Self-strengthening: 1770 to 1777
Emperor Higashiyama, May 1770 -
When Emperor Sadayuki died he left to his son a Japan that had been shamed by western powers. Sadayuki had known that without reforming the military he would never be able to oppose the predatory Europeans, but try as he might he could not convince his squabbling court to make the necessary sacrifices.
It was in this unauspicious atmosphere that Higashiyama ascended the throne. His coronation ceremonial was a mix of Japanese, Chinese and western influences and the inaugural speech he delivered from the Chrysanthemum throne left no-one in any doubt as to his priorities.
If the Emperor's words were controversial, the reality of his plans were moreso. As Japanese settlers had fanned out across the South Seas they grew more aware of their cultural differences and less tolerant of others. As Japanese settlements were planted in the Indian Ocean, at home the government reversed centuries of tolerance and began to force Japanese culture on the unwilling Koreans.Originally Posted by Higashiyama
This was to have unwanted side-effects almost immediately, adding another flashpoint to an increasingly tense situation. While intolerance was but a side-effect of Higashiyama's designs, the westernisation of the military was a prime goal. The changes represented a huge attack on vested interests. Few in the military wanted to abandon the old ways that had won Japan so mighty an empire.
It was not until 1773 that a dedicated cadre of young officers, bureaucrats and the Emperor himself were able to force through the reforms. Almost at once the Empire was plunged into turmoil - public debates about the wisdom of the policy quickly degenerated into mass brawls. Soldiers unhappily struggled with unfamiliar drills and in some cases were thrown into unemployment and banditry.
In this atmosphere, revolts were inevitable and widespread.
The new model armies were initially overwhelmed by the size of the outbreaks and spent the first months of their existence desperately trying to establish control of their own regions.
However, as they gradually grew accustomed to the new practices they were able to halt, then roll back the tide of resistance. Thousands of soldiers perished on both sides of this unofficial civil war, and many more peasants lost their homes and crops in the course of the fighting.
Even as disorder reigned all around, Higashiyama was laying plans for the future. Japanese naval architects had learned much from the Empire's Gelren allies and were confident they could now produce ships to match any in Europe.
The Emperor commanded that the fleet be drastically expanded, with 20 new ships of the line and the same number of modern transports added to the existing complement. Such a fleet was greater than Japan could possibly need for internal policing.
Higashiyama had his mind set on making Japan a great naval power. His actions would leave their mark in the years to come.
However, it was not until 1777 that the fuore provoked by the military reforms started to subside. Ironically the rebellions provided the proof of the effectiveness of the new model armies: both sides fielded similar weapons - muskets, cannons and cavalry - but the tactics of the imperial forces gave them a devastating advantage on the field. As rebel commanders were forced to recognise, Higashiyama's reforms had worked.
By the end of the year Japan once again enjoyed internal tranquility. Its economy - though dislocated by the recent fighting - quickly recovered and Japanese scholars grew increasingly self-confident as they found they were able to match and even exceed the achievements of their European colleagues.
Japan was by its own reckoning the greatest nation in the world, and indisputably the great Asian power. Many turned their minds to Higashiyama's pledge to champion the oppressed everywhere, they observed the frantic bustle in the Empire's naval yards, they admired the columns of disciplined soldiers marching down to the coast, and they wondered what would happen next.