How did the Japanese feel about the prospect of opening treaty ports?

This essay achieved a low 1st in the third year of my undergraduate.

How did the Japanese feel about the prospect of opening treaty ports?

The opening of the Japanese treaty ports happened in two distinct phases, with the initial precedent set in 1853/4 with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s infamous ‘black ships,’ only to be further exploited in 1858 by Townsend Harris, the American Consul present in Shimoda.[1] The instabilities which became clear within Japan as a result of it’s opening to the world are the source of much debate both in Western and Eastern writing. Beasley was the first main contributor to the debate, in 1955 with his Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, and it has been argued by the likes of Totman that he has framed the debate with his polarised schools of ‘jōi’ and ‘kaikoku’.[2] While this does serve to neatly categorise the viewpoints prevalent in Japan at the time, it does not adequately convey the intricacies of Japanese foreign policy in the period 1853-1863.[3] As such, one might add at least a third distinct ‘school’ in between the two polar opposites, so as to show the full spectrum of Japanese opinion.

At the more pro-Western end of the spectrum are those who were in favour of opening the treaty ports, those Beasley would describe as proponents of kaikoku. These proponents had a whole range of motives for supporting the opening of the treaty ports, from simple affluence to a desire to strengthen the nation with Western knowledge and technology. Totman has pointed out that Beasley uses Abe Masahiro as one of the extremes in his model, arguing that he favoured opening ports for trade even before Perry’s arrival in 1853, and it is likely that Japanese merchants, perhaps most obviously Takegawa Chikusai, were aware of the wealth available if they were able to trade with the Western merchants outside of Nagasaki.[4] Even in 1853, in spite of Perry’s bullish actions or perhaps because of them, the Emperor at the time, Takatsukasa, favoured peace and commerce over any armed conflict.[5] At one end of the spectrum then, there was not just mere acceptance of the treaty ports – they were welcomed by some Japanese as an opportunity at commerce and affluence.

Alongside those who supported the treaty ports as a means to economically strengthen the country were those whose motives were more pragmatic. Supporters of the Bakufu government such as Hayashi Shihei and Honda Toshiaki realised early on that they would be unable to resist armed Western incursions unless they modernised their military, and the level of their technology.[6] To that end, the treaty ports were seen as an opportunity to improve the Japanese military through the employment of Western technology and military drill. Perhaps the most famous proponent of this view is Ii Naosuke who supported the slogan of ‘Western Technology, Eastern Morals’.[7] The slogan gained support among many Japanese, and was widely used to counteract concerns of being associated with what were viewed as morally questionable Westerners.[8]

As early as the 1820s, Japanese such as Takahashi Shuhan began learning gunnery and Western drill, and in 1853 Egawa Tarozaemon succeeded in casting cannon.[9] Both of these examples show a willingness to assimilate rather than reject Western ideas, something borne of the Shinto teaching of Hirata Atsutane which specifies that Japan’s special virtues come from divine descent as opposed to Confucian Civilization. The argument therefore was that Japanese virtues could not be corrupted by Western culture, due to its divine origin.[10] While Ii Naosuke was the most well-known supporter of this view, he was arguably not the most significant. Shimazu Nariakira also encouraged knowledge of the West, something made notable when one realises that he was of the Satsuma Domain, given the later conflict with the West.[11] All of this would seem to be evidence of pro-foreigner feeling in Japan prior to the opening of the treaty ports, but it remains difficult to distinguish between those who were genuinely pro-foreigner, or merely pro-Bakufu – those who trusted the government to see them through the crisis.[12]

More towards the centre of the spectrum are those who were resigned to the fact that Japan would be opened, and wanted to do it on their own terms, rather than have conditions imposed upon them. It is widely argued that Abe Masahiro falls into this category, mainly because he realised that resisting Western advances would be futile, but also out of fear of violent repercussions which might arise from refusal.[13] It was not just Abe Masahiro however – his successor Hotta Masayoshi was also worried what a refusal of Western trade might mean for the future of the Japanese nation, as shown in his memorandum from the 3rd Month of 1857, which was directed towards the officials responsible for the study of foreign trade.[14] As a private government communication, Hotta had no reason to expect that it would be read by anyone other than his intended recipient, and as such would have been able to be far more candid and honest than he might have been in a public communication. It can therefore be considered a largely accurate portrayal of his view. As well as the foreign policymakers, it is clear that the viewpoint was supported by others in power in Japan, such as the wider Rōjū council, the Daimyō of the Tamari-no-ma, and perhaps most significantly, Ikebe Tōzaemon, who was a supporter of Tokugawa Nariaki’s somewhat radical views until 1853 and the arrival of Commodore Perry.[15]

