Late Tokugawa reform & foreign policy, or, What to do about those barbarians?

Faced with an impasse over how to respond to the American demands that Japan open its borders, the bakufu took the unusual step of asking the court and the daimyo what to do. The result was a series of memorials (position papers) advising the bakufu how to respond to the crisis. In this assignment, I?d like you to pose as one of these daimyo and write an essay advising the bakufu (i.e., me) how to deal with the ?barbarians.?

First, though, some background. The focus of our study this week has been the Japanese response to the appearance of two sets of threats to the political and social order. The spread of a money economy and the growth of commerce put an increasing share of the wealth of the nation into the hands of the officially despised merchant class. At the same time, new relations in the production, distribution, and the consumption of goods and services in burgeoning markets of the urban centers wreaked havoc with the social order envisioned in the bakufu?s basic ideology, not to mention the finances of the struggling middle and lower ranks of the samurai class. During the 1830s, a string of manmade and natural disasters strained the Tokugawa government?s coffers and worsened the plight the peasantry. In short, from the early nineteenth century, the Tokugawa regime faced a series of increasingly acute crises that challenged the social and political order it had built over the preceding 200 years.

Into this sea of troubles sailed the Western ?barbarians.? Russian explorers, fishermen, and fur traders began to appear on the northern borders of the realm from the 1770s on. a number of English and American ships showed up uninvited?and were curtly asked to leave. Eventually, of course, Commodore Perry arrived at the head of fleet that refused to leave (metaphorically, at least) until Japan had acceded to demands for trade. The foreign pressure sparked a debate over Japan?s relations with the outside world?and catalyzed, more generally, a debate about the Tokugawa order. We can identify four schools of thought, generally aligned along an axis extending from those who advocated ?expelling the barbarians? (j?i) to those who advocated ?opening the country? (kaikoku).

In the j?i camp, we have 1) Mito Scholars such as Aizawa Seishisai and Fujita T?ko and 2) ?imperial loyalists? such as Yoshida Sh?in and Tokugawa Nariaki. On the kaikoku side are 3) scholars of ?Dutch learning? (Rangaku) such as Sakuma Sh?zan; and 4) Bakufu supporters, such as Ii Naosuke.

Your task will be to become familiar with these arguments, so as to be able to write an essay advising the Bakufu how to deal with the foreigners. You can adopt the stance of one of the groups, or you can try to find a middle path between the various positions. You should strive to avoid anachronism?try to see the situation as Japanese of the time saw it: they didn?t know that the US was destined to become a superpower, and you shouldn?t either.