This chapter is the detailed part of chapter 30| Bakumatsu Period History (幕末)1781 – 1867. Please read chapter 30 before start reading this chapter.
Edo period is from 1600 to 1858 (depends on how one divides the political history). The latter part of the Edo period is called Bakumatsu which is around 1781 to 1868. During this time the economy started to stagnate. The several Tokugawa Shogun (the different Shoguns of Tokugawa government at each given time) tried to perform the financial reforms. At each time, it succeeded somewhat, but it never solved the real fundamental financial problem. Tokugawa Bakufu tried to reduce government spending and forced people the frugal life and banned even a small luxury. You know this only shrinks the size of the economy and things get even worse. On top of it, they raised the going interest rate, thinking that may solve the problem. This is the typical non-economist solution, the interest rate should be lowered in the situation like this. Lower level Samurai became poorer and farmers revolts occurred often and many natural disasters struck in the farming area. The famous Kurosawa Movies, “Seven Samurai” staged around this time. As we all know, “Magnificent Seven” was Hollywood version of “Seven Samurai” based on Japanese “Seven Samurai”. The major actors were like Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner, they were wonderful in this movie. Even though the time was not wonderful, little by little, small cottage (or domestic) industry began to grow and that added to their income, led by the local leaders and feudal domains. Marchants became affluent and town people in the city became wealthier. The gap between rich and poor became wider. Especially the problem of Ronin (unemployed Samurai) became severe, it was almost dangerous level to the society.
The Edo town people’s culture
During this time, novels were written for ordinary people, instead of only for upper-class people like the previous time. In the past, the paintings were related to the religion and only for the upper class, now paintings were drawn for the common people. This is the golden time for “Ukioe (浮世絵). Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川歌麿1753-1800) is well-known for a portrait of ladies, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849葛飾北斎) and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858安藤広重) are well-known for scenery paintings. Maruyama Okyo (円山応挙) drew a picture using European perspective method. Also, Katsushika Hokusai’s daughter drew some of her paintings using the European method. Her name is “Ooi, 応為“．Only a few of her works are left now, but it is said that even her genius father was surprised at her ability to draw.
Even though it was very limited, few people learned Dutch language (Dutch was the only country allowed to have a contact at Dejima in Nagasaki prefecture at this time) and translated the European medical book using French and Dutch dictionary. It is called Kaitai Shinsho (解体新書)．After this book was translated, history books, economy books, political books were translated. New ideas emerged from those books and influenced the intellects. In general, schooling was thriving. Each feudal domain ran their own school for sons of their men, children of the town people went to a school called Terakoya (寺子屋a neighborhood unofficial school) to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Pressure from the outside world
Even though Japan was in Sakoku state (鎖国national seclusion policy), Japan knew what was happening outside of Japan. Since the early 17th century, Russia came to Japan. 1792 and 1804, a messenger from Russia came to Japan to demand to trade. 1808 England ship came to Nagasaki. In 1825, Tokugawa Bakufu ordered to fire guns at any ships come close to Japan, but in 1842, when England won the Opium War against the Qing dynasty, Bakufu decided to help Food and fuel for the foreign ships. We were afraid to have the same fate as Qing. In 1846, the U.S. sent Japan a fleet commander to open the diplomatic relations but Bakufu refused. The U.S. needed Japan to open the ports for the supply of food, water, and fuel for their whaling ships in the Pacific Ocean. In 1853, a fleet commander Perry* arrived at Uraga port of Japan with four warships displaying the military forces and demanded to open the country. Tokugawa Bakufu did not have any clear policy on how to handle the situation and also they realized it is difficult to maintain the seclusion policy any longer. In 1854, “the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Amity and Friendship” was signed. After this, Japan made a treaty with England, Russia, France, and the Netherlands. This ended over 200 years of Sakoku (national seclusion policy) and opened several ports for foreign ships. Those treaties caused many problems. One is; the treaties were an unequal treaty, second is; it caused the shortage of daily necessities, as a result, the price went up. Also, a large amount of gold flowed out of Japan because of the exchange rate between gold and silver was lesser in Japan. The exchange rate was gold 1 to silver 5 in Japan, but in Europe, it was gold 1 to silver 15. On top of it, there was a problem who should be the next Shogun after Shogun Tokugawa Iesada (徳川家定) since he could not have a child. At the chaotic time like this, each opposing feudal domain wanted somebody whose political idea is the same line with your own. Many other problems caused a big battle among feudal domains who were already opposed the Bakufu for different reasons. Now the base of Tokugawa Bakufu began to fall apart. The Choshu-Han (Choshu domain) and the Satsuma-Han (Satsuma domain) were the main big forces who were against the Tokugawa Bakufu. In the beginning, they were opposed to each other, after many strained relations and strained incidents, they both decided to reconcile and went after Bakufu together. Because England realized Bakufu did not have much power any longer, they started to become closer to the Emperor side, whereas France sided with Tokugawa. England and France almost started a war in Japan. Choshu-Han and Satsuma-Han (domain) realized it was not the time for Japanese to fight among ourselves. The process of the Meiji Ishin (Meiji revolution) time drama is the favorite historic drama Japanese like and we see it on TV and movies quite often. The most favorable story is about Sengoku period of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, then 2nd favorite story is about Meiji revolution time of Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛), Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬), and Shinsen-Gumi (新撰組). Though it is a fiction but the movie, “Last Samurai “ staged at this time with a real historical character of Saigo Takamori. Also, Kido Takayoshi (木戸孝允), Ookubo Toshimichi (大久保利通), Shimazu Nariakira (島津斉彬), Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu(一橋慶喜), and many more, they played the active role and they were the driving forces to topple Tokugawa and establish a new government system center around the Emperor of the Meiji revolution. 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu issued “the Restoration of Imperial Rule (Taisei Hokan, 大政奉還)”, this is to return the political power back to the Emperor. 1868, Tokugawa opened the Edo-Jo (Edo Castle) to Meiji Shin Seifu (new Meiji government). Now it is called Kokyo (Imperial Palace), the present Emperor is living there. Edo-Jo were lost by a big fire, but the original moat (swans are floating), big massive stone wall, a beautiful bridge called Nijyu-Bashi (二重橋) are there, and big garden areas are free to walk around. It is right in front of the Marunouchi side of Tokyo station, a walking distance from Tokyo station.
Imperial Palace (From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository ). The copyright holder of this work hereby publishes it under the following license: Creative Commons attribution share-alike.
Commodore M.C. Perry came to Jaspan two times. In 1853, he brought the sovereign diplomatic document from the president of the U.S. The following year he came back to demand the answer for the letter. They wanted Japan to open 5 ports, Japan only wanted to open one port. Perry studied Japan beforehand and realized the Japanese enjoy parties a lot. He brought skilled chefs and loaded livestock on his way to Japan for the party. He wined and dined the Japanese with whiskey, wine, beer, etc. The Japanese side also did elaborate banquets for them. Perry displayed the model train, the Japanese had a Sumo match, and so on. The biggest hit was when Perry served a dessert (cake) with a small flag with each Japanese guest’s family crest printed on it at the end of the dinner. Both sides came to an agreement to open three ports. After Perry went back to the U.S. he wrote a book about his expedition, “Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, Under the command of Commodore M.C. Perry, United States Navy by order of the Government of the United States”. In his book, he wrote about Japan very favorably, the beautiful scenery and people’s ingenuities, and lively active females.