start with the sudden landing of the American fleet under Commodore
Matthew Perry in July 1853. The Meiji Restoration was a historical necessity,
it would have happened anyway eventually. Perry and his 'Black Ships'
was only a catalyst; or he precipitated the conclusion of the process
that had started long way back before he showed up at the Japanese shore
out of the blue.
Perry's 'Black Ship' in July 1853.
Perry took the Mississippi, Susquehanna, Saratoga
and Plymouth in this first landing. Japanese moms in Yokohama
told their kids not to make a scene or get messy around the house lest
the 'Black Ship' came to devour them to the last byte.
did it shake Japan so? Hadn't they seen ships before?
That's the simple question that fans of today's anime series Rurouni
Kenshin (Samurai X) keep on
answer is, no, they hadn't.
Not for their entire lives.
their fathers and mothers, either.
Not their grandpas and grandmas.
Not their great-grandparents.
Not even their great-great grandfathers and grandmothers.
Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu closed all Japanese ports from foreign vessels
since the end of 1630's. And he set the limit of tonnage for ship-building;
the permissible standard was such that none of it could be used to cross
-- one of his official portraits
is how the Japanese saw him.
Still wonder why the moms of 1853 used him
to scare kids?
WHO FOUGHT AGAINST EMPEROR MEIJI'S ARMY
agreed with his advisors
that the era of the swords
must end. He was only 15 when
ascending the throne.
(That's his original official snapshot).
samurai of the same era
fought to the last for the feudal regime
that they knew so well, risking to get
branded as 'enemies of the State'.
(They're for real. That's an original photo.)
The imperial insignia:
against an army
was a rebel against
the Empire itself.
risked it for a while,
with a great loss.
A real-life Satsuma
warrior in 1870
Real-life Tokugawa samurai
EMPERORS, EMPRESSES, SHOGUNS, AND RULERS OF JAPAN SINCE
660 B.C.E UNTIL TODAY
-- after the Emperor obliged them to get rid of 'the Old ways'.
The snapshot was taken in 1878, a decade after the Emperor's victory.
The new administration went so far to strip these people off everything
that warlords' castles that should have been some national assets were
put on sale.
FOR THE WARLORDS IN MEIJI WAR
warlords in the Meiji War were not so simply divided into 2 factions.
Some of them took to Emperor Meiji's side, some were fighting for the
some were neutral, and some were fighting against both
the Emperor and the Shogun at once.
caught up quickly; the Industrial Expo of 1877 was presentable.
For the first time, there was lavish gaslight in the country.
legacy in 2005 includes this awesome imperial garden (but it is a public
If you must name just ONE man responsible for the
Japanese 'modernism' of Emperor Meiji's years, say 'Sakamoto'.
He was nothing but an ordinary samurai of the unmentionable rank
as far as Tokugawa feudalism was concerned, yet in the heat of
revolution, in 1867, he was the one who managed to talk the last
of the Minamoto-Tokugawa rulers out to abdicate. And he didn't
have time to see himself being canonized by history; barely 30
days after that he was assassinated. What usually makes the Meiji
Restoration impenetrable to outsiders is the fact that it was
no simple biz of either This or That. Loyalty was flimsy, and
no one stood against the Emperor no matter what they
did. So it's darn hard to nail down a hero of the day. Sakamoto,
the hardcore "Kick the Barbarians' A**!" flock, the
"Viva the Emperor!" crowd, the "Great Japan for
Samurai!" bunch -- in short, the various points of view and
deeds to those ends -- all might have deserved credits. The Japanese
animation moviemakers love Sakamoto Ryoma; he was the main character
in Oi! Ryoma! (1992), directed by Sasakawa
Hiroshi & Kagawa Yutaka. Also in Armored Chronicle
Hio (Karakuri Den Hio Senki, 2000), by
Amino Tetsuro, Drifting Clouds (Ukigumo,
1982), by Masaki Mamoru.
in the movie titled by his name,
starring Sorimachi Takashi.
LAST SHOGUN ON EARTH :
like the history of the last emperor of the Manchunese dynasty
Pu Yi in early Republican days of China, the end of the Tokugawa
shogunate does look kind of saddening today. In 1867 Commodore
of the U.S. of A insisted on handing his formal dox to "the
ruler of Japan", and they got a teacher from today's
Tokyo instead of anyone from the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. This
teacher who's only known as 'Hayashi'
was sent as a temporary envoy by Tokugawa, representing the Shogun.
Back from the meeting, he hauled official presents from President
to the Tokugawan Castle of Tokyo. Those gifts, addressed to 'His
Majesty the Sovereign of Japan', stayed unopened in their packages
for years, moved the way they came in when Tokugawa had given
back political power to Emperor
and got to evacuate the castle that was now a property of the
State. The Emperor might not have intended to fling an irony,
but he let Tokugawa to keep the presents. You wouldn't like a
single sec of being in his shoes whenever he looked at them.
the last of the Tokugawas,
in a movie titled the same (1998),
starring Masahiro Motoki
Lord of Satsuma
leader of Shinsengumi
Minister of Interior
Those are all original photographs of the real
persons. Lord Saigo
of Kagoshima was the leader of the anti-Restoration movement,
after he helped the Emperor to end the Tokugawa shogunate.
It wasn't that he loved the Tokugawa shogunate, or he
was loyal to Yoshinobu, or something; he fought the regime as
hard as he did the new order -- when he found his ideals evaporated
in the wind of change and from there all he saw was a point of
no return. Tom Cruise's movie The Last Samurai was loosely
based on this remarkable man's bio. Great
swordsman Hijikata as a leader of
the Shinsengumi left Kyoto to fight the Restoration army in remote
provinces. It was a mere job for the pack. The Shinsengumi lost
too many men in the battles against the Imperial Army. Worse,
by keeping on fighting they would have been branded as enemies
of the State, and that was the ultimate disgrace for a samurai.
Ito Hirobumi led
the pro-Restoration movement, thinking that if civil war was navoidable
then at least they'd know friends from foes.
Toshimichi as the pivotal personality in
the turbulent era lost his life assassinated by anti-Restoration
band of samurai, allegedly what remained of the Satsuma warriors.
Manga artist Watsuki Nobuhiro features this VIP of the Meiji era
in his series Rurouni Kenshin, Meiji Kenkaku Romantan,
as Okubo was in real life -- a central, commanding figure behind
all the sociopolitical upheaval that ushered Japan into the so-called
the pictures for detailed accounts, stories, pictures, and related
HERE FOR THE WARLORDS IN MEIJI WAR
EMPEROR'S ARMY VERSUS THE REAL-LIFE LAST SAMURAI : THE LAST
entire atmophere around the real-life last samurai of Japan, see the
anime movie A
Tree in the Sun (Hidamari no Ki, 2000),
directed by Sugii Gisaburo and Mizuno Rei. It's based on the comic book
made by none other than 'the Christ' of the Japanese manga
and animation movies, Tezuka Osamu, inspired by the bio of his own great-grandfather
who was a Western-educated physician of the Meiji era. And
if you haven't even seen what Hollywood has made out of this same history
of Japan, click here.
Meiji era's conflict between the
old & the new is
explored in Hidamari no Ki (in the pic:
'Westernized' doc versus old-school samurai, the same contrast
is featured in Mibu Gishiden)
Tom Cruise's movie The
Last Samurai, 2003, picks
up the same theme (in the pic: a country samurai versus a bunch
of Tokyo cops). Click the pic to see movie scenes.
here for the chronology of events that led to the Meiji War 1863-1891