3171 Meiji For Rel Bib

The arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 proved to be a watershed moment for Japan. Although Japan had contact with foreigners before, it was the first time Japan opened its ports to the West.  The Tokugawa shogunate signed the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1854.  In time, numerous similar negotiations would lead to Japan opening ports and settlements to trade with other western nations. Following the implementation of these “unequal treaties,” late Tokugawa and early Meiji officials were to face an uphill battle for the renegotiations of the treaties’ terms. Much of the scholarship on Meiji foreign relations, such as the writings of P.K. Cassel, J.E. Hoare, Catherine Phipps, W.G. Beasley, and Walter McLaren, focuses on the Meiji state’s attempts to regain autonomy in the international system by undoing the “unequal treaties.”

In his book Grounds of Judgment[1], Par Kristoffer Cassel introduces extraterritoriality as the primary problem in the “unequal treaties”.  By doing this, Cassel implies that regaining consular jurisdiction was the priority for the Meiji regime.  He shows that Meiji Japan became skeptical of the West after feeling misled during the treaty-making process.  As a result, the Meiji regime was reluctant to settle for negotiations with the West unless they included dismissing extraterritoriality. No formal revision of the “unequal treaties” came until 1899, when extraterritoriality was dismissed.

After 1899, Cassel concludes that Japan was finally able to expand politically and economically as a nation: “Now the Japanese were…able to share all the privileges the other treaty powers had gained through most-favored-nation arrangements.”[2]  In addition, Cassel notes that the issue of extraterritoriality caused discord in the Meiji regime by adding pressure to officials to implement change in the “unequal treaties.” Therefore, Cassel suggests that extraterritoriality is the root of political disarray and frustration among Meiji officials.

Similarly to Cassel, J.E. Hoare comments on the impact of extraterritoriality on Meiji Japan’s modernization.  In Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements,[3] Hoare explores the impact of treaty ports on Meiji sovereignty. He argues that the history of extraterritoriality and foreigners’ special legal status facilitated foreign arrogance over the Japanese.  He shows that this resulted in minimal socialization between cultures, resembling European colonies in Asia.

The men that came to power in the Restoration made clear that they intended to regain autonomy. Hoare argues that in combatting extraterritoriality, Meiji leaders had to bring far-reaching changes to Japan, particularly in law. The introduction and growth of Japanese criminal and civil codes from 1873 onwards gradually took the place of foreign law as consuls failed to take action to maintain extraterritoriality agreements. Hoare explains how by the end of the 19th century, Japanese regulations controlled foreigners “in a way that would have seemed unthinkable thirty years before.” [4]  He highlights that the “unequal” treaties had become decrepit by the 1880s, and although Japan couldn’t formally get them reversed until the end of the century, the force of extraterritoriality was waning.

The direct role of the treaty ports and foreign settlements on the modern development of Japan was marginal, according to Hoare. Importantly, however, he points out that it was the very existence of the foreign settlements and their special privileges that provided stimulus for Japan’s development in the late 19th century. Hoare ultimately argues, in the vein of many Meiji historians, that social and legal reforms were undertaken not for abstract reasons but in order to undo the “unequal treaties” and regain Japan’s sovereignty.

While Hoare focuses on the impacts of treaty ports on Japan, Catherine Phipps, in her book Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power, 1858-1899,[5] examines the “special trading ports”, which were under full Japanese jurisdiction. The Meiji government designed such status under pressure from domestic commercial and military interests. Phipps highlights how these ports, within the context of the established treaty port system, show Japan’s careful attempts to regain some measure of sovereignty. In determining “how its people engaged in international trade,” the Meiji government also managed to “put more trade in the hands of domestic merchants.”[6] In Phipps’ point of view, the steady opening of “special trading ports” was a primary factor that allowed for Japan’s revision of unequal treaties and incorporation into the world economy as an independent member in the late 1890s. Phipps focuses on one of the most successful “special trading ports”: Moji, in northern Kyushu. Due to its proximity to the Kanmon Straits and the Chikuho coalfield, Moji became the center of coal export and the Toyo trade in the 1880s. During the First Sino-Japanese War it became the most important naval hub of the conflict. The swift Japanese victory brought local pride and expectations to a new high, and the port became a model for the post-war Open Ports Movement. By focusing on Moji, Phipps emphasizes the Meiji state’s efforts to develop an independent export economy, only possible through a shift of exports from treaty ports to these “special trading ports.” She makes clear that by the time Japan formally claimed sovereignty over all of its ports in 1899, the “special trading ports” had already directly and deeply shaped the modernization of Japanese trade and military.

