Here is the series of introducing a brief Japanese history. In this article, we are showing the history of Edo period from the beginning to the end including the conflicts of opening up the country to abroad which happened because of visit Japan of Americans, Perry Exptedition.

Japanese History In Manga - Meiji Restoration(1) The end of Edo period~

Why was Japan closed to the rest of the world for 250 years?

“Learning a brief history of Japan through Manga” Part 1! Today, I’m going to talk a bit about the Meiji Restoration through Manga. It was an evolutionary moment ushering in the end of the Edo period.

The Edo Period flourished 250 years from 1603 to 1868

Japan is known as the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, founded in 660 BC. It is believed to have been ruled by one single imperial family from that time until the present day. Although to put it more precisely, there were moments when the country was not ruled by the emperor but by the rule of a Shogun who was appointed by the emperor and held the real power. Those days are known as the Shogunate period.

During the Shogunate period, the “Tokugawa Shogunate” was the longest clan who took controlled bakufu (Shogunate) and it was founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The time of Tokugawa Shogunate was called the, “Edo period” and was notable for the unification of the whole of Japan.

Emperor: “I will leave everything to you…”
Tokugawa Ieyasu: “Yes, your majesty. Please don’t trouble yourself with leading. Your life will be peace.”

When the Tokugawa Shogunate started, the center of politics moved from the west (Kyoto) to the east (Tokyo) and the capital city was called “Edo” (the former name of Tokyo). Tokugawa Ieyasu was a prodigious Shogun who changed and developed the political rules which brought huge economic growth throughout the country. Edo period was a great era as Japan thrived for 250 years in peace without any large-scale wars.

The National Isolation Policy during the Edo Period and its influence

One of the unique characteristics of the Edo period was “The National Isolation.” The Edo period began at the time of the end of Spain and Portugal’s Age of Discovery. Japan decided to cut off all exchanges and trade with foreign countries as they feared colonial invasion. (Strictly speaking, they actually continued to keep exchanges between China, Holland and Ryukyu (when Okinawa was independent of Japan.) In all likelihood, the primary purpose behind compulsory isolation was for the Tokugawa Shogunate to monopolize all of Japan’s exchanges and trades.

After all, because of its isolationism, the Japanese economy had to rely on their domestic demands. This was the reason why Edo culture prospered and developed in a completely unique way. Sumo, Kabuki, Geishas, Sushi and other elements of Japanese cuisine; all of these aspects of culture prospered and independently evolved during the Edo period.

Terrifying Perry Expedition to Japan

200 years after the ushering in of the Edo Period, 4 American black steamships arrived in Edo Bay; it was the Perry Expedition. Until then, Japanese people lived completely walled off from and indifferent to foreign countries. On the other hand, the world had been experiencing the industrial revolution and modernization, so the appearance of the black steamships must have been a terrifying event for those Japanese people who witnessed it.

There is an interesting about the Perry Expedition. When Perry fired his 73 guns in honor of American Independence Day, the people of Edo thought it was an attack and the whole town was in a huge panic. It just demonstrates how isolated and culturally distinct Japan had come to be.

Invading Japan was not Perry’s intention, but he demanded that the Japanese open the port to call, as they’ve been whaling around Japan Sea and were looking for an opportunity to find an Asian market. That was the given reason for why they asked the Tokugawa Shogunate to open the country.

Perry: “I demand that you open your country.”
Shogun: “We need time for that! (T_T)”

Japan was divided into Kaikoku group (the group promoting Japan's opening to the world) and Sakoku group (the group wanting to maintain the Isolationism)

Perry left and gave Japan a one year grace period. During this time, there were a lot of strong opinions in favor of keeping the isolationism as a way of protecting Japan from foreign invasion. However, the Edo Shogunate didn’t listen to the Emperor’s will (isolationism) and started their plan to open the country. Because of that, the supporters of the Emperor and the supporters of the isolationism became strongly polarized and that attitude developed further into a strong anti-Shogunate movement.

Anti-Shogunate: “We never open the country! Respect our Majesty!”
Shogunate: “We must open the country to expand our exchange business!”

At that time, the Satsuma-han (clan) from Kagoshima prefecture and the Choshyu-han (clan) from Yamaguchi prefecture took leadership of the Anti-Shogunate group call Joi-ha. They had grievances beyond the isolation question since they belonged to the Tozama group (nonhereditary feudal lord or “daimyo” who were excluded from participation in the government, and saw many of their estates reduced in size.) from the very beginning of the Edo period. There were no reasons for them to obey the Edo Bakufu (shogunate) as they had been treated unpleasantly as outsiders and second-class power brokers for centuries.

