- Apr 28, 2012
The Boshin War: Prologue (1860-1861)
Storm clouds were brewing over Japan. For the past 25 years, the technology, culture, and beliefs of the west have been seeping into Japan. Japan’s isolation had ended, and the Shogunate was weakened. The Daimyo became split. There were those who supported westernization, who believed that modernizing Japan with Nanban technology would prevent the Nanban from an invasion by the Nanban. There were those however who thought that these reforms were rotting Japan from the inside, and that the traditions of over 700 years of cultural development were being destroyed in a matter of years. Yet there was one thing that both sides had in common:
Both sides were content with the government system.
No side resented the Shogun, and few people actually put the Emperor above the Shogun politically. The one thing that the Nanban could not alter would be the Bakufu. You see, the Shogun never really interfered much with the affairs of the Daimyo, especially those who fought against the Tokugawa when they first came to power. This was evident when a Uesugi was appointed as leader of the Oniwaban, and when a Satake family-member, a person whose family opposed the Tokugawa at one point, was appointed to the position of Tairo for twenty years. The Shogun also did not bother with the beliefs of the Daimyo, for he believed that the Japanese had no other choice but to appease the Nanban to prevent chaos and invasion. Tokugawa Iemochi and his predecessors had always followed the advice of the Roju, and they wanted westernization. It seemed that Japan would westernize into a more effective Bakufu, a modern government with modern technology and modern culture.
That all changed in early 1860. Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi would die that year due to a heart failure. His successor would be the young 23 year old Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Yoshinobu had enough with the beliefs of the Nanban influencing his government, his country, and wanted to get rid of them. He was a staunch traditionalist, who believed that the Nanban had to be stopped before they could further damage Japan. He needed a reason though for his actions, a reason to try and kick the Japanese out of Japan. His reason came that year. Emperor Komei, decided that now would be the time for him to strike out against the Nanban. He declared an “Order to Expel the Barbarians”, basically saying to the Nanban, “get out”. It would be the first time in 700 years that an Imperial Order would be used to great extent. The Emperor had ordered the Shogun. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American ambassador, was outraged by the fact. Yoshinobu would use the Emperor’s decree and begin his crusade against the Nanban to expel them from the country. For the rest of the year, the Shogun would march his armies across Japan, to each foreign port of Japan, and removed every European from the area. His belief was very much like Matsui Hideki, but without any bloodshed, unless there was resistance.
(Yoshinobu with confiscated rifles)
America was furious. Yet, events in the South would prevent them from sending military action to subjugate the Japanese. Yet, America could not lose their own ally in Japan.
The Westernizers of Japan, Daimyo such as Lord Oshiro and Lord Hosokawa, found themselves in a bad situation. The Shogun and the Emperor both opposed westernization, and it seemed that the modernization of Japan would be stalled and never occur. The Shogun also decided that a show of force was needed. He organized an army, 10,000 strong, to march through Kansai, Chugoku, and Kyushu, the three regions that were home to the majority of Westernizers. Daimyo such as Lord Matsui and Lord Mori welcomed the armies, but Daimyo such as Lord Hosokawa and Lord Ito opposed them. The Army also made sure to stop in Lord Ota’s domain, as well as circle up North to Lord Takeshi’s domain. Lord Oshiro thought that the Shogun’s “parade” was a “violation of the rights of the individual Daimyo”. Shogun Yoshinobu responded by removing Lord Oshiro as Tairo, and instead decided to handle all decisions himself. Lord Oshiro was still Roju of Chugoku, but his chief position was gone. The westernizers were almost powerless, hated by both the Emperor and the Shogun. It seemed that their goals would never be obtained.
Until late 1860 that is. Westernizers called it a “Message from Amaterasu herself”. Emperor Komei died. The cause of death was smallpox, but traditionalists soon began to call the death “foul”, and that the Emperor was actually assassinated by the westernizers! Tensions would reach an all-time high, especially figuring who was now Emperor. The young boy was no more than eight years old. The new Emperor’s birth name was Mutsuhito, but you all better know him by his given name, Meiji.
(The young Emperor Meiji)
Emperor Meiji was young, but his decisions in the first years of office would be detrimental to the stability of Japan. Westernizers immediately moved to secure the Emperor’s favor. They brought large entourages to Kyoto, and brought gifts of gold and money. The Shogun also tried to influence the young Emperor via the same process. Western powers sent gifts to garner the Emperor’s support to hopefully stop the Emperor from continuing the policies of his father. Lord Mori, who was called upon to be the regent of the Emperor, would urge continuing the policies of Emperor Komei. The country held its breath waiting for the response of the young Emperor. The Emperor’s decision to supporting westernization or tradition would be decided when in November of 1860, the Emperor would travel to Osaka, the domain of Lord Kishiwada, a proud supporter of westernization. Emperor Meiji requested that Lord Kishiwada teach him the ways of the west, in order to preserve the peace in Japan. He had seen how well the reforms of Japan had helped the country out of recession and crisis growing up, and how lack of modernization allowed western powers to trample on Japan, as with the Turks invading Kyushu. The trip would be the first time in centuries in which the Emperor would travel outside of Kyoto. Lord Mori demanded that the young Emperor return to Kyoto and not bother with the likes of a family of known traitors. The westernizers, seeing their chance, had Lord Mori expelled from the position of regent, and a pro-western regent would be selected. Lord Mori was outraged, first the Shogun and now the Emperor had denied him positions of prestige. The Shogun’s fears were confirmed, the Nanban had infiltrated the Imperial Court, and the plot was revealed. At the start of 1861, he would organize an army to deliver a message to Kyoto, the Emperor must resist the urgings of the “Nanban traitors”, and support the traditions of his father.
The Shogun was now focused not on expelling the barbarians, but to put the Emperor back in line. The Shoguns were the true rulers of Japan, and their power would be respected by all, including the Emperor! No more shall the Emperor meddle in the affairs of state, he must submit to the will of the Tokugawa and remove the Nanban from Japan. Only then shall Japan be at peace, and its traditions be saved! The Emperor has forgotten what Japan was, and where he comes from, and must be taught a lesson!
The westernizers now had the chance they have always wanted. With the Shogun being the only thing standing between them and a western, unified Japan, it was clear what must be done. The Shogunate had to be removed, for the sake of Japan’s future. The Emperor was at a time the only true ruler of Japan, now he must use that power once more in stopping the Shogunate from preventing the modernizing of Japan, and for the first time since Minamoto Yoshitome arose to the position of Shogun, make the Emperor the highest political authority in the land!
At this time though, a new militant movement began to arise in Japan. The idea of a republic, a government without an Emperor or a Shogun, was rising. Brought on by exposure to American democracy, these republican supporters would rise out of the shadows. Hailing famous figures such as Retainer Seita, they would try to subdue the Lords of Japan, that the only way towards modernization was to remove the ancient regimes of both the Shogun and the Emperor. Perhaps having neither the Emperor nor the Shogun, but an elected individual chosen by the people, was the best way for Japan to prosper.
The time was now for all Daimyo to pick a side, Emperor, Republic, or Shogun, Westernization vs. Tradition, Stability by Reform, or Stability by Removal. War could not be avoided, and Japan was to about to be gripped by the worst internal conflict since the Sengoku Jidai.
The Boshin War has begun…
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