While Phipps sees the “special trading ports” as a central element in working outside of the unequal treaties to regain autonomy, W.G. Beasley supports a different thesis in Japan Encounters the Barbarians.[7] In this book, focusing on Japanese travelers to Europe and America, he argues that Japan’s study and adoption of Non-Eastern techniques and values were the driving force behind Meiji state formation. Unlike other authors that studied the roles of institutions, Beasley narrates the stories of a number of individual diplomats, Western-educated students and castaways who, from his point of view, guided the development of the early Meiji state.

Beasley explains how the Meiji state picked up and intensified Tokugawa efforts to learn from the West. The Bakufu had designed official envoys to gather information on modern warfare, naval technology, agriculture, and commerce, and Beasley highlights the additional task of gaining international recognition after the Meiji state came into power. To conclude his piece, Beasley once again issues a comprehensive list of every Japanese traveler to the West. He reminds us “Japanese students did not always learn from the West the ‘useful’ things they were sent to learn” (e.g. Nakae Chomin).[8] However, he delivers a convincing argument explaining how every Japanese traveler in this period contributed – in their own ways – to the emergence of Meiji Japan as first a regional and then world power, capable of competing, and even defeating the Western powers from which it once had to learn from.

Walter McLaren, in his book A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 1867-1912,[9] also sees the cultural and technological imports from the West a crucial part of Meiji Japan’s path to modernity. He focuses heavily on the Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars. McLaren feels Japan’s involvement in these wars set it up for being a major international player. McLaren argues that Japan’s victory over Russia was met with shock, and with a title of prestige as a modern and powerful nation in the East. McLaren notes that the effects of the Russo-Japanese War would not have come to full term had it not been for Western influence in technology and education, built up over the earlier decades during the Meiji Restoration.

In this way, McLaren’s understanding of Japan’s path to modernity aligns with Beasley’s argument that the knowledge gained from missions was an essential part of molding a more advanced Japan. Mass amounts of armaments and military machinery helped Japan gain a decisive victory over Russia, all of which was possible due to Japan’s opening to and studying foreign powers. McLaren is weary of this, questioning how much Japan sacrificed in order to gain international prestige. Overall, he feels that the modernization of Japan was detrimental to the nation. While it succeeded in becoming an international power, McLaren hints that the decisions made to broaden Japanese influence in East Asia could cause Japan to be humbled by the larger Western powers. His take is unique in that he opposes Meiji Japan’s foreign policy, fearing an eventual conflict with more powerful nations in the West.

In conclusion, the scholars in the field of Meiji foreign relations debate the path the Meiji state took to international recognition.  Cassel uses ports as a platform to introduce extraterritoriality as the main factor in retarding the growth of Japan as a modern nation. In a similar vein, J.E. Hoare focuses on treaty ports and the Meiji state’s gradual gains in control over those ports. Catherine Phipps also studies the roles ports played in the formation of the Meiji state, but she concludes that ports under full Japanese jurisdiction had a direct role in the modernization of Japan, while Hoare saw the their role as more indirect.  Other authors, like W.G. Beasley, turn outside of Japan and look at the personal stories of Japanese travelers to the West and their impact on the modernization of the Japanese nation. McLaren, similarly, highlights the significance of borrowing from the west in Japan’s military victories in the second half of the Meiji era. Through its struggles in foreign relations, Meiji Japan emerged as a major player in the international system, and Japanese imperialism left long lasting influences in East Asia. The aggressive expansionist policy that Showa Japan pursued in the Pacific can be seen as the logical continuation of the process that the Meiji diplomatic corps initiated.