Perhaps obviously, those Japanese who had most knowledge of the West and its power were those who realised that resistance would lead only to defeat. Most notable were Ito Hirobumi, who travelled the West before returning to Japan, and Takegawa Chikusai, the merchant mentioned above, who both recognised the futility of conducting any armed conflict against the Western powers.[16] It would therefore seem that there was a host of Japanese who were resistant to the idea of kaikoku, but knew that they would be unable to retain sovereignty if the Westerners decided to invade. For many of these in the so-called ‘centre’ of the spectrum, foreign policy hence became less about rejecting foreigners and more about identifying the minimum level of concession which would prevent Western aggression.[17] The treaty ports were therefore seen as an acceptable half-measure to placate the Western powers while Japan rearmed so as to be in a stronger position for future negotiations.

While some Japanese were resigned to the treaty ports being opened due to the overwhelming military superiority of the West, others recognised that the period of Sakoku was coming towards the end of its natural life, having endured for around two centuries. It was realised by some including Hotta, according to Totman, that increasing Western contact was inevitable, particularly with the invention of the steamship.[18] The disagreements lay over how to deal with this increased contact, and many argued that it need not be merely endured by Japan, but should rather be exploited, predominantly by sending envoys and trade overseas rather than waiting for Westerners to come to them.[19] This may seem obvious as an answer with the benefit of hindsight, but for contemporaries, it would have been very difficult to act in as alien a way as that must have seemed. The country had been isolated for around two hundred years, with the only contact from the West being through Nagasaki, and the Dutch traders who approached them there.[20] As such it would have been very difficult to break the routine quite as radically as suggested above. Overall then, while there were viable alternatives to the treaty ports, the Japanese were able to accept them –even if they were not happy about them- opening because it was familiar, and therefore easier.

The most well-documented viewpoint on the opening of the treaty ports is that which aligns more with the idea of jōi, or ‘expel the barbarian’, which forms the other end of the spectrum. Proponents of jōi were those who advocated physically forcing the Westerners from their country, no matter the cost. For most, this was limited to proposed resistance, but in a few cases between the signing of the treaties in 1858, and the opening of the last ports in 1863, actual hostilities ensued, most famously between the British and the Satsuma at Kagoshima and with the Chōshū at the Shimonoseki straits in the summer of 1863.[21] While these were right at the end of the period under consideration, they poignantly convey the vehemence with which some Japanese were against the opening of treaty ports. An important point to make is that, while the Satsuma and Chōshū were both against the principle of the treaty ports, of greater significance was the fact that they represented the will of the Bakufu, and as such rebelling against the idea of them meant a direct refusal to submit to Bakufu and Tokugawa authority, something implied by the adoption of the full slogan of ‘sonnō jōi’, which loosely meant ‘revere the Emperor, expel the barbarian’.[22]

Both the Satsuma and Chōshū remain extreme examples however – most Japanese proponents of jōi restricted themselves to merely proposing resistance.[23] Support for the idea of fighting the foreign commercial incursions was widespread, both in Edo and Kyoto. Both the courtier class of Kyoto and the Emperor Komei expounded the idea as a direct challenge to the Shogunate, something which those as radical as the Satsuma and Chōshū took very seriously.[24] Emperor Komei was well-known for being pro-seclusion, and was perhaps defined by his order in 1862 to expel the barbarians from Japan, in a direct challenge to the treaties of 1858 which had paved the way for the treaty ports to open.[25] The wishes of the Imperial Court were made clear in the correspondence to Hotta Masayoshi in May 1858, in which it was stated that the Emperor wanted to protect the traditional laws, and they are also supported by the Journal of Utsuki Roku-no-jō in July 1858.[26] Of the two, the correspondence might be considered more useful due to the fact that it is directly from the Imperial Court, but there is a great chance that the letter was merely posturing, and that the Emperor was flexing his political muscles so to speak, having not used his power in centuries. The journal, by contrast, was a private document which it is unlikely Utsuki expected anyone else to read. He therefore is likely to have written his mind truthfully, without fear of being held accountable for his words.

