Gateway to the Classics: A Boy of Old Japan by Robert van Bergen
A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen

The Court Aroused

The death of Ii Naosuke decided Kano to return to Kyoto with his friends. Ito and Inouye, as he said grimly "to help pull the ground from under the feet of the Court." His acquaintance with Karassu Maru was of material assistance to him. This kugé was of a very impulsive temperament, with none of that self control, characteristic of the samurai. Generous to a fault, he was implacable as a foe. While he frightened some of the more timid kugé by the boldness of his speech, he attracted others. The Court mustered the courage to summon the Shogun to Kyoto, to answer the charge of misgovernment brought against him by several clans. No Shogun had deigned doing homage to Tenshi Sama since 1634. The humble reply from the Go rojiu was followed by another command, in which it appeared plainly that Tenshi Sama's advisers would not entertain a thought of his assuming the government. It said:—

"Since the barbarian vessels commenced to visit this country, the barbarians have conducted themselves in an insolent manner, without any interference on the part of the Yedo officials. The consequence has been that the peace of the empire has been disturbed and the people have been plunged into misery. Tenshi Sama was profoundly distressed at these things, and the Go rojiu on that occasion replied that discord had arisen among the people, and it was therefore impossible to raise an army for the expulsion of the barbarians, but that if His Majesty would graciously give his sister in marriage to the Shogun that then the court and camp would be reconciled, the samurai would exert themselves, and the barbarians would be swept away. Thereupon His Majesty good-naturedly granted the request and permitted the Princess Kazu to go down to Yedo. Contrary to all expectations, however, traitorous officials became more and more intimate with the barbarians and treated the imperial family as if they were nobody: in order to steal a day of tranquillity they forgot the long years of trouble to follow, and were close upon the point of asking the barbarians to take them under their jurisdiction. The nation has become more and more turbulent. Of late, therefore, the rônin of the western provinces have assembled in a body to urge the Tenshi Sama to ride to Hakone, and, after punishing the traitorous officials, to drive out the barbarians. The two clans of Satsuma and Choshiu have pacified these men and are willing to lend their assistance to the court and camp in order to drive out the barbarians. The Shogun must proceed to Kyoto to take counsel with the nobles of the court, and must put forth all his strength, must despatch orders to the clans of the home provinces and the seven circuits, and, speedily performing the exploit of expelling the barbarians, restore tranquillity to the empire. On the one hand, he must appease the sacred wrath of Tenshi Sama's divine ancestors, and, on the other, inaugurate the return of faithful servants to their allegiance, and of peace and prosperity to the people, thus giving to the empire the immovable security of Taisan." (Ta shan—Great Mountain, the Sacred mountain of China.)

The effect of Kano's visit to the Gosho is plainly visible in this document. Iyemochi, the Shogun, paid homage to the Tenshi Sama in April 1863, and the same year released the Daimiyo from their compulsory residence at Yedo. At the same time Kano at last secured the long coveted imperial order to commence the expulsion of the barbarians, and he returned to Nagato in high glee.

In the south-western part of the main island of Japan, known as Hondo, a narrow strait separates it from the island of Kiu-siu. This strait is named after the city of Shimonoseki, situated on the northern shore, in Nagato. This shore is composed of bold bluffs, formed of solid rock, covered, however, with abundant verdure owing to ample moisture and the heat of the sun. These bluffs control the strait which forms the western entrance to the Inland Sea, and is used by all vessels plying between Japan and China as offering a safe and quick route. It was here that the Choshiu clan had reconstructed its fortifications, and supplied them with new cannon. The clan had also purchased at great expense two sailing vessels and a steamer and was thus, as the Council thought, well equipped to expel the handful of barbarians.


The friends were standing in the garden of a Tea-house.

In the beginning of July, 1863, the friends were standing in the garden of a teahouse, whose upper story overlooked the entrance to the strait, when an attendant appeared and informed them that a barbarian vessel was approaching. The party went upstairs and watched the ship, as, unable to stem the current, she came to anchor. "She is going to stay there all night" said Kano grimly. "Well, we don't want any more foreigners nor their vessels, and we will give that one yonder a hint not to come back again." He went out around the batteries and ordered the officers to open fire as soon as it should be light enough.

There was grim expectation among Choshiu's samurai at the prospect of an early battle. They had imbibed the dislike of Kano, and the cry of Sonno-Joï had excited them. Still, they retired to rest as usual, but were up with the first dawn. The American bark, the Pembroke, was not expecting any hostilities. When the tide turned in the morning, the captain gave orders to hoist the anchor, when he was startled by firing and a moment later a ball went through one of his sails. He had the American flag hoisted, but it produced no effect, except that more batteries opened upon her. The two sailing vessels and the steamer appeared to be preparing to increase her danger, but the sailors worked with a will, and soon had her under weigh. The marksmanship of the Choshiu gunners, however, was very poor, and the Pembroke  escaped.

It is scarcely credible that Choshiu intended to destroy an unarmed vessel; it is more likely that they meant the firing as a warning to keep away. Kano was satisfied at the effect which he thought had been produced. On the morning of the 16th, about ten days after firing upon the Pembroke, he was called by one of his retainers, and informed that a steamer was coming toward the Strait from the Inland Sea. After dressing himself hastily, he went to one of the bluffs where he could observe and at the same time issue orders. He soon perceived that it was a war vessel, and sent Ekichi down to the ships at anchor under the bluff to instruct them to clear for action. He then ordered Ito and Inouye to take charge of two of the batteries, and to open fire as soon as possible. The barbarian ship, however, did not remain in the channel, but made at once for the bluff, where, since the guns could not be sufficiently depressed, she was safe from the batteries. She immediately engaged Choshiu's vessels, and, although the samurai were anxious to fight and to come to close quarters, they could scarcely inflict any damage upon their opponents, because they had not been drilled to this sort of warfare. Kano was furious when he saw his expensive ships destroyed, and he was more angry still when Capt. McDougal of the saucy U. S. Sloop-of-war Wyoming  by a few parting shots destroyed one of the batteries, and then steamed away, apparently none the worse for her late encounter. It did not improve his temper, when the breeze carried the laughter of some of the barbarian sailors to his ears.

After the Wyoming  had steamed away, Kano sent for his two friends, and together they discussed the event of that morning.

"It is easy to understand," he said, "why our ships suffered defeat. Our samurai can scarcely be expected to learn to handle strange craft in so short a time. What puzzles me is that we could not sink her with our batteries."

"Why," said Ito, "that was plain enough. She steamed straight under us and for the vessels. If we had been able to loosen the rock, we might have sunk her by letting it fall, but if we had depressed our guns, the shot would have fallen out of them."

"Then they are cowards!" Kano cried, "they knew that we could not hit them there, and so crept under shelter. I don't call that honorable warfare."

"I don't see that." said Inouye smiling. "It is fair in war to take every advantage over an enemy; besides, it was decidedly no coward who would come with one small vessel and attack three, while facing the guns of our batteries. No! We lack the skill. Suppose we put armor on our peasants and arm them with our swords, would they he able to fight as well as we, who are trained from our youth? The biggest and most powerful peasant, in armor, would not he a match for Ekichi. It is the same thing in this case. We have the weapons, but we do not know how to use them."

"We fired well enough when she was in the channel," objected Ito.

"Yes, but you confessed yourself that you could not depress your guns, while that fellow raised his cannon high enough to bring the whole battery about my ears. I don't call it unfair, but it was a very one-sided affair."

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