Treaties and Conventions, Concluded between Empire of Japan and Foreign Nations, Together with Regulations and Communications:

From 1854 to 1874, the empire of Japan participated in signing a multitude of treaties with western nations. The first of the treaties was signed on March 31, 1854, and is referred to as Commodore Perry’s Treaty in Treaty and Conventions and is otherwise known as the Kanagawa Treaty or “peace and amity” treaty. The Kanagawa Treaty is later negotiated by Japan during 1868 to extend to additional nations including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Northern Germany. Until August 6, 1873, in which Japan participated in a postal convention with the United States, the empire of Japan continually negotiated with western nation’s through a range of channels, including treaties, conventions, agreements, deeds, and regulations. Together, all of these negotiations totaled over 67 encounters between 1854 to 1874, and most involved discussions around the ways in which the empire of Japan would open up its nation for the purposes of trade and a thriving economy. In Treaty and Conventions, each passage includes the official description and purpose of a treaty or negotiation and is followed by subsections/articles that describe the fundamental principles behind each negotiation.

Although the first negotiation begins with the United States in 1854 with Commodore Perry, the interaction of the empire of Japan with other western nations seemed to thrive after Japan’s initial negotiations with the United States. After 1854, the empire of Japan could be seen interacting, in the form of treaties or agreements with nations such as Great Britain in Admirel Stirling’s Convention and the London Protocol, Russia in the Treaty of Simoda, Holland in the Nagasaki Treaty, and France and Portugal in the Yedo Treaty. Furthermore, a stronger presence of foreign nations within the borders of Japan is apparent during the start of the Meiji period in 1868, which is marked by a number of negotiations in forms of arrangements for the settlement of foreigners near and around treaty ports. Some of these locations included, Yedo, Yokohama, Niigata, Port of Hiogo and Osaka.

Grounds of Judgement by Par Kristoffer Cassel:

In Par Kristoffer Cassel’s book, Grounds of Judgment, he introduces the dimensions of extraterritoriality that existed within Japan beginning with the signing of the Ansei Treaty in 1858. As Cassel writes, “…neither regime understood that they had granted Westerners complete immunity from local law by allowing them to exercise consular jurisdiction.”[10] Furthermore, he explains, that both regimes of Qing China and Tokugawa Japan agreed to treaties with the West under false pretenses due to differing implications of consular jurisdiction. While the Great Powers proceeded to assume that a grant to consular jurisdiction implied immunity from being indicted under the Japanese judicial system, Japan believed that the unquestionable jurisdiction it once had over foreigners, under Bakufu, would linger on into the beginning of the Meiji era in 1868. Cassel discusses a multitude of incidents that clarify Japan’s dwindling jurisdiction over extraterritoriality of foreigners, including the “Maria Luz’s Incident” in 1872 and the Normanton Incident in 1886. Instead of modeling after their neighbors, China, and conclude new treaties repeatedly, the Meiji regime held out on renegotiating until 1899 when the “unequal” treaties were finally replaced by “equal” treaties, thus eradicating extraterritoriality for foreigners.

By demonstrating that the consular jurisdiction clause is a major factor in making the “unequal” treaties unjust to Japan, Cassel implies that expelling extraterritoriality is intrinsic to Japan’s ability to regain power and assertion in facing the Western powers. Cassel also takes on the approach that Western powers intentionally included a clause about consular jurisdiction as a means to practice their imperial powers from within the borders of Japan. In addition to taking a toll on Japan’s ability to progress as an imperial power, Cassel argues that extraterritoriality played a role in disheveling politics in the Meiji regime.

Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements by J.E. Hoare:

In Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, J.E. Hoare explores the significance of the treaty ports from 1858-1899.  He argues that these ports were not a joint development as such settlements were in China.  Moreover, he asserts that these ports did not play a direct role in modernizing Japan: “The direct role of the foreign settlements in the modern development of Japan was therefore essentially a marginal one.”[11] However, he posits, “It was the very existence of the foreign settlements and their special privileges which provided the stimulus for much of Japan’s development in the late nineteenth century.”[12] Meiji leaders designed legal and social reforms to undo the ‘unequal treaties’ and regain Japan’s lost sovereignty.

