1 Ch. 36: The Debate Over Seclusion and Restoration



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Of course, I knew that America was a republic with a new president every four years, but I could not help feeling that the family of Washington should be regarded as apart from all other families. My reasoning was based on the reverence in Japan for the founders of the great lines of rulers—like that for Ieyasu of the Tokugawa family of shoguns, really deified in the popular mind. So I remember the intense astonishment I felt at receiving this indifferent answer about the Washington family. As for scientific inventions and industrial machinery, there was no great novelty in them for me. It was more in matters of life and conventions of social custom and ways of thinking that I found myself at a loss in America. [pp. 121-25]

While we were in London, a certain member of the Parliament sent us a copy of a bill which he said he had proposed in the House under the name of the party to which he belonged. The bill was a protest against the arrogant attitude of the British minister to Japan, Alcock, who had at times acted as if Japan were a country conquered by military force. One of the instances mentioned in the bill was that of Alcock's riding his horse into the sacred temple grounds of Shiba, an unpardonable insult to the Japanese.

On reading the copy of this bill, I felt as if “a load had been lifted from my chest.” After all, the foreigners were not all “devils.” I had felt that Japan was enduring some pointed affronts on the part of the foreign ministers who presumed on the ignorance of our government. But now that I had actually come to the minister's native land, I found that there were among them some truly impartial and warm-hearted human beings. So after this I grew even more determined in my doctrine of free intercourse with the rest of the world. [pp. 138-39]

During this mission in Europe I tried to learn some of the most commonplace details of foreign culture. I did not care to study scientific or technical subjects while on the journey, because I could study them as well from books after I had returned home. But I felt that I had to learn the more common matters of daily life directly from the people, because the Europeans would not describe them in books as being too obvious. Yet to us those common matters were the most difficult to comprehend.

For instance, when I saw a hospital, I wanted to know how it was run—who paid the running expenses; when I visited a bank, I wished to learn how the money was deposited and paid out. By similar firsthand queries, I learned something of the postal system and the military conscription then in force in France but not in England. A perplexing institution was representative government.

When I asked a gentleman what the “election law” was and what kind of institution the Parliament really was, he simply replied with a smile, meaning I suppose that no intelligent person was expected to ask such a question. But these were the things most difficult of all for me to understand. In this connection, I learned that there were different political parties—the Liberal and the Conservative—who were always “fighting” against each other in the government.

For some time it was beyond my comprehension to understand what they were “fighting” for, and what was meant, anyway, by “fighting” in peace time. “This man and that man are 'enemies' in the House,” they would tell me. But these “enemies” were to be seen at the same table, eating and drinking with each other. I felt as if I could not make much out of this. It took me a long time, with some tedious thinking, before I could gather a general notion of these separate mysterious facts. In some of the more complicated matters, I might achieve an understanding five or ten days after they were explained to me. But all in all, I learned much from this initial tour of Europe. [pp. 142-44]

In the beginning my reputation in my lord's household was very bad, for I was simply an upstart samurai who had studied some foreign sciences, traveled in strange lands, and was now writing books to advocate very unconventional ideas; moreover I was finding fault with the venerable Chinese culture—a very dangerous heretic. I can imagine the kind of reports made about me to the inner household.

But when years passed and times had changed, the whole country turning inevitably toward the new culture, my class came to find that this Fukuzawa was not so spiteful a person as was thought, and that he might really prove useful in some way. A certain chancellor named Shimazu Yutaro was the first to see the situation and speak well of me in the feudal household.

At that time there was a certain lady dowager in the household whom people called Horen-in Sama. She was of very noble lineage, having come from the great house of Hitotsu-bashi, and now at her advanced age she was held in particular respect by the whole household.

In conversing with this lady, Shimazu described much of the medicine and navigation and other sciences of the Western lands; also the customs which were very different from our own. The most remarkable of all the Western customs, he told her, was the relation between men and women; there men and women had equal rights, and monogamy was the strict rule in any class of people—this, at least, might be a merit of the Western customs.



The lady dowager could not help being moved by this conversation, for she had had some unhappy trials in earlier days. As if her eyes were suddenly opened to something new, she expressed a desire to make the acquaintance of Fukuzawa. When I was admitted to her presence, she found that I was quite an ordinary man—though often called a heretic, I had no horns on my head nor tail beneath my formal skirt. So she gradually began to place confidence in me. Many years later Shimazu told me all about this, and then I learned how I was first admitted to the inner household of the lord.

[Kiyooka, Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi, pp. 118-44, 326-27]

Reform Proposals of Sakamoto RyÇma, Saigo Takamori and Ækubo Toshimichi

In the events leading up to the Restoration negotiations were conducted among the principal proponents of Imperial Restoration as to what steps should be taken to replace the Tokugawa shoguante and inaugurate Imperial rule. Two proposals by leading players in the process outlined programs on the basis of which the transition could be made from shogunal to Imperial rule.

