Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward

No. 74.]

Sir: With reference to the state of affairs in this country, I have the honor to send you herewith copy translation of a document received by me on the 6th instant, from Ogasawasi Iki No Kami, (inclosure No. 1,) but which I was unable to get translated in time for the last mail by the China. It is a brief history of the principal events which have transpired in this empire in the last 2,000 years, and gives the reasons inducing the Tycoon to resign his authority. It is substantially the same thing related to me by the minister for foreign affairs in my interview with him on the 20th November.

By the kindness of Sir Henry Parkes, K. C. B., her Britannic Majesty’s representative, I am enabled also to inclose (No. 2) copy translation of a document forwarded to him by the minister for foreign affairs, giving the latest information we have as yet received from Kioto.

Excitement still prevails to some extent in this city, and the entire country. The government seems to be in a lethargic state; robberies [Page 607] and murders among the Japanese are occurring every day and night. Armed bands of discharged soldiers enter merchants’ houses and rob the inmates, murdering them when opposition is shown, and the government seems to be unable or unwilling to prevent them.

I intend leaving Yokohama on the 21st instant, in the Shenandoah, for Osaka and Hiogo, to be present at the opening of those places. All of my colleagues now in Japan, viz, the representatives of France, Great Britain, Holland, and Prussia, have informed me of their intention of being present at the same time. I trust my action in this matter will meet with approval.

I have the honor, sir, to be your most obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.


In consequence of the important decision, made by our Tycoon of Japan, of surrendering to the Mikado the governmental power which has descended from the ancestor of the Tycoon to this day for more than two hundred and fifty years, we want to relate the real circumstances to all the treaty powers, in order to prevent any current story or rumor from spreading and agitating people in the moment of this great change in the condition of the country.

When we want to describe thoroughly the situation of affairs at the present time, it cannot he perfectly clear unless we briefly relate the past events. Therefore we go back, and relate more than two hundred years ago, in the dark period, the descendants of Tenshin, the ancestor of the country, held the governmental power. We call them by the title of Mikado. After years, the management of state affairs failed in the hands of the Mikados, and then the governmental power devolved upon the Foogiwara family, the ministers at the court.

Though nobles at the court were charged with the civil and military service, they were too vain and weak to wear armor and hold weapons for overcoming rebellion; and when they met with any trouble in the country they entirely relied on the family of the military class, as though they were tusks and nails for them. Under these circumstances, it could not be helped that the orders of the government were issued by many. The principal ones among the family of the military class were the Menamo and Taira families. All the families of the military class in the eastern half part of Japan belonged to Menamoto, and Taira ruled those who lived in the western part.

The disturbance in the years of Hogan and Haygi was caused by the imperial princes having struggled with each other in obtaining the throne, each having engaged one of those two families to his cause. After the ruin of Menamoto’s family, Taira was in a prosperous state for twenty years, and about this time the power entirely fell into the hands of the families of the military class.

On account of the tyranny of Taira, which was more severe than it had been in the time of the Foogiwara family, the Mikado overthrew Taira, having engaged as allies the descendants of Menamoto. The Mikado intrusted the management of the military affairs of the whole country to the families of the military class on account of Menamoto’s having revenged him upon his forefathers’ enemy and protected the court. This was about in the era of 1200 in Europe. He is the first Shiogoon, (commander in chief,) and from whom the line has descended to the Tokoogawa family, which should succeed the office of the Tycoon forever.

Such was the state for about four hundred years; and during that time, though peace and war took place by turns, persons who were charged with the duty of Shiogoon always performed the service of protecting the Mikado in overcoming rebels and preserving the people only, owing to their having had the military power and loyal hearts.

There was at times a little peace. Still the whole country was far from the state of perfect tranquillity, as the orders of the government were not issued by one body, and every person exercised a kind of independence, and there was no time of laying down arms, and the people cruelly suffered. For several hundred years no one knew the existence of the supreme master, (Mikado.)

Toashiogoo, the ancestor of our Tycoon, having possessed the great endowment of nobleness and ability, took the pain, of exposing himself to battle-fields, and tranquillized the great commotion, and brought perfect peace to the country, and gave easiness to the Mikado, and erected his palace, and greatly added to his property. It is owing [Page 608] to his great service and exertion that the court have lived safe and comfortable to this day. The Mikado admired his great service, and invested him with the governmental power, and set the example to his successors, which has been followed, of the Mikados not taking any share in state affairs. Consequently the power of Toashiogoo daily became more brilliant and splendid, and which no one had ever exhibited among the preceding Shaogoons. He assembled all Daimios at Yedo, and established the foundation of the government. None of the Daimios who assembled on this occasion disregarded the established regulations, and every one built house in Yedo, and all agreed to stay there for certain days every or every other year. This has become the everlasting regulation.

There had been no one to be compared to Toashiogoo in tranquillizing the national disturbance, and he was so successful that an end was put to the great commotion which had lasted for several hundred years in our Japan, and the foundation of peaec and happiness for more than two hundred and fifty years was laid, and since his time none of the Daimios have planned any unlawful design. Then it is no wonder that the governmental power has been attributed to him, and has descended to his successors.

After years, the state of the world was gradually changed, and the American vessels suddenly entered in the Bay of Yedo. It then became necessary to throw off the rules of closing the country and change the long-accustomed usage. We resolved to conclude the treaty, as we not only knew that it was an unwise act to cause war without any reasonable pretension against the Europeans, whose arms and arts of war, in this time, were far superior to those of our people, who had been accustomed to peace for more than two hundred years, but we understood that there was no possibility of an island on the Eastern Ocean to exist, if she made all countries her enemies in a time when the state of the world had been so much changed that the most distant countries became as neighbors, and that there was no right to refuse to open intercourse with the nations of the world.

