thumbnail of Japan: 1868-1968; The Mid-19th Century Crisis
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
From WFC are the five college radio station in Amherst Massachusetts. We present Japan 1868 through 1968. This year has been officially designated as the centennial of the beginning of the modernization of Japan. And this is the second of a series of broadcasts titled Japan 1868 through 1968 with John M. Marquis professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of today's broadcast is the mid 19th century crisis. Professor Markey in the first broadcast in this series I sketched out in broad general terms the problem of modernization in Japan and I indicated that the basics seem not only of that broadcast but indeed to what you might term the whole range of modern Japanese history was simply change but change from
a pre-modern feudal society to a modern national society. In this broadcast. What I would like to do would be to sketch out what it was that had to change in Japan or very briefly the nature of the problem that did confront Japan in the late 1860s. Oh more and more precisely in 1868 which was the first year of Japan's modern Centennial. Now roughly from 1850 on Japan was confronted with two crises. First of all the internal crisis which was created by broad but in a sense almost invisible change inside Japan. And the second the external crisis which was in turn created by broad changes taking place outside Japan and indeed without any reference to
Japan at all. And this second this external crisis is usually referred to by the standard phrase the coming of the West. And it was the coming together of both this internal crisis and the external crisis in roughly the period between about 1850 and about 1870. That in a very real sense set the stage for this process of modernization. The essentials of which were well completed between roughly eight hundred sixty eight and one thousand nine hundred. I know some historians hold with some justification that the history of modern Japan began around the year sixteen hundred and there is some justice for this claim even though it might appear to us in the West to be a little extreme and to put the beginning of a modern period a contemporary period almost four centuries now
in the past. Now Japan went through a period of very significant historical change between roughly fifteen fifty and sixteen hundred. Interestingly enough it was a period of change which was remarkably similar in very broad general terms with the period of change that we have currently under examination between roughly 1850 and 1900. Just before 15 50 Europeans came to Japan for the first time and this was a part of this period a very important historical change at the end of the 16th century. In the second place there was also a great period of internal change interacting with this external change represented by the coming of the Europeans. Very briefly Japan had been in a period of extreme internal
ferment from approximately the middle of the 15th century around 14th 50 down through the middle of the 16th century and finally as a result of a combination of circumstances this process of internal change came to a climax and was resolved. No the resolution was in the form of the coming to power of a great military family inside Japan the Tokugawa family. Now this Tokugawa family came to power as the result primarily is the result of a military victory in the year 16:00 and that is the year that is taken by many historians as being the beginning not only of the Advent to power of this single family but also the beginning of the period to which it gave its name. Namely they took a gobbler period.
From sixteen hundred down to 850 Japan was in a well went through a remarkable period of its history. Now first of all what was the nature of this so-called Tokugawa society. Well as I have indicated Japan's was a society which was dominated by a single family a family belonging to the so-called warrior class or military class. Now also as I indicated by the middle of the 19th century this family had controlled Japan for two and a half centuries. Now what were some of the carry terroristic acts of this talk of regime or perhaps more broadly of Tokugawa society. Now in the first place there was a very considerable degree of internal
stability. In the first place Japan was a government that could be described as a stable government. Now this was not a modern centralized form of government. On the other hand it did have certain very significant characteristics of a central government. Now as I've indicated Japan did have a feudal society which meant that the country was broken up into a large number of feudal estates. The number ranged from around two hundred fifty to about a little under three hundred. Now these feudal estates were supposed to be more or less independent certainly independent of each other and all still more or less self government self-governing. Now on the other hand what the Tokugawa family or more precisely perhaps the
great leaders of the Tokugawa family in the early part of the 17th century what they did was to establish a government of their own which had two basic responsibilities. One was to run its own affairs. And this was a considerable task because they the family in all its branches did control directly a significant segment perhaps as much as 25 percent of all of the land in Japan. Now the second responsibility of this government was to impose some kind of a system of control over this large number of feudal estates and of the warrior families that controlled these feudal estates. And so what you had was a kind of a decentralized system of central government. The decentralization represented by these more or less autonomous feudal estates and the centralization
represented by the controls that were imposed on these feudal estates by the central administration which in turn was controlled by the Tokugawa family. Now the stability of the Tokugawa period was described by the term used particularly by the more recent Japanese historians namely the period of the great peace and what this meant in effect was that during this two and a half centuries there was nothing that could be described as a civil war. No group no family no combination of warrior families arose in Japan which was able to challenge the position of this government. Now during this period there were a series of what you might describe as more or less minor political crises but certainly nothing that got out of hand. And this in a
sense was a demonstration of the effectiveness not only of this central government that I referred to but indeed the operation of the whole system or indeed this was a manifestation of a lack of political crises was a manifestation of this overall phenomenon of stability of Japanese society. Now on the other hand going right along with this a very considerable degree of internal stability that I have been describing there developed also a considerable degree of instability inside Japan. Now this was particularly true from about eighteen hundred onward. On the other hand the symptoms of internal instability had been developing over a considerable period of time. Now I'll come back to this problem of internal instability because it was central
