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Boshin War

After the American Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan by opening Edo (Tokyo) Bay, Japan rushed to change from its feudal government. In fact, this was one of the first times in all of Japanese history that an American stepped on Japanese soil.

Commodore Matthew Perry
Matthew Perry


Matthew Perry established the Treaty of Peace and Amity (or the Treaty of Kanagawa), which was considered an Unequal Treaty with "gunboat diplomacy", which was diplomacy with a cannon.

Subsequently, the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and Japan, the Treaty of Shimoda was signed between the Russian Empire and Japan, and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and Japan was signed.

With all these factors set up for an internal dispute in Japan about the foreigners, it comes as a surprise that the Boshin War didn't happen earlier.

In fact, the shogunate was reaching an all-time high unpopularity rate with its people as a result of the treaties. People began to say "sonnō jōi", or "Revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians". Many people began supporting an eventual restoration of the Emperor.

Debate over government policy was unusual and had engendered public criticism of the shogun. In the hope of enlisting the support of new allies, the Chief Senior Councillor Abe Masahiro had consulted with the shinpan and tozama daimyo. In the Ansei Reform which lasted from 1854 to 1856, Abe then tried to strengthen the regime by ordering Dutch warships and armaments from the Netherlands and building new port defenses.

In 1855, with Dutch assistance, the Shogunate acquired its first steam warship, Kankō Maru, which was used for training, and opened the Nagasaki Naval Training Center with Dutch instructors, and a Western-style military school was established at Edo. In 1857, it acquired its first screw-driven steam warship, the Kanrin Maru. Scientific knowledge was quickly expanded from the pre-existing foundation of Western knowledge, or "Rangaku".

Emperor Meiji
Emperor Meiji
Foreigners arrived in Yokohama and Kanagawa in great numbers, giving rise to trouble with the samurai. Violence increased against the foreigners and those who dealt with them. Murders of foreigners and collaborating Japanese soon followed. On 26 August 1859, a Russian sailor was cut to pieces in the streets of Yokohama. In early 1860, two Dutch captains were slaughtered, also in Yokohama. Chinese and native servants of foreigners were also killed.

Japanese Prime Minister Ii Naosuke, who had signed the Harris Treaty and tried to eliminate opposition to Westernization with the Ansei Purge, was himself murdered in March 1860 in the Sakuradamon incident. A servant of the French Minister was attacked at the end of 1860. On 14 January 1861, Henry Heusken, Secretary to the American mission, was attacked and murdered. During this period, about one foreigner was killed every month.

When Tokugawa Yoshinobu become Shogun, Emperor Kōmei finally ordered the imperial decree "Order to expel barbarians", which ended up attacking the Shogunate as well.

An alliance of western samurai, particularly the domains of Chōshū, Satsuma and Tosa, and court officials, secured control of the imperial court and influenced the young Emperor Meiji. The shogun hoped to continue influencing politics and abdicated to preserve the prestige of his house.

Nonetheless, Satsuma and Chōshū issued the imperial decree that abolished the House of Tokugawa. Yoshinobu attempted to take the Imperial Palace at Kyoto, but failed.

This culminated in the Boshin War. Through a series of military defeats, the Tokugawa Shogunate was forced onto Ezo (Hokkaido). It declared that the emperor was deposed, and established the Ezo Republic.

Although the Tokugawa lost the Boshin War, Yoshinobu was not killed. Shogunate administrators were allowed back into the Imperial government after the Meiji Restoration.

The Boshin War would account for the popular support for the Emperor. When Emperor Hirohito came to the throne, it culminated in the deadly World War II.

All in all, the Boshin War involved 120,000 mobilized soldiers, but only around 3,500 of them died.

Citations:
  1. Matthew Calbraith Perry. Digital image. Perry In Japan. Brown University, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  2. "People: Matthew Calbraith Perry." Perry In Japan. Brown University, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  3. Watkins, Thayer. "Meiji Restoration/Revolution." Sjsu.edu. San José State University, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  4. "1750-1919: Japan and the West: The Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) afe.easia.columbia.edu/. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
  5. "Meiji Restoration (Japanese History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

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