One was offered by Sakamoto RyÇma (1835-1867) a Tosa samurai and imperial loyalist, who facilitated a united front between the powerful Satsuma and ChÇshu domains; the other was drawn up by Satsuma leaders, including Saigo Takamori (1828-1877) and Ækubo Toshimichi (1830-1878) who became prominent figures in the early Meiji scene (see Ch. xx).

These proposals reflect a shift in emphasis from Sakamoto's moderate stance, emphasizing cooperation between the shogunate and Court to achieve national unity, to the outright replacement of the shogunate by a new political process. Likewise the early emphasis in the first proposal on the importance of “public consultation”(kÇgi) or public opinion (kÇron), assuming a broad consensus among the participants on the basis of which problems could be resolved, gives way in the second document to a call for decisive leadership and direct action, taking the place of what is impatiently dismissed as endless debate on the matter.

Sakamoto RyÇma: Eight-Point Proposal of 1867

1. Political power of the entire country should be returned to the Imperial Court, and all decrees should be issued by the Court.



2. There should be established an Upper and a Lower Legislative House which should participate in making decisions pertaining to all governmental policies. All governmental policies should be decided on the basis of deliberation openly arrived at (kÇgi).

3. Men of ability among the court nobles, daimyÇ and people at large should be appointed as councillors and receive appropriate offices and titles. Those sinecure positions of the past should be abolished.

4. In dealing with foreign countries, appropriate regulations should be newly established which would take into account broadly the deliberation openly arrived at.

5. The laws and regulations (ritsu-ryÇ) of earlier times should be scrutinized [to preserve only those provision which are still applicable], and a great new code to last forever should be promulgated.

6. The navy should be properly expanded.

7. An Imperial Guard [directly controlled by the Imperial Court, and not dependent on the bakufu or various han] should be set up to defend the capital.

8. There should be a law established to equalize the value of gold, silver, and goods with those of foreign countries.


The above eight-point program is proposed after due consideration of the present state of affairs in the nation. When this is proclaimed both internally and externally to all the countries, it becomes inconceivable to think of engaging in the urgent talk of alleviating the current crisis outside of this program. If with determination these policies are carried out, the fortunes of His majesty will be restored, national strength will increase, and it will not be difficult to attain the position of equality with all other nations. We pray that based on the enlightened and righteous reason (dÇri), the Imperial Government will act decisively to undertake the path of renewal and reform of the country.

[Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, pp. 301-02]

Letter of SaigÇ and Ækubo on the Imperial Restoration, 1867

(addressed to Iwakura Tomomi, leading figure at the Kyoto court)

When with great resolve, a policy of establishing the foundation for the imperial restoration is proclaimed, there is bound to be a great deal of confusion. People have been contaminated by the old habit of settling down into the more than two hundred years of peace. If we decide to resort to arms, it can conversely have the salutary effect of renewing the spirit of all people under Heaven, and pacifying the central regions of the country. Therefore we deem it the most urgent task to decide for war, and to find victory in the most difficult situation.

It is a well established principle that one must not take up arms because one loves warfare. However, if everything is allowed to proceed as it is, and the great issue of how to govern the country is delegated merely to the hard work of the Imperial Court and to the consensus (kÇron) reached by the three highest positions within the council of State (DajÇkan), then war is to be preferred. In the olden days, when great works were begun, how to conserve such great works was hardly decided by debates. Even those [debaters] who were exceptionally well endowed did not escape criticism from later generations of scholars. The situation is even more critical today with the deteriorating conditions. We urge you to think through the matter carefully and consider all the alternatives. It is most important that the first step in the new government is not a mistaken one.

On the important matter of how to deal with the Tokugawa family, we have been informed of the outline of a secret decision. We heartily concur with your decision through a secret edict to order the [former] Lords of Owari (Tokugawa Yoshikatsu, 1824-1883) and Echizen (Matsudaira Yoshinaga, 1828-1890) to become intermediaries in arranging for the shÇgun's immediate repentance and restitution. This is indeed an appropriate and magnanimous gesture.

The danger which has befallen our imperial country today is due to the great crime committed by the bakufu. This fact is very well established, and two months earlier, on the thirteenth day, you did reach a decision to impose certain penalties. At the present time, regardless of whatever arguments may be advanced, it is necessary to demote the shÇgun to the position of a mere daimyÇ, reduce his official rank by one degree, let him return his domains, and let him ask for pardon of his sins.1 Unless these measures are followed, whatever we do will be contrary to the consensus (kÇron, or broadly public opinion) and there is no way the public can be satisfied. These secret understandings which we reached previously must not be changed in any manner.

If the mediation through the Lords of Owari and Echizen does not succeed, it shows very clearly that the shÇgun fails to appreciate the magnanimity of the Imperial Court, works against the consensus, and is not truly penitent. In that event an imperial command must be given immediately and resolutely to implement the above measure. . . .