to the whole issue of the internal crisis or indeed it was the internal crisis confronting Japan as of the middle of the one thousandth century. First of all there were more and more economic problems brought economic problems confronting not only the Tokugawa government but Japan in general. There was partly as a result of this economic increasing economic difficulty a considerable growth of political dissatisfaction. There were there were also narrow political reasons for the development of this dissatisfaction and of course this dissatisfaction was directed at the Tokugawa government itself. Now also there had taken place inside Japan in spite of all of its apparent stability from sixteen hundred on a very considerable degree of social change
social change independent of economic change and independent also. This other phenomenon of political dissatisfaction. Also by around 1850 the Tokugawa government itself was becoming increasingly in adequate. In the first place the line had begun to run thin. This meant simply that there were not as many able men who hated the family particularly from the latter part of the 18th century onward and certainly no one who could rank with the early and great leaders of the family in the first part of the 17th century. Oh also the Tokugawa government plus the family were revealing an increasing degree of inability to cope with the problems of Japanese society the economic social and
political issues that I find so very briefly. And of course these two things the lack of leadership and the inability to cope with these problems were manifested in more particular terms in an inability to keep in effective operation. The system that was created by the family around 16:00 and that had maintained it in power for Again about two and a half centuries. Now what were some of the sources of opposition that had developed very clearly by again the middle of the 19th century. Well first of all there was the rather obvious fact that some of the powerful feudal lords who had been kept under control over a long period of time begin to get impatient impatient and indeed disenchanted with Tokugawa rule.
Now during the period of the strings of the Tokugawa regime the system for controlling even the more powerful of the potential opponents of the Tokugawa family had operated very effectively indeed. But again as leadership declined as problems became more and more difficult to handle. Well then obviously the controls over the political opposition began to weaken. Now almost all their developed inside Japan another political and social phenomenon. And this consisted of the group of members of the warrior class who were referred to by the term mean literally translated means simply wave them in. And this was a kind of a semi political reference to the fact that these members of the warrior class had become well as the waves meaning that they
owed allegiance to no feudal lord. Now this was something that the Tokugawa government had been very sensitive to because it realized that if members of the warrior class no matter how low their rank might be became disaffected became well masterless. Well then they obviously represented a source of political difficulty. They possessed arms. They had grievances against both the government and the society and they were free to associate with any lord that might attract them for whatever reason. Now these so-called wave men were a source of potential military strength and therefore of a potential political threat to the Tokugawa. If they became associated with some of the powerful and dissident feudal lords and this
indeed is what happened. Now also there were some members of the Imperial Court who had become increasingly again disenchanted with the position of almost servility into which they had been forced by the very strict measures of control that had been imposed on both the Emperor and the Imperial Court by the Tokugawa family. Now this group of nobles was a very small one. On the other hand they turned out to be extremely influential and it was an alliance between a small number of CT nobles and the dissident feudal lords that eventually in the 1860s constituted the spearhead of the effective political opposition to the Tokugawa. Now I'm still and this was a matter of generalized political significance of considerable magnitude. There
was general peasant unrest throughout the country. This was unrest growing out of economic difficulties and in a sense political dissatisfaction. Now this peasant unrest never got to the point of being a rebellion against the Tokugawa government. The significance of this present unrest is simply that it was manifested in a large number again in the first half of the 19th century. A large number of what came to be known as peasant riots. Now none of these riots got out of hand. On the other hand they did constitute a problem both for the local feudal lords and for the Tokugawa government. And above all they were again a manifestation of change of unrest of dissatisfaction with what Japanese society was confronted with at that particular time. Now all of these
factors Tokugawa strength the growing power of the opposition the increasing ferment in Japanese society. These factors begin to come to a climax in the decade of the 1850s and roughly from 1860 down to the key year of eight hundred sixty eight. Japan was carried to rise by an almost extreme degree of political plotting attempts by the opposition to undermine the Tokugawa attempts by the Tokugawa to well roll with the punch to accommodate themselves to their list rapidly consolidating opposition and above all to do something to maintain themselves in power. Now as the opposition developed so obviously did the pressure on the Tokugawa and beyond that there was a
steadily erosion of. The Tokugawa power during the brief period of roughly eight years between 1860 and eight thousand nine hundred sixty eight simply because the Tokugawa were beginning to lose their grip. They head to make certain concessions to the opposition and every concession obviously was a manifestation of weakness. No this internal political plotting maneuvering was also accompanied particularly from around in 1865 and 1866 with some minor but nevertheless significant military demonstrations against the Tokugawa us. Now this opposition came to a climax in 1867 and in the first few days of 1868. And very briefly what happened was that the Tokugawa family was put out of power
partly because our I should say mainly because of the pressures that were applied to it but partly because the leader of the took the family at that time to use the old cliche saw the handwriting on the wall and deliberately decided that under the circumstances it would be best to step aside. This was the other aspect of this restoration or imperial restoration that I referred to in the first broadcast. Because what happened was that the emperor in 1868 was returned to the power that historically and traditionally He was supposed to have held. Now what were some of the basic reasons for this change. Well the single basic reason was what I indicated already namely
the process of change that had occurred during the period of two and a half centuries of Tokugawa rule. For one thing it had become increasingly apparent that the agrarian bases the agricultural bases of the economy was becoming in adequate to satisfy all of the requirements. Food and otherwise of the population of Japan. Additionally there was a very significant economic change of the growing importance of money in the Japanese economy. This was not simply the fact that more and more money was in circulation but this indicated a very significant change in the whole nature of the Japanese economy. And this is tied into still another problem. Basically a sociological problem namely the very great increase in the number of cities in Japan from 16:00 on.
