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(JAPAN from TOKUGAWA to MEIJI – continued)

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JAPAN from TOKUGAWA to MEIJI (2 of 5)

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Overthrow of the Tokugawa

With the arrival of the Westerners in the mid-1800s, two of Japan's territorial lords began acquiring saltpeter – superior in quality to the damp, old saltpeter stored by shogunate. The shogunate's monopoly on gunpowder was at an end. Territorial lords combined forces against the shogunate. Together they were led by a clique of aristocrats believing in unity and consensus among themselves. With them were nineteen samurai chosen from several domains of the territorial lords. While ordinary townspeople were distracted by their survival concerns, Japan's wealthy merchants supported the war against the shogunate, as did the foreigners interested in trade. The US, British, French and Dutch forces saw it in their interest to side with the rebellion, despite hostilities expressed against foreigners by the rebellion, and the foreign navies shelled coastal forts and sank the shogun's ships.

The territorial lords were in alliance with those around Japan's new monarch, Meiji, who had inherited the throne from his father in early 1867 at the age of fifteen, his father having died, it is said, of small pox. In 1868, those around Emperor Meiji's declared the end of the shogunate's 265 year-rule – although the war would not end until 1869. Emperor Meiji had no military force or lands of his own. He remained a figurehead, but military victory of the shogun's opponents was accompanied by the emperor's power considered as restored. Emperor Meiji was moved from Kyoto to the former shogun's place of rule, in Edo, renamed Tokyo – Eastern Capital.

A slogan for opponents of the shogunate had been "honor the emperor, expel the barbarian," but the leaders of the military campaign against the shogunate considered the call to "expel the barbarian" as impractical. Terrorist attacks on foreigners continued in 1868. Those ruling in the name of Emperor Meiji punished the terrorists. They promised the West that the treaties with Japan would be scrupulously observed, and Emperor Meiji approved a memo from the regime's leaders that expulsion was to be disavowed. For the sake of strengthening Japan, the leaders of the military victory pursued a policy of full cultural and commercial relations with the West. They wanted Japan to be an equal member in the world community of nations and eligible to participate in international power politics.

Believing in a need for a national military force and tax system, leaders of the victory over the Tokugawa believed that Japan needed centralized rule rather than power divided among the territorial lords, the daimyo, and four of the daimyo turned control of their territory over to what was in theory the authority of the emperor, and in 1871 the other daimyo followed these four. The daimyo were made governors, given government stipends and moved to Tokyo. Their territories became prefectures. People who had directed their loyalty to their daimyo began to direct their loyalty to the emperor.

Leaders of the military victory over the Tokugawa had placed Emperor Meiji on a sacred pedestal, and they associated the emperor with Shinto ideology. Shinto had the patronage of the Meiji government. Across the centuries, Shinto had fused with Buddhist worship, with Shinto shrines common on Buddhist temple grounds, and now an effort was underway to free Shinto from Buddhist domination. Buddhism was associated with discredited Tokugawa rule. A network of Shinto shrines spread through the country. Incidents of violence and the breaking of images were committed against Buddhism. Buddhist temples were ransacked and destroyed. Buddhist temple lands were confiscated, and within a decade nearly 18,000 Buddhist temples were closed.

Buddhist priests were prohibited from serving at shrines unless they became Shinto priests, which many did. Resisting government plans to abolish or merge their temples, Buddhists aroused themselves from their serene disposition and rioted. The Meiji government pushed harder and executed twenty-seven Buddhist monks and several others.

Meanwhile a friendship and trade treaty had been signed with France, and a few French Catholic priests were allowed into the country. A Catholic church was established in Yokohama. The church was visited by fifteen underground Christians from the village of Urakami, just outside Nagasaki. The Urakami Christians ended their pretense at being Buddhists, and persecutions followed. In 1870 all of the Urakami Christians, 3,384 persons, were exiled, with families broken up and distributed to various localities across Japan.

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