Edo Bakufu (shogunate) signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce without an imperial sanction

The United States didn’t care what was happening inside Japan and they demanded the Treaty of Amity and Commerce to the Japanese Bakufu. The Bakufu tried to convince the Emperor but the Anti-Shogunate Joi-ha group never compromised. At the end, the Bakufu signed the Treaty without an imperial sanction.

Many people condemned the Bakufu for what they had done. In response, the Bakufu punished Anti-Shogunate senior statesmen and members of the Joi-ha group. This heavy-handed response antagonized the Joi-ha groupfurther and cost the anti-Isolation Bakufu even more support.

The center stage of Japan’s politics and history moves into Kyoto

While antagonism was raised against the Bakufu, a lot of people supported the Emperor (The Anti-Shogunate Joi-ha group) and he gradually regained power. At that time, the center stage of Japan’s politics moved into Kyoto from the Edo Bakufu. Tokugawa Iemochi, the Shogun at the time, had to resign himself to living in Nijojo castle in Kyoto.

The establishment of “Shinsengumi” to protect the Shogun from Anti-Shogunate group

As a result, after the Tokugawa Shogun moved into Kyoto, there were many radical Anti-Shogunate patriots gathered in Kyoto and public safety degraded. In response, the Bakufu organized the “Shinsengumi” or special police force to protect the Shogunate representatives from the opposition.

Shinsengumi made its name by preventing a coup d’état from the Anti-Shogunate group. To counter, they attacked and assassinated several well-known Anti-Shogunate patriots. Many Roushi (the warrior) who supported the Bakufu got wind of Shinsengumi’s reputation and enlisted to become members. After all, Shinsengumi built up the position as an important armed organization to protect the Bakufu. They drew up a set of strict military rules and if members violate the rules, they were severely punished or even killed as punishment.

The war between four great foreign countries brought Joi-ha patriots to their knees.

In the end, while Japan was having its fierce battle between “Anti-Shogunate/Emperor loyalists” and “Bakufu who supported opening the country”, Satsuma-han of Kagoshima prefecture and Choshu-han the clan of Yamaguchi prefecture fought individually alongside foreign countries and learned of how great foreign military power and technologies were. This war is called the, “Satsuei sensou” and Bakan sensou”.

In the end, while Japan was having its fierce battle between “Anti-Shogunate, loyalists of the Emperor” and “Bakufu who supported opening the country”, Satsuma-han the clan from Kagoshima prefecture, and Choshu-han the clan of Yamaguchi prefecture, fought individually with foreign countries and learned the lesson how great foreign country’s military power and technologies are. This war is called “Satsuei sensou” and Bakan sensou”.

Japan’s move to open the country

After all those incidents, the people who used to believe in isolationism began to evolve and agreed that Japan should open the country since it was agreed that they had a lot to learn from outside ideas. At the same time, their new target was to destroy the Tokugawa Shogunate which had been kept their old political system intact for a long time.

“I guess we’re going for the same goal. Why don’t we cooperate each other?”

This was a time when Sakamoto Ryoma played an active part of the politics. He introduced Satuma-han(clan) and Choshu-han (clan) to each other and initiated their cooperation. Ryoma is a very popular hero in Japan. He was one of the men attracted to Western ideas and technologies. He had a great passion to dream of a better future for Japan.

Sakamoto Ryoma drew up “Senchu Hassaku,” which literally means “EIGHT RULES Laid down on the ship,” (the basic outline of the new regime) to reshape Japan as a modern country. This action was followed by examples of advanced Western countries and it was a great moment in history which strongly encouraged the Anti-Shogunate side. In this “Senchu Hassaku” it was written that it is important to concentrate power with the Emperor to create the structure of modernized country.

Loyalist who support
Isolationism (Emperor) group,
Shogunate group
Supporter Shinsengumi
Aizu clan
(Fukushima prefecture)
Choshu clan
(Yamaguchi prefecture)
Satsuma clan
(Kagoshima prefecture)
Tosa clan
(Kouchi prefecture)
The domestic political view Bakufu (Shogunate) must keep their power and rule Japan Bakufu must return the political power to Emperor and create a new government
The international political view Open the country to abroad and must trade
(Signing the disadvantaged treaty for Japan)
Maintain isolationism and fight back their enemies. ⇒In the end, they changed their idea to open up the country and study abroad to learn to make a strong country.

Then, Japan moved forward to the next stage towards to the anti-shogunate.

Coming up next, we have more stories in Part 2 of “Japanese History In Manga ~ Meiji Restoration(2) the way to the restoration of Imperial Rule ~”.

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