatic mainland. But, in 1806, Mamiya Rinzo, a Japanese traveller, voyaged up and down the Amur, and, crossing to Saghalien, discovered that a narrow strait separated it from the continent. There still exists in Europe a theory that Saghalien's insular character was discovered first by a Russian, Captain Nevelskoy, in 1849, but in Japan the fact had already been known.

Saghalien commands the estuary of the Amur, and Muravieff, the distinguished Russian commander in East Asia, appreciated the necessity of acquiring the

island for his country. In 1858, he visited Japan with a squadron and demanded that the Strait of La Perouse, which separates Saghalien from Yezo, should be regarded as the Russo-Japanese frontier. Japan naturally refused a proposal which would have given the whole of Saghalien to Russia, and Muravieff then resorted to the policy of sending emigrants to settle on the island. Two futile attempts to prevent this process of gradual absorption were made by the Japanese Government; they first proposed a division of the island, and afterwards they offered to purchase the Russian portion for a sum of about L400,000--$2,000,000. St. Petersburg seemed inclined to acquiesce, but the bargain provoked opposition in Tokyo, and not until 1875 was a final settlement reached, the conditions being that Japan should recognize Russia's title to the whole of Saghalien and Russia should recognize Japan's title to the Kuriles. These latter islands had always been regarded as Japanese property, and therefore the arrangement now effected amounted to the purchase of an area of Japanese territory by Russia, who paid for it with a part of Japan's belongings. An interesting sequel to this chapter of history is that, thirty years later, Saghalien became the scene of a Japanese invasion and was ultimately divided between the two nations along the fiftieth parallel, which was precisely what the Bakufu statesmen had originally proposed.


The expedition of Formosa in 1874 has already been spoken of. Insignificant in itself, the incident derived vicarious interest from its effect upon the relations between Japan and China in connexion with the ownership of the Ryukyu Islands. Lying a little south of Japan, these islands had for some centuries been regarded as an appanage of the Satsuma fief, and the language spoken by their inhabitants showed unmistakable traces of affinity with the Japanese tongue. Therefore when, in 1873, the crew of a wrecked Ryukyuan junk was barbarously treated by the Formosan aborigines, the Yedo Government at once sought redress from Peking. But the Chinese paid no attention to this demand until a force of Japanese troops had made a punitory visit to Formosa, and China, recognizing that her territory had been invaded, lodged a protest which would probably have involved the two empires in a war had not the British minister in Peking intervened. The arrangement made was that China should indemnify Japan to the extent of the expenses incurred by the latter in punishing the aborigines.

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