Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Last Shogun

I just finished reading the book "The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu". This book explains what led to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun in 1868 and the restoration of the Emperor.

The Tokugawa Bakufu or Shoganate lasted over 250 years until its collapse in 1868. As many know, the foreign intrusion was a major factor in its demise. But by itself it was not the reason for the collapse. It was the culmination of several things that finally occurred at the same time that led to it. From the foreigners to fiscal and economic crisis to political crisis and lack of strong leadership. The foreign intrusion just provided the spark. There were many people in Japan who felt the Bakufu had disgraced Japan by giving into the barbarians. The coalition of samurai, some powerful domains, and the Imperial Court finally defeated the Tokugawa Bakufu.

The fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate was one of the great events in Asian and world history. It changed Japan from a nation of isolation to a nation that now had to not only prevent its subjugation at the hands of world powers but to become a world power themselves.

I have read several books on Japanese history. What I have come to believe is the linkage from the fall of the Tokugawa Shoguns all the way through Japan's eventual destruction in 1945. This may be an oversimplification but this is how I see how Japan moved from 1868 to 1945.

In the 1860s, Japan was officially isolated from the rest of the world. But the world was changing. Foreign powers were exerting their influence in Asia. America, France, Russia, England and others were using their power to control China and other parts of Asia. Then in 1853, the American's came to Japan in their black ships. Later, England and France threatened, and sometimes used, force to get the Shogunate to open up and forcing the Bakufu to sign unequal treaties.

With the fall of the Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor in 1868, Japan went on a rapid program of economic and military development in order to withstand the foreign powers and eventually to grow Japan's influence in Asia.

This led to Japan's first major confrontation with a foreign power in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. Japan defeated Russia in that war and gained the title of a world power. All this in a little over 30 years.

From that, Japan continued its goal of competing against the other powers by subjugating Korea, China and the rest of Asia and all of this ultimately led to World War II.


  1. Anonymous10:01 PM

    A fascinating period in Japanese history. I caught the end of an NHK program a few months ago which mentioned something I had not known as being one of the causes of the Tokugawa collapse: hyperinflation.

    Apparently, the bakufu had pegged the value of silver to be 1/10th that of gold, whereas the world market at the time traded for around 1/3rd the price. So foreign traders would come to Japan with gold, buy silver and then sell that silver for a 300% profit elsewhere.

    The result was a huge increase in the amount of gold circulating in the economy which blew out the money supply and lead to riots as the price of rice and other staples rose rapidly.

    Some strange parallels with our own modern economies, perhpas?

  2. Yes, this book talked about that as well. especially near the end of the Bakufu. This lead to much more violent unrest in the cities among the commoners.

  3. Anonymous8:46 AM

    In the years from the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate to the end of WWII, it's amazing to think of how much Japan gained and lost in such relatively short period of time. Then, considering the rebuilding in the post-WWII period that resulted in a powerhouse economy, you can only shake your head in awe at what Japan is capable of.

  4. It is amazing how a nation can reverse itself so quickly.