If we fail to take these appropriate measures, we will be acting contrary to principle and consensus at the initial phase of the imperial restoration. Then the fortunes of the imperial power will suffer, and the great ills of the past years will resurface . . . . May we beg you to consider the matter carefully, and also consult with the three ministers to arrive at a resolute decision. . . .

Eighth day of the twelfth month, 1867

Iwashita Sajiuemon

Saigo Kichinosuke (Takamori)

Okubo IchizÇ (Toshimichi)



[Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, pp. 302-03]

1  Takasu, Shinron kÇwa, p. 253.

1  Takasu, Shinron kÇwa, pp. 71-72.

1  NST v. 53, pp. 230-57 KÇdÇkanki, Taishoku kanwa.

1  According to Confucian theory Heaven, Earth, and Man form a harmonious Triad, the balance of which may be temporarily upset by the evil actions of men.

1  shin: In the Confucian context most often “minister;” in the Japanese context often “retainer” or “samurai.” Here the samurai's extreme sense of duty is being generalized and attributed to all subjects.

2  Or principle of righteousness.

3  Properties of the Three Imperial Regalia: jewel, mirror, and sword.

1  The question implies that these truths have a mysterious power so that they may be perpetuated in the life and experience of the people even though they have not been committed to writing. The subsequent passage explains how this mysterious power operates.

2  The early Japanese word for government (matsuri-goto) is a compound based on the word for religious rite (matsuri) and “'affairs” (goto), indicating a close association of political and religious functions.

1  Lit. the “Central Kingdom,” the usual Chinese name for China. For its application to Japan, see Ch. 22 and 24.

2 Refers to the “national polity” (kokutai), especially as found in the divine origins of the country and the dynasty, and as embodied in those moral values and virtues which are considered indispensable to social unity and order.

1  Referring to the uprising of Christians at Shimabara, near Nagasaki, in 1637-38.

1  As summarized by Sansom in The Western World and Japan, p. 254.

1  Analects, 2:4.

1  See Sources of Chinese Tradition, 2nd ed., Ch. 28, 30. Wei Yüan (1794-1856) is probably the first exponent of this point of view in China. Sakuma ShÇzan, in his work Seiken-roku mentions having read a work of Wei's on China's defense policies in 1850-51, and asserts that each of them had arrived at the same general conclusion independently. Sakuma's memorial on Japanese maritime defense was drawn up in the winter of 1842-43, while Wei completed his Shengwu-ji in the summer of 1842.

1  Scholar and associate of the Commissioner Lin Zexu, whose attempt to suppress the opium trade at Canton led to the war with the British. Wei's book, Shengwu- ji (Record of Imperial Military Exploits of the Manchu Dynasty) was finished just after the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing ending the Opium War. (See Sources of Chinese Tradition, V. 2, pp. 207-09.)

1  Correct name Haiguo tuzhi (Illustrated Gazetteer of the Maritime Countries), compiled by Lin Tse-hsü and Wei Yüan, 1841. (See Sources of Chinese Tradition, V. 2, pp. 209-12.)

1  See Sources of Chinese Tradition II, pp. 184, 206.

1  Nihon kikÇ, the Japanese translation of Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan under the Command of Commodore M. C. Perry.

1  See his “Questions and Answers on Schooling,” (GakkÇ mondÇsho) in NST 55, 428-33; also pp. 496-8 for similar questions addressed in Kumamoto.

1  KatÇ Kiyomasa added a short, slightly curved cross-piece about a foot from the tip of the lance, in order to make it easier to retract the lance after an enemy had been pierced. Tombo-giri originally was the name of Honda Tadakatsu's famous spear. He was one of Ieyasu's great generals.

1  Miyamoto Musashi or Niten was a master of Zen-style monochrome painting as well as of swordsmanship.

1  The first reference is to Zhu Xi's preface to the Great Learning (see Sources of Chinese Tradition I, 722-4). The second is to Zhu's Elementary Learning (see Sources of Chinese Tradition I, 803-4). ShÇnan does not disagree with Zhu Xi but only with later Neo-Confucians who fail to fulfill these aims.

2  Contrary to Zhu Xi's recommendations in his post-face to Articles of the White Deer Grotto Academy, which deplored the use of rules and regulations.. See Sources of Chinese Tradition I, 743-4.

1  See Sources of Chinese Tradition, v. I, pp. 213-23.

1  This type of reasoning follows the opening text attributed to Confucius in the Great Learning, and echoed by ShÇin's teacher, Sakuma ShÇzan (see p. xx).

1  SÇmÇ eiyã, lit. “Grass-clump heroes.”

1  SaigÇ originally favored death for ShÇgun Yoshinobu, but British Minister Harry Parkes advised SaigÇ that in such an event all foreign powers might side with the bakufu.

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