Now this was a as I said a sociological change but it was also an economic change because obviously the more people who lived in the cities the fewer were left to be tillers of the soil and the greater the percentage of the Japanese population that became dependent on something other than agriculture for its livelihood. Also it will it was becoming increasingly true that the warrior class a military class was no longer able to solve all of the political and indeed governmental problems that were confronting a rapidly changing Japan. So consequently again as I said in the economic the sociological or social and the political fields there had been great internal changes which made it impossible for the Tokugawa or indeed any group like the Tokugawa has to maintain the kind of control that had
been imposed on Japan for more than two and a half centuries. Now finally and all too briefly there was the problem of the external crisis that confronted Japan. You know one of the more interesting and indeed significant features of the Tokugawa regime which I did not mention earlier was the fact that it took deliberately the decision to see Kluge Japan from the rest of the world. And from the year 16:00 to roughly 16 40 the Tokugawa government then of course at the height of its power gradually cut Japan off from contact with the external world contacts which had been established in the preceding half century as I indicated roughly from fifteen fifty to sixteen hundred. No the Tokugawa is did this for two reasons. One was that
not only they but other Japanese began to fear the Europeans who had come into the country. They feared them because of the fact that they felt that they the Japanese felt that Europeans might attempt to conquer Japan or at least control it politically. They feared the new and to the Japanese the subversive doctrine of Christianity which was not only a new religion but also had certain India logical overtones overtones which were regarded as being again subversive to the kind of a system that the Tokugawa wanted to establish and the kind of a system that indeed was a part of the Japanese system of beliefs political as well as religion. Now the very fact that the Tokugawa government was able to one make the decision and secondly to enforce it because
indeed the Tokugawa government not only excluded foreigners indeed rejected foreigners from Japan but suppressed Christianity and kept it. The Japanese themselves firmly inside the country. This system operated for more than two centuries. Again about six thousand forty eight down to the middle of the 19th century. Now of course what happened on the other hand was the fact that in that two centuries the western world had changed a very great deal. This was a period of again what you might refer to as modernization in the western world. There were fundamental political changes sociological changes economic changes in the western world. Very obvious example was the emergence of the United States which in the middle of the 19th century was still very young but on the other hand was
beginning to exert its influence is in many parts of the world. Now by beginning around again around 1900 more and more. Westerners Europeans and Americans alike begin to appear off the shores of Japan in naval vessels and trading vessels whaling ships and so forth and so on. More and more the European governments and the United States government became interested in trying to open up this strange and unknown country. The motive was partly economic fact that they began to feel that there were possibilities of trade with Japan partly humanitarian because the ship wrecked sailors who appeared in Japan were treated to Japanese criminals and partly simply as a result of the feeling that well Japan should be brought in
somehow someway into the international community. Now also by the middle of the 19th century the West began to have more and more of the means to well in a sense forced the door. But Japan knew military strength. New Army strings new weapons new artillery new neighbors strength and so forth and so on so consequently by 1850 led particularly by the United States the Western powers were applying more and more pressure to Japan and finally in 1853 and 1850 for Commodore Perry the American naval commander was able to bring about successfully the ending of the policy of seclusion. So consequently as of this critical decade of the 1860s Japan was in ferment ferment caused again
by these internal changes within the country which were coming about without any reference at all to the outside world and on the other hand this problem of the opening of the country the opening of the country again which was brought about by pressures originating outside Japan and without any reference at all to what it was. The Japanese wanted and it was the coming together of these two crises inside Japan that in a very real sense set the stage for this for Japanese modernization and led into the broad changes that carried to the last third of that century. You have just heard a broadcast on the topic. Japan and modernization. The second of a series titled Japan 1868 through 1968 with John M. Markey professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts.
Japan: 1868-1968
The Mid-19th Century Crisis
Producing Organization
WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Four College Radio
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-mc8rgv7h).
Other Description
For series info, see Item 3609. This prog.: The Mid-19th Century Crisis
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Producing Organization: Four College Radio
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-35-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:43
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Mid-19th Century Crisis,” 1968-09-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 11, 2022,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; The Mid-19th Century Crisis.” 1968-09-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; The Mid-19th Century Crisis. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from