6. PART 2: Bakumatsu 1850-60s

Primer questions:

Along with the Sengoku period, the Bakumatsu period can be considered one of the two most turbulent times of Japanese history. Both were eras of bloodshed and change. Sengoku resulted in the unification and isolation of Edo Japan, whereas Bakumatsu resulted in its opening and westernization. The Tokugawa Shogunate was being challenged both at home and abroad, and its failure to react fast enough to the changes in its surrounding environment ultimately led to its downfall.

Even before Perry came to “open” the country in 1853 and 1854, Japan was having scrapes with Western powers determined to usurp Holland’s tenuous hold on her trade market through her only window to the world; Dejima in Nagasaki. Although Dejima was originally built for Portuguese traders, these were expelled from the country in 1639 with the complete ban on Christianity. The Dutch East Indies company had had their own trading post in Hirado, however, and were ordered to move in 1640 to Dejima. For over 200 years, Dutch and Chinese traders at Dejima were the only contact Japan had with the outside world.

Almost. There were others. Engelbert Kampfer. Giovanni Batista Sidotti. Martin Spangberg. The HMS Phaeton. Philipp Franz von Siebold. Ranald Macdonald. Each of these brought news of the changing outside world and served as tiny windows between Japan and their home countries. But it was not enough, until Commodore Perry came from the US with his ultimatum of “open or we will open you”.
Initially, it was the Bakufu that tried, in its way, to open the country gradually through learning about the westerners and working with them. Other parts of country, however, were frustrated with the Bakufu’s weak responses. Cries of Sonno Joi (尊王攘夷) or revere the emperor and expel the barbarians, echoed around the land, and the Bakufu came to bear the brunt of that frustration.
One of the greatest leaders of this way of thinking was Yoshida Shoin in Choshu (Yamaguchi). From his teachings at Soka-sonjuku, future leaders of new Japan were being raised, including Ito Hirobumi. Moreover, both Choshu and Satsuma were defying Bakufu orders and secretly sending young scholars out to see the world. The Choshu five (including Ito Hirobumi and Inoue Kaoru) and the Satsuma 16 would become some of early Meiji’s most famous leaders.
Although the conservative Hosokawa government in Higo favored the Tokugawa Shogunate, there was a forward-looking thinker named Yokoi Shonan here, too. He greatly influenced Bakumatsu greats such as Katsu Kaishu, Sakamoto Ryoma, Yoshida Shoin, Matsudaira Shungaku and Yuri Kimimasa. His 7 principles for a new government were adopted by Sakamoto Ryoma (as the 8 principles on the boat) which were then used as the basis for the first Meiji constitution developed by Yuri Kimimasa. He also sent his own two young nephews secretly to the US, who became the first two Japanese students at Rutgers College in New Jersey.
According to Motoyama (translated by Tsurumi, ), Bakumatsu Higo was a microcosm of the different ways of thought that were in the winds in those days. There were three major schools of thought:
1. the pro-Bakufu Confucian clan school Jisshukan (実習館)and Gakkoto(学校党)
2. the Sonno-Joi (尊王攘夷)school run by Hayashi Oen  (林おうえん)and Kinnoto (謹皇党)
3. the progressive, pro-western fukoku-kyohei (富国強兵)school and Jitsugakuto (実学党) of Yokoi Shonan (横井小楠).

Each of these produced great historical figures: from Miyabe Teizo (宮部貞蔵)and Kawakami Gensui (川上げんすい) model of the famous Rurouni Kenshin), to Inoue Kowashi (井上毅)and Motoda Nagazane(元田長真), crafters of the Meiji Constitution (明治憲法 1889) and the Imperial Rescript on Education (教育勅語1890).

But it was the Jitsugakuto that took charge of the early Meiji government in Kumamoto. The younger nephew of Shonan, Yokoi Daihei (横井大平), returned from Rutgers in 1869 with tuberculosis (the same year his father was assassinated in Kyoto), brought a message to this government that to survive, Kumamoto needed to learn quickly from the West by opening a Western school.

For more information: