Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 2, 1878
Mr. Bingham to Mr. Evarts.
Tokei, Japan, September 12, 1878. (Received October 18.)
Sir: On the 23d ultimo, I regret to say, there was a revolt among the Imperial troops in this capital, in which the second battalion of the artillery of the Imperial Guard was actively engaged, beginning the revolt near midnight by firing signal guns from their barracks and moving from their quarters into the streets, where they met resistance from the Imperial forces, and after some hours of flight and pursuit, and some skirmishing and loss of life, the insurgents surrendered.
It appears that by concert it had been agreed upon between this battalion and the artillery of the Tokei garrison that the latter should, upon the firing of the signal-guns, join in the uprising, but the war department having been secretly advised of the proposed revolt had on that day moved the garrison some few miles from Tokei, and thus prevented its co-operation in the conflict. Much has been said of this affair, and no doubt the reported disaffection among the troops in different parts of the empire has been greatly exaggerated.
I inclose for your information the comments of the Japan Herald upon the affair, together with the various notifications of his excellency the prime minister and the minister of war, &c., in relation to the revolt.
All is quiet now in the capital.
I have, &c.,
REVOLT OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD.
The revolt of the artillery of the Imperial Guard, which occurred on Friday night, in Tokei, may, we fear, be followed by other outbreaks, unless preventive or pacifying measures be taken in time by the government. The disaffection, it is certain, is not [Page 509] confined to the regiment in Tokio, but is common to all the troops of the guard, most of whom are stationed at present in the south. The war-worn remnants of the picked soldiers of the empire are greatly dissatisfied about the real or supposed neglects they have suffered. If the grievance be well founded it is the more undeserved, as the brunt of the hard fighting against Saigo’s trained marines and samurai fell upon the Imperial Guard, as the thinned ranks of the regiments and great numbers of wounded and crippled men testify. On the other hand, the officials of the government say the rewards were fixed by Arisugawa-no-Miya, the commander-in-chief, are on a fair and even liberal scale, and that even if some reasons for dissatisfaction existed, they were still open to remedy, and that revolt and killing of officers are military crimes for which there is no palliation. It seems probable that the government may have to disband the whole body of the unruly Prætorians, whose claim to regulate their largesses cannot be admitted. The guards, it seems, have been restive for some time, and their insubordination, if not checked, would be a constant danger to the state.
As far as we can learn, the other troops of the garrison and armed police are not disaffected. But there is much and open discontent in the provinces. We do not mean that a revolt or insurrection may be expected even in Tosa, but a concurrence of events, such as trouble with soldiery and the calamity of a short harvest (now, unhappily, imminent) may lead to evil events. Most of the provinces are, in the main, poor, and the burden of taxation now imposed is hard to bear, the late remission notwithstanding. As a rule, the native merchants and traders are poorer now than at any time during the last ten years; the farmer and peasant classes, who in the best of times earn a bare subsistence only, are trembling at the prospect of a failure or partial failure of the rice crop, and have no resources to meet the expected deficit; among the late privileged shizoku there is a deep resentment against the sharp practice of the government, and the increasing miseries and hopelessness of the unfortunates may induce some desperate enterprises on the part of these pauperized and suffering men. The members of the government, with few exceptions, are regarded by the conntry with disfavor and distrust. The Daijin are necessary personages to deal with the aristocratic families, and are believed to be, in point of personal honor, without reproach. But with the sangi, the adroit, clever, unscrupulous karos, who are now turning the empire to profit, the case is different, and the necessity of an organic change of ministry, if the government of the empire is to go on without shock or hinderance, is daily more and more manifest. The personal acts of the ministers are keenly discussed, and rarely with approval, and the more as at least one of the number took office with a reputation for probity not of the highest.
But while we are hopeful that in Japan honest and capable men could be found to administer the affairs of the state, the absence of a training for public life in this country is a serious hinderance to selection. There is reason to fear that provincial feelings are yet too strong, and would in many or most cases bar high officials from asserting a wholly national policy.
As may be readily understood, it is reported that the finances are in a bad way. The year will close with a deficit. The crops will be, at the best, deficient in quality and quantity, and as stores of food are low, an import of rice may be necessary. Deficit and the costs of outbreaks add to the increasing debt, which bears heavily on the empire. The government seems to be blind to this, and many think that there must be a crisis ere long.
All excitement has died away in Tokei, and the affair has almost ceased to be talked of. No thoroughfare is permitted, however, along the road from the Hanzô to the Takébashi gate, just inside the moat in front of the British legation, alongside the Mikado’s gardens. The sentries at the different public offices about town have fixed bayonets and cartouch-boxes slung round their shoulder,.
A native correspondent has sent us the following report on the military troubles in Tokei last Friday night:
On the night of the 23d inst., about half past eleven, the second battalion of the artillery of the imperial guard, which is quartered inside the Takebashi gate, set its barracks on fire, fired two signal guns, and then marched out, shouting and yelling. The reason why the signal guns were fired was that there was an understanding about the rising between the guard artillery and the artillery of the Tokei garrison which is quartered at Ichigai; but the war department, having discovered the plot, had ordered the garrison artillery to be reviewed at Oji on that very night. In this manner the garrison artillery was prevented from joining in the mutiny. It is said that it was originally intended to postpone the mutiny until His Majesty’s progress north; but it [Page 510] was objected that most of the ministers would then be absent, and the mutineers would then have no chance of gratifying the grudge which they bore to some of them.
As the infantry did not join the artillery, the latter fired upon the former; this firing was returned and a fight ensued. The war department, however, was not unprepared for the mutiny; it had received information beforehand of what was brewing, and as soon as the disorder broke out, the alarm was given to the public and the police by firing five guns at the imperial palace. Immediately, every gate leading from the Shiro, such as Takebashi, Kijibashi, Kandabashi, Kajibashi, &c., was occupied by the guards, whilst the police received arms at the head station, and were sent to protect the imperial palace and the residences of the Daijin and the Sangi. Some of the mutinous artillerymen had, however, already made their exit; one party went through the Hanzo gate with the intention of laying their grievances before His Majesty; another party marched out through the Takebashi gate, and attacked the residence of the minister of finance, which was riddled with bullets. His excellency Mr. Okuma, however, managed to escape unhurt, but the bullets were flying as far as Nishiki-cho and Ogawamachi, to the great terror of the inhabitants, who fled in all directions, and one poor woman is said to have been killed near Suido-bashi by a stray shot. Major Utsunomiya and Captain Fukasawa of the artillery were killed by their own men while endeavoring to restrain the revolt, and several lieutenants and noncommissioned officers of the loyal troops were killed during the fight.
When the artillerymen, who had proceeded to the imperial palace, arrived before the gate at Akasaka, they drew up in a line and were hailed by the officer on guard, to whom they replied that they came to present a petition. On his asking them why they did not present it through their commander, they answered him that they had killed their major and captain. The officer on guard then called out the troops and ranged them opposite the artillerymen, and when he thought he had a sufficient force under his command, he ordered the artillerymen to lay down their arms on the spot. This was complied with and the artillerymen were all arrested. A similar fate soon overtook those who had attacked the finance minister’s residence. They were surrounded on all sides by troops and armed policemen, and they seem to have had no further settled plan, so they surrendered without even trying to resist.
The cause of this revolt is said to be the dissatisfaction felt by that regiment of artillery at what was considered by them the partial distribution of rewards to those who had fought the Satsuma rebels. The fire at the barracks was got under about 1 a.m. on the 24th, and all the rioters were either captured or surrendered themselves. Before daybreak on the 24th quiet was fully restored. But it is said that some weeks ago there was, from similar causes, a mutinous spirit among the infantry, which the officers, however, succeeded in quieting before it came to an outbreak.
We learn from another source as follows: It has for some days past been known that great dissatisfaction prevailed amongst certain of the troops in Tokei, more especially amongst the guards known as the Konoye-tai. No outbreak, such as that which had taken place was, however, expected until Friday morning, when the government became aware of the impending trouble—it is said through somebody having overheard the remarks of two soldiers who were conversing in a public place. Measures were at once taken to make head against the affair, without forcing an immediate outbreak. The Tokei garrison artillery, which were known to be parties to the plot, were sent out that same afternoon to Oji to drill, whilst, in the case of another body of troops, the whole of the non-commissioned officers, who were suspected of being in league with the privates, were at once replaced by loyal officers from other corps, and thus a check was put upon the dissatisfied privates. It was understood that it was the intention of the malcontents to murder all the ministers with the exception of Ito and Saigo, whose persons, however, were to be secured. Of course, the members of the government were at once warned, and they were all, it is said, at the time of the outbreak, safely ensconced, though in anxious expectation, within the walls of the palace. When the Konoye-tai, who were probably ignorant of their secret having transpired and the precautions taken, gave the signal for the outbreak by killing their commanding officer and setting fire to their barracks, they found that they were alone, and being but few in number, they were soon overpowered by the other troops and police.
That something more than a mere riot was intended is proved by the fact that the first act of the Konoye-tai was to fire volleys agaist H. E. Okuma’s house, proofs of which are still apparent, the garden fence being pierced with scores of bullet-holes, and some bullets have even entered the house and damaged carpets, furniture, &c. Fortunately, Mr. Okuma, having been, as above stated, informed of the impending danger, had that morning removed his family to a safe place, and nobody was in the house at the time of the outbreak.
(From the Chôya Shimbun of August 25, 1878.)
The following notification was issued yesterday, the 24th instant, by the prime minister:
“It is hereby notified that, pending the measures for tracing and determining the affair of the riot of the artillery of the guard within the Také-bashi, no persons are to be permitted to pass through the said gates.”
On the same day the following notice was published by the Chiji of the Tokei Fu:
“It is hereby made known that the signal-guns fired a short while ago from the imperial residence were to give special warning in consequence of there being some soldiery who had proceeded to acts of violence within the barracks of the artillery of the guard. The rioters, however, having been captured or given themselves up, have been completely quelled, and the whole of the inhabitants of the various districts (in the Tokei Fu) may be easy in mind.”
From an extra published by the Nichi Nichi Shimbun on the 25th August.
The following notification has been issued by the Daijokwan:
“To every Sho, In, Shi, and Tokei-fu:
“The subjoined report from the minister of war on the recent mutiny among the artillery of the imperial guard is hereby brought to public knowledge.
“The 24th August, 1878.
“‘To His Excellency Sanjo
“‘The 23d August, 1878.
“‘To-night, at eleven o’clock, some artillerymen of the imperial guard mutinied, partially destroyed their barracks, and fired some shots. They were, however, soon overpowered; most of those who had marched out were arrested, and quiet was restored. The cause of this mutiny has not yet been ascertained, but will now be inquired into. The mutineers were all rank and file; not a single non-commissioned officer was implicated. I have hastened to forward this report.
“‘Minister of War.’”
The war department has issued the following:
“To every Fu and Ken:
“It is hereby notified that some artillerymen of the imperial guard rose in mutiny, partially destroyed their barracks, and fired some shots, but they were quickly overpowered, most of those who had marched out were arrested, and quiet was restored.
“Minister of War.
“The 24th August, 1878.”