The most interesting character in the drama of the period was Tokugawa Nariaki, the Daimyō of the small Mito domain. While he was a Tokugawa, he strongly disapproved of the way in which the Bakufu handled the arrival of the foreigners, as is shown by his own correspondence with the Rōjū in December 1857.[27] In public he called for the foreigners to be expelled, so the temptation would be to categorise him alongside the Imperial Court.[28] His position is far more complex than that however. The Emperor proposed expulsion so as to keep Japanese culture pure, and to avoid any of the moral corruption that was so feared.[29] By contrast, Tokugawa Nariaki thought that the only way to halt the decay of the Samurai class in general, and specifically their morale, was to declare war on the West, and defend Japan.[30] It would appear then, that the idea of treaty ports was strongly opposed on both the sides of the Emperor and the Shogunate.

Much of the resistance to the idea of treaty ports came from the vague notions of animosity the Japanese held for most Westerners, who they viewed as barbarians and, as stated above, morally corrupting. With what can only really be described as racism, the Japanese regarded Westerners as inferior to them, treating them with hostility, distrust, and often condescension.[31] One must also stress that this ran both ways – the Westerners were disdainful of the Japanese, who they viewed as backward and feudal; traits they had left behind hundreds of years ago in their eyes. The inherent hostility of the Japanese to Westerners had developed over the course of their two hundred year isolation, and was arguably rooted in religion. There was a fear during the period of Sakoku that Christianity was the obvious precursor to invasion, and that it must not be allowed to enter Japan, and it was likely hard to banish the idea.[32] The constant Dutch presence at Nagasaki probably did nothing to allow the fear recede, rather acted as a persistent reminder to the Shogunate of the presence of an alternative religion. It would also have done nothing to further the cause of opening additional treaty ports, which were all viewed as points at which Christianity would leech through into the interior of the country.

Overall then, there was a wide range of opinion over the issue of treaty ports. What is also clear is that it was by no means as simple as Beasley’s kaikoku-jōi axis, as Totman argues.[33] It is also important to note that Beasley’s thesis is very general, dealing only with the Japanese and then one amorphous group simply referred to as ‘Westerners’. Lensen argues that the Japanese in fact distinguished between the various nations which arrived on their shores, and that the Russians were actually well-received; that there was no inherent xenophobia as there perhaps was with the other powers.[34] While there were two polar viewpoints, there was also a full range of opinion in between them, as demonstrated above. Crucially, the foreign policymakers such as Abe Masahiro and Hotta Masayoshi, those with the actual power to sign treaties, were resigned to the inevitability of opening trade and dialogues with the West, and decided it would be best to open treaty ports with as little bloodshed as possible. While they were by no means happy about it, the Bakufu were forced to make the best of an ever-worsening situation. The majority of Japanese people however were against the opening of treaty ports, and were therefore strongly opposed to the treaties of 1858, but at no point was there a full consensus.[35]

Word count (including title): 2,990

 

[1] For more information on Perry’s Expedition, see J.E. Thomas, Modern Japan: A Social History since 1868 (Harlow, 1996), pp.18-20, J.E. Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan: An Introductory History Since 1853 (London & New York, 1989), p.17. For more on the negotiations of 1857/8, see W.G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan: Political, Economic and Social Change Since 1850 (Revised Edition) (London, 2000), pp.31-4, E.O. Reishcauer and A.M. Craig, Japan: Tradition and Transformation (Revised Edition) (Boston, 1989), p.121.

[2] C. Totman, ‘From Sakoku to Kaikoku. The Transformation of Foreign-Policy Attitudes, 1853-1868,’ Monumenta Nipponica, 35:1 (1980), p.2. See also J. Houtved, ‘A Japanese Merchant’s View of the Menacing Westerners,’ Kontur (2001), p.25.

[3] Totman, ‘Sakoku,’ p.4.

[4] Totman, ‘Sakoku,’ p.3, Houtved, ‘Japanese,’ p.29.

[5] M.V. Lamberti, ‘Tokugawa Nariaki and the Japanese Imperial Institution, 1853-1858,’ Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 32 (1972), p.108.

[6] W.G. Beasley, ‘The Foreign Threat and the Opening of the Ports,’ in ed. M.B. Jansen, The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), p.272.

[7] A.L. Sadler, A Short History of Japan (Sydney, 1946), p.266, M.B. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan (London, 2002), p.281, Thomas, Modern Japan, p.21, Beasley, Rise, p.32.

