63|Part 2 of — 29 Bakumatsu Period History (幕末時代)

This chapter is a continued part of Chapter 29| Bakumatsu Period History (幕末).  Please read Chapter 29 before reading this chapter.

0-timeline - size 24 Bakumatsu

                             The red circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section

The last part of the Edo period, around the Tenmei era (天明), from 1781 to 1868, is called  Bakumatsu.  During this time, the economy in Japan began stagnating.  

The several Tokugawa Shoguns in different generations tried to perform financial reforms, but each time, it succeeded somewhat, but it never solved the core fundamental economic problems.  

Tokugawa Bakufu tried mostly to impose fiscal restraint on the government, forced people to lead a frugal life, and banned even a small luxury.  You know this only shrinks the economy and get things even worse.  On top of it, they raised the prevailing interest rate, thinking that may solve the problem.  It was a typical non-economist solution.  The interest rate should be lowered in a situation like this.  As a result, lower level Samurais became more impoverished, and farmers revolted often.  In addition, many natural disasters struck the farming area.  The famous Kurosawa movie “Seven Samurai” was staged around this time.  As we all know, “Magnificent Seven” was a Hollywood version of the “Seven Samurai.”

Yet little by little, small cottage industry began to grow, together with the improved farming productivity led by the local leaders.  Merchants became affluent, and towns-people in the city became wealthier.  However, the gap between rich and poor became wider.  And the problem of Ronin (unemployed Samurai) became severe to the level where it was almost dangerous to society. 

The Edo Towns-people’s Culture

During this time, novels were written for ordinary people, too, instead of only for the upper-class.  In the past, the paintings were related to religion and only for the upper class.  Now they became for ordinary people too.  

The Bakumatsu time was the golden time for “Ukioe (浮世絵).”  Kitagawa Utamaro (喜多川歌麿1753-1800) was well-known for portraits of ladies.  Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849葛飾北斎) and Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858安藤広重) were famous for scenery woodblock paintings.  Maruyama Okyo (円山応挙) drew pictures using the European perspective method.  Katsushika Hokusai’s daughter also drew some of her paintings in perspective.  Her name is “Ooi, 応為Only a few of her works are left now.  It is said that even her genius father was surprised at her ability to draw.

Though the number was small, some people learned the Dutch language.  The Netherlands was one of the only two countries that were allowed to enter Japan then.  Those people translated the European medical book into Japanese using French and Dutch dictionaries, and they wrote a book called “Kaitai Shinsho (解体新書)”.After this book was translated, European history books, economy books, political books were translated.  New ideas emerged from those books and influenced the intellects. 

In those days, schooling was thriving.  Each feudal domain ran its schools for the sons of the Daimyo’s retainers.  Children of the towns-people went to a school called Terakoya (寺子屋: an unofficial neighborhood school) to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Pressure from the Outside World

Even though Japan was in Sakoku state(鎖国: national isolation policy), people knew what was happening outside of Japan.  Since the early 17th century, messengers from Russia came to Japan to demand trades (1792 and 1804).  In 1808, English ships came to Nagasaki.  In 1825, Tokugawa Bakufu ordered to fire guns at any ships that came close to Japan.  In 1842, when England won the Opium War against the Qing dynasty, Bakufu decided to supply foreign ships with food and fuel. They were afraid to have the same fate as Qing.  In 1846, the U.S. sent Japan a fleet commander to open diplomatic relations, but the Bakufu refused.  The U.S. needed Japan to open the ports to supply food, water, and fuel for their whaling ships in the Pacific Ocean. 

In 1853, a fleet commander, Perry*, arrived at Uraga (浦賀: a port of Japan) with four warships displaying American military power to open the country.  Tokugawa Bakufu did not have any clear policy on handling such a situation and realized it is difficult to maintain the isolation policy any longer. 

In 1854, “the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Amity and Friendship” was signed.  After that, Japan made treaties with England, Russia, France, and the Netherlands.  That ended over 200 years of Sakoku (national isolation policy), and Japan opened several ports for foreign ships. 

