01 Japanese History

#34 Topple the Shogunate!

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Japan in turmoil: In the 1860s, a force emerged to overthrow the Edo shogunate.

Yokohama, with a population of about 3.7 million, is one of Japan’s leading international port cities. Once little more than a small fishing village, it was not until 1859 that it began its journey as a trading port with Europe and the United States.

The main export was raw silk. Its export led to a shortage of domestic textiles, which led to a shortage of daily necessities. In addition, due to the difference in exchange rates, a large amount of domestic gold flowed out to Europe and the U.S., causing prices to rise and people’s lives to suffer. People became increasingly dissatisfied with the Shogunate.

Among those who criticized the Shogunate was Yoshida Shoin, a samurai and educator from the Choshu domain. He trained many men who would later be active in the Meiji Restoration, including Takasugi Shinsaku and Ito Hirobumi.

However, he was executed by Ii Naosuke, the then-powerful ruler of the time, for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Shogunate. This suppression led to increasing opposition to the Shogunate, and Ii Naosuke was assassinated outside the Sakuradamon gate of Edo Castle.

The Choshu clan bombarded Western ships passing through the Sea of Japan. It was subsequently subjected to retaliatory attacks by the combined fleets of the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the Netherlands. War also broke out between the British fleet and the Satsuma clan after a samurai from the Satsuma clan killed an Englishman in Namamugi Village.

Through actual battles with the West, people realized that it would be difficult to fight the Western powers by force of arms. To overcome this situation, they came up with the idea of overthrowing the Edo Shogunate and creating a new unified nation centering on the emperor.

A man appeared who offered a way to realize this idea: Sakamoto Ryoma, a native of the Tosa Clan. He negotiated and created an alliance with the Satsuma and Choshu clans, which had been enemies of each other. A force to overthrow the Edo shogunate was formed.

Ryoma is very popular among Japanese people today. This is probably because he emerged during national turmoil, and with his outstanding ideas and actions, he triggered a significant change in the times. He was assassinated in Kyoto in 1867. He was 31 years old.

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