[8] Houtved, ‘Japanese,’ p.25, Hunter, Emergence, p.19, Beasley, ‘Foreign Threat,’ p.274, R.L. Stevenson, Familiar Studies of men and books (First published 1882), p.151.

[9] Beasley, Rise, pp.22-4.

[10] Beasley, Rise, p.25.

[11] Sadler, Short History, p.266, Beasley, ‘Foreign Threat,’ p.272.

[12] Sadler, Short History, p.267.

[13] Reischauer et al., Japan, p.119, Thomas, Modern Japan, p.19, Sadler, Short History, p.265, Totman, ‘Sakoku,’ pp.3,8.

[14] Draft memorandum by Hotta Masayoshi on the points to be discussed by the officials responsible for the study of foreign trade, 1857, 3rd Month, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.133.

[15] See Rōjū to all members of the Hyōjōsho, the Kaibōgakari, and the Nagasaki, Shimoda and Hakodate bugyō, 19th March 1857, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), pp.130-1, Daimyō of the Tamari-no-ma to Rōjū, 10th January 1858 , in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.178 and B.T. Wakabayashi, Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early-Modern Japan: The New Theses of 1825 (Cambridge, 1999), p.135.

[16] Thomas, Modern Japan, p.22, Hunter, Emergence, p.17, Houtved, ‘Japanese,’ p.24.

[17] Beasley, Rise, p.30.

[18] Totman, ‘Sakoku,’ pp.10-1, Hunter, Emergence, p.19, Beasley, ‘Foreign Threat,’ p.260.

[19] Beasley, Rise, p.32, Hunter, Emergence, p.19, R.G. Kane, Review: Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy, by M.R. Auslin, Pacific Affairs, 78:4 (2005/6), p.666.

[20] Thomas, Modern Japan, p.17.

[21] Beasley, ‘Foreign Threat,’ pp.291-5, Thomas, Modern Japan, pp.21-2, Reischauer et al., Japan, p.129, P. Barr, The Coming of the Barbarians: A Story of Western Settlement in Japan 1853-1870 (London, 1967), p.160, J. Livingston, J. Moore and F. Oldfather (eds.), The Japan Reader 1, Imperial Japan: 1800-1945 (New York, 1973), p.86.

[22] Beasley, Rise, p.22.

[23] Thomas, Modern Japan, p.19

[24] Thomas, Modern Japan, p.21, Sadler, Short History, p.269, Lamberti, ‘Tokugawa Nariaki,’ p.109.

[25] Imperial Court to Hotta Masayoshi, 3rd May 1858, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.181, Sadler, Short History, p.267, Beasley, Rise, p.33.

[26] Imperial Court to Hotta Masayoshi, 3rd May 1858, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.181, Journal of Utsuki Roku-no-jō, 29th July 1858, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.182.

[27] Tokugawa Nariaki to Rōjū, 30th December 1857, in ed. W.G. Beasley, Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), p.168.

[28] Jansen, Modern Japan, p.280.

[29] Stevenson, Familiar Studies, pp.150-1, Hunter, Emergence, p.17.

[30] Beasley, Rise, p.32, Lamberti, ‘Tokugawa Nariaki,’ pp.107-8, W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955), pp.11-4.

[31] Reischauer et al., Japan, p.121.

[32] Wakabayashi, Anti-Foreignism, pp.140-1.

[33] Totman, ‘Sakoku,’ p.4.

[34] G.A. Lensen, ‘Russians in Japan, 1858-9,’ The Journal of Modern History, 26:2 (1954), pp.165-6.

[35] Lamberti, ‘Tokugawa Nariaki,’ p.114, Beasley, ‘Foreign Threat,’ pp.273-4, Jansen, Modern Japan, p.280.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Daimyō of the Tamari-no-ma to Rōjū, 10th January 1858, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Draft memorandum by Hotta Masayoshi on the points to be discussed by the officials responsible for the study of foreign trade, 1857, 3rd Month, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Imperial Court to Hotta Masayoshi, 3rd May 1858, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Journal of Utsuki Roku-no-jō, 29th July 1858, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Maki Izumi, Letter (Trans. Tomoko Moore), in J. Livingston, J. Moore and F. Oldfather (eds.), The Japan Reader 1, Imperial Japan: 1800-1945 (New York, 1973)