However, those treaties caused many problems.  The treaties were unequal.  It caused Japan a shortage of daily necessities; as a result, the prices went up.  Also, a large amount of gold flowed out of Japan.  It was caused by the difference in the exchange rate of gold to silver between Japan and Europe.  In Japan, the exchange rate was gold 1 to silver 5, but in Europe, it was gold 1 to silver 15.

On top of theses problems, there was another problem; who should be the next Shogun after Shogun Tokugawa Yesada (徳川家定), since he did not have any heir.

At a chaotic time like this, many feudal domains opposing each other wanted a Shogun whose political idea was on their side.  Many other problems already had caused big battles among domains, and there were also other reasons for them to oppose the Bakufu. 

Now the base of Tokugawa Bakufu began to fall apart.  The Choshu-han (Choshu domain) and the Satsuma-han (Satsuma domain) were the main forces against the Tokugawa Bakufu.  In the beginning, they opposed each other.  But after many strained incidents, they decided to reconcile and went after the Bakufu together since they realized it was not the time to fight among themselves.  England, realizing Bakufu did not have much power any longer, started to be closer to the Emperor’s side, whereas France sided with Tokugawa.  England and France almost started a war in Japan.   

In 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu issued “the Restoration of Imperial Rule (Taisei Hokan, 大政奉還).”  In 1868, the Tokugawa clan left the Edo Castle, and the Meiji Emperor moved in.  It is now called Kokyo (皇居: Imperial Palace).  The present Emperor lives there. 

Many well-known political figures were the driving forces and played an active role in toppling the Tokugawa Bakufu.  Ito Hirobumi (伊藤博文), Okubo Toshimichi (大久保利通), Shimazu Nariakira (島津斉彬), and Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu (一橋慶喜) are among those.   They established a new government system, the Meiji Shin Seifu (明治新政府), centering around the Emperor.

The original Edo-jo (Castle) was lost by a big fire, yet the original moat (you can see several swans), massive stone walls, a beautiful bridge called Nijyu-bashi (二重橋) are still there.  Big garden areas are open to the public and free to walk around.  This area is famous for beautiful cherry blossoms.  The Imperial Palace is in front of and a walking distance from the Marunouchi side of Tokyo station.

Today, the Japanese like the historical dramas of the Meiji Ishin (Meiji Restoration) time, and we see them on TV and in movies quite often.  Those are stories of Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛), Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬), and Shinnsen-Gumi (新撰組).  Though it was fiction, the Hollywood movie “Last Samurai” was staged around this time with a real historical character, Saigo Takamori

 66 koukyo

Imperial Palace (From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository ).  

*Perry

Commodore M.C. Perry came to Japan two times with four warships.  In 1853, he brought the sovereign diplomatic letter from the president of the U.S.  The following year, he came back and demanded the answer to the letter.  After the expedition, Perry wrote a book about his journey, “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 mentioned Japan very favorably; the beautiful scenery and people’s ingenuities, lively, active women, and drawings.

 Even though it was a long, tough negotiation between the Edo Bakufu and Perry, there were several fun moments.  Perry displayed and presented Japan with a 1:4-scale model steam locomotive, a sewing machine, etc.  The Japanese had a Sumo match and gave him gifts like silk, lacquer wares, etc.  The Japanese prepared elaborate banquets for the American diplomats.  Perry also invited the Japanese officials for his feast.  The biggest hit was when Perry served a dessert at the end of the dinner. Perry printed each guest’s family crest on a small flag and put it on the desert.

Before starting his expedition, he had anticipated tough negotiations lying ahead.  So, he had studied Japanese beforehand and discovered that the Japanese would enjoy parties a lot.  He brought skilled chefs and loaded the ship with some livestock to Japan for future parties.  He entertained Japanese officials with whiskey, wine, beer, etc.  Initially, the U.S. wanted Japan to open five ports, whereas Bakufu was willing to open only one port.  In the end, both sides agreed on opening three ports.

ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/黒船来航

ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/マシュー・ペリー

34| Part 2 — 1 Timeline

Chapter 34 is a continued part of Chapter 1 Time line.   Please read Chapter 1 before reading this section.

36 Gendai-To timeline

                                The above red circle indicates the time we discuss here

Chapter 1 Timeline” explained that Gendai-to (現代刀) is the swords made between the Meiji Restoration (明治維新1868) and now.  It has been about 150 years since the Meiji Restoration.  Even though all swords made after the Meiji Restoration are categorized into one Gendai-to group, there are quite a few differences in quality and kinds.  The very different one is Gun-to (軍刀).  Those are military swords that were forged to use in World War I and World War II.  Some of them have a saber-like handle. With some exceptions, those were made not using the traditional sword making method of heat and fold technique.  Among the Gendai-to, Gun-to is usually considered much less value.   The Gun-to sword made around during World War II is called Showa-to.  It often has a brown leather scabbard.  Gun-to is not a part of the study of the Japanese sword.

*Refer to” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunt%C5%8D”  for Japanese military sword.

                                Gun-to    From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

At the time of the Meiji Restoration (明治維新), swords called Meiji-ishin-to (明治維新刀) or Kin’no-to (勤王刀) were made.  These swords were owned by famous historical figures like Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛), and Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬).  They are important historical figures who pushed the Meiji Restoration forward.  These swords are long and some of them are almost 3 feet long and have no curvature.

Today, many famous swordsmiths are forging wonderful swords. Some are recognized as Living National Treasure.  Gendai-to is the sword made after the Meiji Restoration till now, but please keep in mind that there is a wide range of differences in quality, variety, and purposes among them.

36img077

                       Sword forged by a Living National Treasure, Mr. Miyairi Shohei (宮入昭平)                         Once my family property

 

30| Shin-Shin-To 1781-1867 (Bakumatsu Period Sword 新々刀)

0-timeline - size 24 BakumatsuThe red circle indicates the time we discuss in this section

The later part of the Edo period is called Bakumatsu.  See the circled area of the timeline above.  Swords made during this time are called Shin Shin-to.   They are also called Fukko-to (復古刀: revived sword).  Fukko-to copied the shape, Hamon, Boshi, and other features of the Ko-to and Shin-to swords.  The characteristics of Shin Shin-to (新々刀) and well-known swordsmiths are those below.

The Characteristics of Shin Shin-to

  • Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto all tend to be similar to or copy of the Ko-to and Shin-to in shape.
  • Many swords often have Hi or detailed engravings.
  • One swordsmith would make more than one style swords like Soshu Den, Bizen Den, and Shin-to style together.
  • Often shows Katai-ha.

30 katai-ha

                                                                  Katai-ha

  • Weak (not tight)
  • Yakidashi (2 to 3 inches above Machi) is often Suguha(straight line Hamon), even though the rest is irregular    Boshi is often irregular Midare.
  • Detailed engravings, but more realistic than the previous times.

Well known swordsmiths of Shin Shin-to

  • Settsu (Osaka area) ————Gassan Sadayoshi (月山貞吉) Gassan Sadakazu (月山貞一) Gassan family is famous for detailed carvings.
  • Musashi no Kuni (Tokyo area) ——Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀)  Minamoto Kiyomaro (源 清麿)  Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤)  Taikei Yoshitane (大慶義胤) is famous for his carvings.

30 Kiyomaro entire

Minamoto Kiyomaro(源清麿)    Once my family possession

  • Tosa (四国: Shikoku area) ———————————————— Sa Yukohide (左行秀)
  • Satsuma (鹿児島: Kagoshima) ———— Oku Moptohira (奥元平) Namino Hira (波平)

Meiji Ishin-To

Right before the Meiji Restoration, long swords (approx. 3 feet) with no curvature were made.  Sa Yukihide (from Tosa) forged this type of sword.  Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛)、 Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬) owned this type of swords.  Both are famous historical characters during the Meiji Restoration, called Meiji Ishin (明治維新).  Both of them were a part of the Kin’no-to (勤皇党) group which supported the Emperor and renewed the political system.