Japanese Civil War 1863-1868

[ 1863 - 1868 ]

The opposing forces in Japan's civil war were lined up between the supporters of the ruling Tokugawa family, which headed a rigid hierarchical feudal society, and the supporters of the emperor Meiji, whose court had been isolated from any significant government role. The civil war culminated in 1868 in the overthrow of the Tokugawa government and the restoration of the rule of the Emperor. The Meiji Restoration also brought new interest groups to the centre of political power and instigated a radical redirection of Japan's economic development. The nub of the changeover was the destruction of the traditional feudal social system and the building of a political, social, and economic framework conducive to capitalist industrialization. The new state actively participated in the turnabout by various forms of grants and guarantees to enterprising industrialists and by direct investment in basic industries such as railways, shipbuilding, communications, and machinery. The concentration of resources in the industrial sector was matched by social reforms that eliminated feudal restrictions, accelerated mass education, and encouraged acquisition of skills in the use of Western technology. The ensuing industrialized economy provided the means for Japan to hold its own in modern warfare and to withstand foreign economic competition.

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By the early 1860s the Tokugawa bakufu found itself in a dilemma. On the one hand it had to strengthen the country against foreigners. On the other it knew that providing the economic means for self-defense meant giving up shogunal controls that kept competing lords financially weak. Activist samurai, for their part, tried to push their feudal superiors into more strongly antiforeign positions. At the same time, antiforeign acts provoked stern countermeasures and diplomatic indemnities. Most samurai soon realized that expelling foreigners by force was impossible. Foreign military superiority was demonstrated conclusively with the bombardment of Kagoshima in 1863 and Shimonoseki in 1864. Thereafter, samurai activists used their antiforeign slogans primarily to obstruct and embarrass the bakufu, which retained little room to maneuver. Domestically it was forced to make antiforeign concessions to placate the loyalist camp, while foreigners were assured that it remained committed to "opening the country" and abiding by the treaties. Both sides saw it as prevaricating and ineffectual. After the arrival of the British minister Sir Harry Parkes in 1865, Great Britain, in particular, saw no reason to negotiate further with the bakufu and decided to deal directly with the imperial court in Kyoto.

Samurai in several domains also revealed their dissatisfaction with the bakufu's management of national affairs. One domain in which the call for more direct action emerged was Choshu (now part of Yamaguchi prefecture), which fired on foreign shipping in the Shimonoseki Strait in 1863. This led to bombardment of Choshu's fortifications by Western ships in 1864 and a shogunal expedition that forced the domain to resubmit to Tokugawa authority. But many of Choshu's samurai refused to accept this decision, and a military coup in 1864 brought to power, as the daimyo's counselors, a group of men who had originally led the radical antiforeign movement. Several of these had secretly traveled to England and were consequently no longer blindly xenophobic. Their aims were national--to overthrow the shogunate and create a new government headed by the emperor. The same men organized militia units that utilized Western training methods and arms and included nonsamurai troops. Choshu became the centre for discontented samurai from other domains who were impatient with their leaders' caution. In 1866 Choshu allied itself with neighbouring Satsuma, fearing a Tokugawa attempt to crush all opponents to create a centralized despotism with French help.

Again shogunal armies were sent to control Choshu in 1866. The defeat of these troops by Choshu forces led to further loss of power and prestige. Meanwhile, the death of the shogun Iemochi in 1866 brought to power the last shogun, Yoshinobu, who realized the pressing need for national unity. In 1867 he resigned his powers rather than risk a full-scale military confrontation with Satsuma and Choshu, doing so in the belief that he would retain an important place in any emerging national administration. But this was not to be. Outmaneuvered by the young Meiji emperor, who succeeded to the throne in 1867, and a few court nobles who maintained close ties with Satsuma and Choshu, the shogun faced the choice of giving up his lands, which would risk revolt from his vassals, or appearing disobedient, which would justify punitive measures against him. Yoshinobu tried to move troops against Kyoto, only to be defeated. In the wake of this defeat, Satsuma, Choshu, and Tosa units, now the imperial army, advanced on Edo, which was surrendered without battle. While sporadic fighting continued until the summer of 1869, the Tokugawa cause was doomed. In January 1868 the principal daimyo were summoned to Kyoto to learn of the restoration of imperial rule. Later that year the emperor moved into the Tokugawa castle in Edo, and the city was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"). With the emperor and his supporters now in control, the building of the modern state began.

<table class='table table-bordered col-lg-12 col-md-12 col-sm-12 col-xs-12 margin20 row-30' border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%" style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><tbody><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">State</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Entry</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Exit</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Combat Forces</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Population</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Losses</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Japan</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1863</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1868</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">300000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">35000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">20000</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Rebels</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1863</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1868</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">50000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">300000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">10000</font></td></tr></tbody></table>

Total Casualties 30000 Killed and Wounded
Casualties Killed / Wounded
Military Casualties Killed 30000 /Wounded
Civilian Casualties Killed / Wounded
Note
Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Japan and Rebels 1863 1868 View

Related Conflicts

No Releted Conflicts