Matsudaira Keiei to Rōjū, 10th January 1858, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Rōjū to all members of the Hyōjōsho, the Kaibōgakari, and the Nagasaki, Shimoda and Hakodate bugyō, 19th March 1857, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Stevenson, R.L., Familiar Studies of men and books (First published 1882)

Tokugawa Nariaki to Rōjū, 30th December 1857, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Townsend Harris’ Warning to Hotta Masayoshi, 12th December 1857

Treaty between the United States and Japan, signed 29th July 1858, in W.G. Beasley (ed.), Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

 Secondary Sources

Barr, P., The Coming of the Barbarians: A Story of Western Settlement in Japan 1853-1870 (London, 1967)

Baylen, J.O., ‘Focus on the Pacific, 1853: A Note on Russia’s Reaction to the Perry Expedition,’ The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 46:1 (1955), pp.19-24

Beasley, W.G., Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868 (London, 1955)

Beasley, W.G., ‘The Foreign Threat and the Opening of the Ports,’ in M.B. Jansen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), pp.259-307

Beasley, W.G., The Rise of Modern Japan: Political, Economic and Social Change Since 1850 (Revised Edition) (London, 2000)

Blussé, L., Visible Cities: Canton, Nagasaki, and Batavia and the Coming of the Americans (Cambridge, 2008)

Houtved, J., ‘A Japanese Merchant’s View of the Menacing Westerners,’ Kontur, (2001) pp.23-9

Hunter, J.E., The Emergence of Modern Japan: An Introductory History Since 1853 (London & New York, 1989)

Jansen, M.B., ‘The Meiji Restoration,’ in M.B. Jansen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1989), pp.308-366

Jansen, M.B., The Making of Modern Japan (London, 2002)

Kane, R.G., Review: Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy, by M.R. Auslin, Pacific Affairs, 78:4 (2005/2006), pp.665-6

Keene, D. Frog in the Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793-1841 (New York, 2006)

Lamberti, M.V., ‘Tokugawa Nariaki and the Japanese Imperial Institution, 1853-1858,’ Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 32 (1972), pp.97-123

Lensen, G.A., ‘Russians in Japan, 1858-9,’ The Journal of Modern History, 26:2 (1954), pp.162-73

Livingston, J., J. Moore and F. Oldfather (eds.), The Japan Reader 1, Imperial Japan: 1800-1945 (New York, 1973)

Masakazu, Y., ‘Re-examining the era of national seclusion,’ Japan Echo, 12:4 (1992)

Mihalopoulos, B., Review: Japan and the Specter of Imperialism, by M. Anderson, The Journal of Asian Studies 71:1 (2012), pp.252-4

Norman, E.H., ‘The Kihetai of Chōshū,’ in J. Livingston, J. Moore and F. Oldfather (eds.), The Japan Reader 1, Imperial Japan: 1800-1945 (New York, 1973), pp.87-9

Paul, H., ‘De Coningh on Deshima. Mijn Verblijf in Japan, 1856,’ Monumenta Nipponica, 32:3 (1977), pp.347-64

Reischauer, E.O., and A.M. Craig, Japan: Tradition and Transformation (Revised Edition) (Boston, 1989)

Sadler, A.L., A Short History of Japan (Sydney, 1946)

Thomas, J.E., Modern Japan: A Social History since 1868 (Harlow, 1996)

Totman, C., ‘From Sakoku to Kaikoku. The Transformation of Foreign-Policy Attitudes, 1853-1868,’ Monumenta Nipponica, 35:1 (1980), pp.1-19

Wakabayashi, B.T., Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early-Modern Japan: The New Theses of 1825 (Cambridge, 1999)

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General Comments and Advice: A lucid analysis, setting out a useful analytical framework by identifying poles of a notional spectrum and identifying degrees of affiliation in between. To some extent, the construct breaks down when looking in further detail, as you allude to later on, and not all the examples deployed are optimal choices. Ito Hirobumi, for example, was actually a member of the joi band that burnt down the British Legation! And Watanabe Kazan should really have featured when discussing kaikoku. There are also one or two sloppy factual errors on dates or scale – e.g. Mito a small domain? Nevertheless, this is an engaging critique, and you certainly demonstrate a sophisticated awareness of the poltical landscape in Japan, including a perceptive summary of sonno joi and some excellent insight on the real agenda behind the more strident rhetoric emanating from the court.

 

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