AS12: Summary of Japanese History

Up to the end of the sixteenth century, the lands of Japan were occupied by a system of feudal warlords, or shoguns, based upon small groups exerting their authority over one another. The Portuguese had reached Japan as early as 1542 and had established a trading post at Kagoshima in southern Kyushu. Jesuit missionaries set out to convert the Japanese to Christianity, with the result that only 40 years later it is believed there were some two hundred thousand Christians in Japan. In 1592, the Spanish arrived and a rivalry was established between Jesuits, and Dominicans and Franciscans.

Gradually, the feudal groups became fewer and covered a wider area. With the help of military technology imported from abroad, notably the Dutch matchlock rifle that the Japanese copied by the thousand, the country gradually became unified. By 1598, the shogun Hideyoshi was even attempting territorial conquest in Korea, but was repelled by the Koreans, assisted in a large measure by the Chinese. So expensive was this Chinese assistance to the Koreans that it eventually resulted in the downfall of the Ming dynasty from 1618 onwards, overrun by a Manchu army from the north.

When Hideyoshi died in 1598, the Japanese retreated back to their own country. A Dutch ship, the Liefde, arrived with an English pilot on board named Will Adams. The Dutch ship had a significant amount of arms in its cargo, and these goods were used to very great advantage by Adams. The ship was permitted to reach the town of Osaka where the arms fell into the hands of a new warlord called Tokugawa Iyeyasu who used the arms, as well as the skills of the Dutch gunners, to subdue his enemies and set up headquarters at Edo, later Tokoyo. With the Tokugawa era began a profound change in the nature and constitution of Japanese Society. Gradually, all foreigners apart from the Dutch were expelled: the English East India Company in 1614, and the Portuguese and Spanish in 1624. The Dutch managed to remain in the country and held on to what was then a virtual trading monopoly.

A period followed during which trade was encouraged with China. Dutch and British traders were allowed to establish trading posts on the island of Deshima near Nagasaki. Then, after several confrontations, all foreigners were expelled and contact with the outside world was forbidden. Japan remained largely isolated from the imperialist ambitions of the Europeans, until 1853 when two ships under the command of the American Commodore Perry arrived off her shores and, through a brief show of strength, succeeded in obtaining a treaty of trade and co-operation from the Japanese. This pre-empted a new drive by the British and French who were to force China into further submission in Guangzhou in 1857, but the British and French would not have been able to make new commercial contacts into Japan without the precedents set by Perry’s treaty.

Thus began a continuous phase of development that is the modern period of Japanese history. Business opened up first in Yokohama in 1859, although some Japanese were still not entirely happy with their new contacts with the West. Several military engagements ensued during 1863/4 with British, French and Dutch forces allied against the Japanese shoguns. The offensive became decisive after an allied bombardment from the sea in the Battle of the Simonoseki Straits caused much destruction on 5 September 1864. A treaty of co-operation was signed on 22 October 1864 with the last Japanese shogun, Hitotsubashi. It could be said that from this point in history the Japanese finally realised the advantages of Western technology and resolved to build up her military power to make Japan a great country.

Sir Harry Parkes, the British ambassador of the time, did not demand the traditional reparations from Japan that would normally have come from a major defeat. Instead, he made one treaty condition the building of eight lighthouses and two lightships. The Tokugawa Shogunate accepted the demand and built the Kanon Saki (F6360) lighthouse near Yokohama as the first. Other lighthouses on Honshu followed at Nojima Saki (F6456), Kashino Saki (F5998), Shiono Misaki (F5994) and Ken Saki (F6354), and Sata Misaki, also known as the South Cape on Kyushu (F4836).

In January 1867, a French ambassadorial mission arrived in Yokohama led by Capitaine Chanoine. Very soon afterwards a military school was established and the French began to take a large role in building up the Japanese military capability. These activities were to contribute greatly to the increase in Japanese sea power that was to be so powerfully displayed at the end of the nineteenth century over her neighbours in China and Russia.

Possibly unsettled by her new views of the outside world, Japan entered a period of unrest that followed with the restoration of the Meiji Emperor to power in 1868. Ports were quickly opened up to trade and the increase in shipping stimulated by the new trade resulted in the desire for the first Japanese lighthouses. It is worth noting that the population of Japan still travelled mostly on foot with handcarts, yet the population of Edo (Yedo) was 1.2 million. Soon after the re-establishment of the authority of the emperor, the capital was moved from Kyoto in the west to Edo in the east and the latter was renamed Tokyo (literally, ‘eastern capital’) in 1868, although the name of Edo lived on for some time afterwards. Parkes tried to persuade the Japanese government to invest in better communications. With the incentive of linking his two palaces, the Mikado agreed to a loan of £1m from the British for a railway line between the two locations. George Preston White was reported as having been sent to Japan from his post in India to act as a consultant engineer. However, the construction of lighthouses became the responsibility of one man, who was to make an indelible mark in Japanese history: Richard Henry Brunton.