As this was the commencement of new affairs, which might become of very important consequences to the country in future time, and of which the people were little aware, the government should have thoroughly discussed the matter until a final decision had been arrived at, and had caused the people fully to understand the matter, so as the doubts could not have existed; but having refrained to do so now gives us a great regret.

At the time when the treaty was first made, we were incautious enough to have thought that if we kept our people from close relations with the foreigners, no misunderstanding would occur in their intercourse, and there might be a time when the obstinate argument for closing the country would be gradually effaced, and the people would naturally become accustomed to the new order of things. But our mistake has turned to our disadvantage, and has been made use of by wicked people, and has become the cause of the unfriendly feelings which have risen on both sides. The largest Daimios took advantage of this circumstance to carry out the plan of depriving the Tycoon of power by betraying every movement of the Yedo government to the court of Mikado, and deceiving it with crafty and artful words.

We cannot bear to point out the several causes by which the governmental power of our late master was weakened and confused, we being, his servants; and it is useless to do so; we would not describe them here. Though it cannot be said that our government has acted with propriety, yet its design was to put down gradually those who hate and dislike foreigners and were in favor of the continued closing of the country, and also to fulfill the treaties which had been made with the foreign powers. It, however, cannot be assured whether the treaty would have been kept had it not been for the inauguration of the present Tycoon, who possessed the endowment of great intelligence and ability, and for whom it would not have been difficult to restore the work of Toashiogoo. The present Tycoon from early times had believed that it was necessary, in the good management of state affairs, that all orders of the government should be issued at one place. From the beginning of his succession he remained at Meyako for a long time; and having found so many defects in the management of the state affairs, declined for some time to accept the office.

But when the circumstances became difficult in the extreme, it became necessary for him to accept it, as he thought, the maintenance of the reputation of Japan, and to carry out everything according to the treaties, as many things had not then been done as the treaties stipulated.

He received the ministers of all the treaty powers at the castle in Osaka, and there showed his cordiality, friendly feeling, and hospitality, and has faithfully kept the covenant to carry out the treaties and fulfilled all promises. This naturally the duty of the Tycoon, but is also proof of his having not lost sight of right and justice even to the thickness of a hair, although surrounded by a hundred difficulties.

After having carried out the treaties and kept to truth, so that he had nothing to be ashamed of in matters abroad, he at once called back his attention to the interior affairs for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were properly progressing.

Hitherto the inclination of the public has been left to produce natural change as [Page 609] time passed on; but now so much change has taken place in the condition of the country, the constitution which was considered excellent for more than a hundred years now has become unserviceable for the present time. In a time when the state of the world is rapidly changing, for us to do nothing but remain in our old custom is little else than to ruin our country. We often talked of establishing this new mode, but the final conclusion for such a great change was to be made only by the decision of the present Tycoon. His opinion is, as we conjecture, that to strengthen the power of the government it is necessary to cause all the orders to be issued at only one place, and that the place to which the public feeling inclines. This is the case with the government of all countries, but such has never been found in our country. Therefore, if we do not now establish that constitution we will be unable to find complete tranquillity.

Every one in public council should listen to what is necessary first to be done in our present condition, and should understand the cause which gives rise to the calamity of the country, and should meet the movement with patriotic and devoted heart. Surrendering to Shinkoo (probably means the palace of the Mikado) the power which descended from his ancestors, with a request to the Mikado to assemble the large families in the country in order to discuss its present condition, and the means of establishing the constitution of the government, and the growing happiness and independent power of the country. Such is his zeal for his country.

The foregoing is the accurate account of the present condition.

We hope that you will not trouble your mind as to the relations between Japan and the foreign powers. They shall be safely kept as before, without the slightest difficulty. Since, notwithstanding the many difficulties to preserve friendship with the foreign countries, we shall practice what is right, and it is therefore evident that our future work will be successful.

The Tycoon has the reputation of having performed all that is stipulated in the treaties and fulfilled all the promise; therefore, when the state of foreign countries shall be explained in the council held by Daimios and Shiomios, who will assemble according to the summons, no one will disagree to his first judgment.

We heartily wish that the foreign governments, regarding the friendship which has always existed, will give us their sympathy in the cause for which we unite our hearts and strength.

The reason why thus we ask the assistance of the foreign countries is that we want to see soon the effect of the effort of your country, by which ours may be brought up to a prosperous state, as to see the shadow of an object by which it is cast and to hear the echo of voice.

These we relate to you concerning the circumstances of the events which have hitherto taken place, and we will inform you further as soon as we hear from Miyako, as we already stated to you in the letter.


Sir: At the time when his Highness the Taikun succeeded his predecessor in the autumn of last year, he strongly declined accepting the office of Shogun; but afterwards having received pressing commands from the Mikado, he accepted and was thereafter invested with the office. Lately, however, as the result of previous representations, on the 19th November he represented to the Mikado that he wished to resign the office of Shogoon. Orders were then issued by the Mikado that, until the Daimios should come up to Kiota, on which further orders would be issued, the Taikun should attend to business as heretofore.

The above information I have received from my colleagues at Kiota, and have the honor to communicate for your information.

I have, &c.,


His Excellency Sir Harry Parkes, K. C. B.