Restoration War


Restoration War
(1868–1869)
   Known in Japan as the Boshin War, this civil war was sparked by the proclamation of a “restoration” of imperial rule in January 1868, commonly referred to as the Meiji Restoration. The defeat by June 1869 of all forces loyal to the Tokugawa regime paved the way for the emergence of modern Japan. The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and a squadron of American ships in Uraga Bay in July 1853 seriously threatened the authority of the Tokugawa family, whose head, the supreme warlord (shōgun), had ruled Japan for more than two and half centuries. Following their submission to American demands for open trade, the Tokugawa confronted opposition from two powerful traditional enemies: the Satsuma and Choshu fiefdoms. The failure of the shōgun’s second punitive expedition against Choshu in 1866 inspired a coup in January 1868. Satsuma and Choshu samurai conspired with allies in the imperial court to strip the shōgun of his title and “restore” authority to the emperor. Although the imperial family technically reigned, it had not actually ruled Japan since the advent of warrior rule in the twelfth century.
   The restoration decree marked the beginning of a four-phase war between followers of the shōgun and their rivals, now called “imperial forces.” In the first phase, 4,500 troops from the Satsuma, Choshu, and Tosa domains defeated 15,500 troops loyal to the shōgun in the battle of Toba-Fushimi, south of Kyoto. The shogun approved a peaceful surrender of his capital, Edo (present-day Tokyo) in May 1868. It took until July 1868, however, to suppress disgruntled loyalists in Edo in the second phase of the war. The third phase took place in the summer and autumn of 1868 and pitted imperial forces against a confederation of northern fiefdoms under the Aizu domain. Finally, in June 1869, the final holdout - naval commander Enomoto Takeaki - was vanquished after having led the bulk of the Tokugawa fleet northward and establishing a separate regime in the northern-most island of Hokkaido.
   Although the great powers remained officially neutral during the restoration war, they retained an eye for commercial and political opportunities. Scottish merchant Thomas B. Glover supplied the Choshu domain with half a million rifles; the French government approved the sale of sixteen 12-inch grooved cannon to the shōgun. By January 1867, French officers had begun training the shōgun’s army in Western military technique and “the manners of French civilization.”
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Beasley, W. G. The Meiji Restoration. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1972;
    Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862–1868. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1980.
   FREDERICK R. DICKINSON

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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