A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds

By L. M. Cullen | Go to book overview

7
Fashioning a state and a foreign policy:
Japan 1868–1919

The regime's collapse of the 1860s was set in motion by outside events, and, once the immediate crisis was over, immobilism was in danger of reasserting itself. In 1869 an assembly of representatives of the han, while showing opposition to the shogunate and support for the ideals of Mito and the southern tozama, by addressing itself first to peripheral issues proved an ineffective body. 1 Constitutional change was from the outset to test the patience of those outside the circle of early political decision makers. In such a context the burning sense of injustice inherent in the inequality imposed on Japan by the treaties was an essential ingredient for maintaining consensus. Public opinion, increasingly well—defined and shaped by a press, contributed powerfully in the 1880s to defining the moods of a new Japan. The abortive efforts of the 1870s to renegotiate the treaties were followed by overt foot—dragging from the treaty nations in the 1880s. Japanese nationalism in the modern sense of the term, a very vague concept in Tokugawa times, was really born in this period. 2

Even before the immediate problems of the Restoration had been dealt with, the Iwakura mission, taking with it half of the important political figures of the Restoration including Ōkubo Toshimichi (1830–78), Itō and Kido went abroad for the years 1871–3 (so conscious were they of the risks inherent in so many going that they sought an undertaking from those remaining not to take major decisions). 3 The mission brought with it some fifty young men who were to study abroad. Its purpose was to renegotiate the treaties, as review of the original treaties was possible

____________________
1
PP Japan, vol. 2, pp.652–8, Summary of events in Japan during the year 1869. For a good account of events in 1869–71, see A. M. Craig, 'The central goverment', in Jansen and Rozman, Japan in transition, pp.48–58.
2
Mitani, Meiji ishin to nashonarizumu.
3
I. Nish, The Iwakura mission in America and England: a new assessment (Richmond, Surrey, 1998); Beasley, Japan encounters the barbarian, pp.157–77. The report of the secretary of the mission, Kume Kunitake, has been translated recently into English. It makes extensive and fascinating reading. See The Iwakura embassy, 1871–73: a true account of the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary's journey of observation… compiled by Kume Kunitake, ed. Graham Healey and Chushichi Tsuzuki, 5 vols. (Tokyo, 2002).

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