AD 1864-65 Kosanji Uprising — Background #1 : The Decline of the Shogunate (Part Three)

Jul 2018
Hong Kong—-background-1-the-decline-of-the-shogunate-part-one.172184/ <--- For any Japanese term you’re unfamiliar in this thread, just check this dictionary for reference—-background-2-the-decline-of-the-shogunate-part-two.172185/ <--- click here to return to the second part of the story

The aftereffect of kaikoku

The opening of ports, compounded with the signing of treaties, brought the extraordinary oscillation to the economy of Japan, effectively transformed Japan from stagnant feudalism into modern capitalism with the titanic impact upon the life of the Japanese.

9. The scenery of Yokohama.jpg
The scenery of Maeda Bridge (前田橋) in Yokohama in the painting

As Japan was compelled to open the ports including Yokohama (横浜), Nagasaki (長崎), Niigata (新瀉) and Hakogate (箱館), the Japanese suffered the aggravated trade deficit in spite of the flourishing trade. The unfavorable balance of trade was caused by the huge expenditure for manufactured goods such as mass-produced cotton textiles and woolen textiles, and military armaments such like gunboats and firearms. On the contrary, the Japanese exportation was wholly the “raw materials” like raw silk, tea leaves, seafood…etc, no wonder the prodigious import surplus was created. Furthermore, the Westerners’ massive procurement caused the huge strain on the supplies of Japan, leading to the rocketing price in Japan, which in turn invited the astounding gap of gold-silver price parity between Japan and the Western Powers. And here was the contemporary rate of exchange of the gold-silver price parity :

10. Gold-silver exchange ratio in the contemporary era.jpg

As the above diagram showed, the financial strength of Japan was deadly crippled due to the heavy outflow of gold, consequential to the devalue of currency.

The Shogunate attempted to raise the value of currency by reform to curbing the outflow of gold : issuing the new type of gold coins. But the newly-forged currency was extremely poor in quality, only propelled the price skyrocketing that deeply traumatized the people’s daily life.

Plagued by the financial difficulties, the Shogunate had no better option but imposing heavier taxes upon peasants and cut the salaries of retainers, in order to handling the ever-increasing military expenditure owing to the dreadful pressure from the Western Powers. Yet it extraordinarily enhanced the burden of the low-rank samurai and commoners which were largely being tortured in heavy debt and by impoverished life.

Simultaneously, the developing rural textile industry was also ruined by the swarming importation of the Western products since it was utterly powerless to compete with them. As a result, the native Japanese production greatly reduced and shattered the foundation of the Japanese industry and agriculture.

All these adverse factors, convinced the Japanese that they would only suffer with kaikoku, which was the result of the incompetence of the Shogunate that allowed the foreign businessmen and capitalists to butch them like goats. Hence, the xenophobia was sowed.

On the other hand, the foreigners obtained the extraterritoriality from the unequal treaties. The foreign traders, outlaws and consuls could go unpunished even they had committed crimes in Japan under the disguise of being sent back to their home country for trial, aroused much indignation among the Japanese and exacerbated their resentment towards the foreigners, leading to the maelstorm known as soi ; such xenophobia steadily transformed into the motivation of anti-Shogunate activity, became a crucial factor in shaping the political and social circumstances of the Bakumatsu Period.

11. what is soi.jpg
The caricature depicting the unrealistic way of soi by sumo (相撲, the Japanese famous athletics)

The Ikki swarmed, the society insecured

In the late Edo Period, the society was dangerously unstable with the often breakout of Ikki. Except the constant aggravation of price soaring, most of the commoners were also suffering the increasing taxes attributed to the Shogunate’s financial strain, resulting in their poverty-stricken livelihood. Moreover, the constant tumult and wars greatly hindered the circulation of necessities such as rice, caused the soaring price of rice, culminated with the large-scale riot organized by peasants and urban residents who appealed to violence ; they ransacked the rice shops, assaulted the residence of murayakunin (村役人) and the office of daikan (代官), and even planned to kill the foreigners for venting their anger, caused the widespread upheaval in numerous places.

While the social unrest was going on, the jonno soi faction had been also conducting various rioting activities in large cities as Kyoto and Edo, howling the slogan of “defend the emperor”, raising insurrection, burning the foreign embassy, carrying out the tenchu (天誅, “righteous kill on behalf of the heaven”)…etc. The surge of terrorism sweeping across Japan became very troublesome for the Shogunate. This was the appalling reality at the contemporary time.

12. Ikko movement.jpg
The Ikki movement of the Mito commoners drawn


AD 1864-65 Kosanji Uprising — Background #1 : The Decline of the Shogunate — Chronology <--- for helping you tidy what you have learnt from this story, you may check this chronology for reference

While the Shogunate started downhill, the jonno soi activities had been growing tempestuous that threw the politics of Japan into greater chaos. This was the context of what Takasugi Shinsaku witnessed in his young age, and with his impetuosity, he was destined to perform great deeds in this turbulent era !

In the next chapter, I’ll change the point-of-view to the Choshu Domain, narrate its grudge towards the Shogunate to explain why would Choshu become the vanguard in the anti-Shogunate storm, and how Choshu garnered sufficient power to challenge the Shogunate. Stay tuned, everybody.
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