Hoare’s discussion begins with an examination of life in the treaty ports.  The treaties establishing the treaty ports and extraterritoriality reinforced a pre-existing sense of superiority among the foreign settlers.  Hoare shows that such arrogance created “A great gulf between the two communities.”[13] Moreover, Hoare suggests, foreigners made no attempts to socialize with the native population, as so few foreigners spoke Japanese.  Despite such a gulf, Hoare declares that “Most Japanese did not reject the treaty ports,” as Japanese people saw them as “a symbol of Japan’s drive to modernize/Westernize.”[14] Following his analysis of life in the ports, Hoare explores the legal system of extraterritoriality in more detail, along with municipal affairs, trade and the foreign press.  He concludes that the existence of the treaty ports, as an instantiation of the unequal treaties, helped to mold Japan’s modernization from 1858-1899 and beyond.

Hoare’s conclusion on the “gulf” between the Japanese and the foreigners was perhaps hyperbolic.  Socialization between peoples was far more common than suggested, as can be seen in the diary of Francis Hall.[15]  Furthermore, Hoare failed to address the effect of the treaty ports on Japanese people on the ground, as he does with the foreign settlers.  As a result, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements is a fairly one-sided analysis that doesn’t quite show how the native population dealt with Japan’s foreign settlements.

Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power by Catherine Phipps:

The book focuses on the relationship between the system of ports and the rise of Japan from 1858 to 1899. The author argues that the system of ports, composed of treaty ports and the “special trading ports,” were essential for Japan to work within the Western system of informal imperialism in transmarine East Asia while achieving its goal of fukoku kyohei. First she introduces the “special trading ports,” which were ports under full Japanese jurisdiction. The Meiji government opened these ports under heavy pressure from local commercial interests. By reconfiguring a few Tokugawa ports and gradually opening new ports according to the changing economic and strategic needs, Japan successfully protected itself from further foreign interference and gained more freedom in trade. Although disputes between the local interests and Tokyo had never stopped, the “special trading ports” brought tremendous economic benefits to Japan since the government managed to “generally kept at least 90% of trade in Japanese hands.”[16] She then introduces the Japanese endeavors to export commodities and establish new relationships with its neighbors. Represented by rice and coal, commodity exports stimulated the construction of modern trade infrastructures, especially in the “special trading ports”, and the treaties with China, the informal empire in Korea and the subsume of Ryukyu and Ezo marked the beginning of Japanese imperialism.

The author examines Moji, one of the most successful “special trading ports” in northern Kyushu. Opened in the 1880s, Moji became the center of coal export due to its proximity to the Kanmon Straits and the Chikuho coalfield. During the First Sino-Japanese war Moji became the most important naval hub. The sweeping Japanese victory pushed local pride and expectations to climate, and Moji became a role model for the post-war Open Ports Movement. Phipps argues that as early as the 1850s the Japanese oligarchs had already realized the paradox of Western presence in Asia to Japan: on the one hand it significantly confined Japan’s commercial and military ability, while on the other hand it offers Japan a mature trading system to incorporate into. She argues that the effective use of Western informal imperialism was a vital reason for Japan’s economic independence. As the result of cautious efforts, by the time Japan claimed full sovereignty over all of its ports in 1899, it had already owned about 50 ports that had deeply tied into the global economic system, which were fundamental for Japan’s incorporation to the world economy.

Japan Encounters the Barbarian: Japanese Travellers in America and Europe by W.G. Beasley:

In this book, the author draws from published and unpublished sources -both western and Japanese- in an attempt to answer the question of the impact students of western knowledge had on the development of late 19th century Japan. In Japan Encounters the Barbarian, all known Japanese delegations to Europe and America between 1860 and 1873 are discussed, culminating with the Iwakura Embassy of 1871-3. Beasley tells the story of late Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan’s distinctive relationship with ‘the West’, putting an emphasis on the personal achievements of Japanese travelers upon their return to Japan.

This book covers a period of rapid and unprecedented progress in Japanese History (1853-early 1900s), in terms of economic, political, and social developments, but also in terms of foreign relations. Beasley makes this clear by comparing the Bakufu’s nonexistent foreign affairs bureau by the time of Perry’s arrival, to the turn of the century Meiji’s active diplomatic corps and Western-educated ministers. After Japan’s ‘forced’ opening, he looks into the case of every single known Japanese envoy, from official Bakufu and then Meiji embassies to (unofficial) domains-financed missions, especially those originating from Satsuma and Choshu. Throughout his book, Beasley often reminds his readers that his work does not produce a good survey of the Japanese population as a whole, but rather, one of its ruling class. Still subject to the Shi-no-ko-sho system, it was natural that aside from rare exceptions, Japanese envoys to the West be samurai retainers. Through the search for Bunmei-Kaika and Fukoku-Kyohei -two recurrent themes in the book-, Beasley argues that Japan’s efforts and the devotion its envoys put into learning from ‘superior’ countries did prove extremely beneficial in the end. Through a period of great change both in the East and the West, Japan managed to grasp the best out of every country it thoroughly studied. Beasley explains how, upon return to Japan, travelers to the West ranging from Nakae Chomin to Admiral Togo were instrumental to the shaping of the Meiji era. Beasley concludes by explaining how the contribution of these Western-educated individuals resulted in the famous ‘Western Techniques and Eastern Morals’ compromise, and to Japan’s eventual domination of the Far-Eastern geopolitical scenery until the end of WWII.

A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 1867-1912 by Walter McLaren:

Walter McLaren, a professor at Keio University, gives a brief survey of Japan’s history and transformation from the Edo period to the Meiji period. Walter McLaren’s text questions the importance of opening up Japan’s borders and the modernization of the nation. He feels that Japan’s persistence in gaining international prestige may have harmed Japan overall, leading to a change in Japan’s original ideals that were emphasized during the Edo Period. He portrays Japan’s political development as a tedious one- describing the key points in which Japan took steps into a modernized nation. Throughout his text, he discusses the outcomes of three topics: The Meiji Restoration movement, the end of the Reconstruction Period, and the major wars in which Japan fought during the Meiji period. His most powerful view and stance throughout his text goes back to the wars in which Japan fought during the Meiji period, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese War.

McLaren makes the consistent point that the Japanese persistence of dominating other territories and going to war was an early form of “Japanese” chauvinism, which was aggravated during the Meiji Restoration. McLaren continues by discussing the root issue of bureaucracy and the Japanese government leading Japan to fight consistent battles in order to gain international prestige in East Asia. To further his point, McLaren focuses many of his chapters on the two wars aforementioned, in which he gives an extensive history and furthers by questioning what Japan truly had to gain from enabling the quarrels. McLaren argues that the wars in which Japan entered may have gained them short-term prestige, but hurt the nation overall, as Japan then entered into the international realm as a seemingly tough competitor of the East, only to be humbled by the powers in the West. McLaren questions if expanding foreign prestige throughout the earlier wars was necessary to Japan’s position in the present day.

Works Cited

Beasley, W. G. Japan Encounters the Barbarian: Japanese Travellers in America and Europe. New Haven, CT & London, UK: Yale University Press, 1995.

Cassel, Par Kristoffer. Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Hoare, J.E. Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements: The Uninvited Guests 1858-1899. Folkestone, Japan Library, 1994.

McLaren, Walter Wallace. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 1867-1912. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1916.

Phipps, Catherine. Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power, 1858-1899. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2015.

Treaties and Conventions Concluded between the Empire of Japan and Foreign Nations: Together with Regulations and Communications, 1854-1874. Tokyo: Printed at the Nisshu-sha Print. Office, 1874.

[1] Cassel, Par Kristoffer. Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

[2] Cassel, Grounds of Judgment, 160.

[3] Hoare, J.E. Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements: The Uninvited Guests 1858-1899. Japan Library, 1994.

[4] Hoare, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, 97.

[5] Phipps, Catherine. Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power, 1858-1899. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2015.

[6] Phipps, Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power, 58.

[7] Beasley, W. G. Japan Encounters the Barbarian: Japanese Travellers in America and Europe. New Haven, CT & London, UK: Yale University Press, 1995.

[8] Beasley, Japan Encounters the Barbarian, 155.

[9] McLaren, Walter Wallace. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 1867-1912. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1916.

[10] Cassel, Grounds of Judgment, 86.

[11] Hoare, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, 177.

[12] Hoare, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, 177.

[13] Hoare, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, 28.

[14] Hoare, Japan’s Treaty Ports and Foreign Settlements, 173.

[15] F.G. Notehelfer, Japan Through American Eyes: The Journal of Francis Hall, Kanagawa and Yokohama, 1859-1866. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992

[16] Phipps, Empires on the Waterfront: Japan’s Ports and Power, 248.