Changes in the Japanese Cabinet
Tokio, September 29th, 1887
The postponement of the treaty revision negotiations, described in my last letter, has been followed by the resignation of Count Inouye, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Few doubted that this must ensue.
Count Inouye's project, dictated by considerations which I hope to explain in a future communnication, was to revise the treaties forthwith, offering to foreign Powers such guarantees as were judged essential in view of the incomplete state of Japan's civil codes and the imperfect organization of her judiciary.
On this basis he conducted the negotiations until, as readers of The Times already know, they reached the stage where the signatures of the contracting parties were alone required to conclude the convention.
The Cabinet, by deciding to postpone the conference at this point, practically announced that the order of Count Inouye's project was premature.
His Government, in short, could not consent to endorse the concessions he had consented to make as the price of immediate revision.
Nothing remained for him, therefore, but resignation.
The event has caused a profound sensation.
Count Inouye's great talents are admitted even by his opponents.
His countrymen know him to be an uncompromising advocate of progress, and a statesman of widely reaching abilities, keen judgement, and exceptional tact.
Foreigners recognize in him a Japanese whose genuine sympathy with their civilization enables him to interpret justly their reluctance to surrender extra-territorial privileges, and whose astute liberaliity prompts him to choose the route of practical conciliation rather than that of sentimental inflexibility.
His career comprises more than its full share of the romantic incidents that make the lives of modern Japanese statesmen read like sensational novels.
At 18 years of age his intellect and daring had already distinguished him among the retainers of the Prince of Choshu, then one of the most powerful of Japanese feudal chiefs.
He was an ardent disciple of the traditional creed that the integrity of his country could only be preserved by isolation from foreign intercourse.
This, indeed, constituted the first article of every Japanese patriot's faith in those days, a faith implanted by bitter experience in the breasts of previous generations, and by them bequeathed to their successors with all the authority of solemn conviction.
Inouye quickly perceived that Japan could not hope to cope with foreigners unless she learnt to use their incomparably superior weapons.
He determined to visit England for the purpose of studying naval matters.
His companion in this enterprise was Ito Hirobumi, now Minister President of State.
The two youths knew only one English word "navigation".
It would have been happier for them had they known one word less, for by an ill-timed exercise of this knowledge their purpose was misinterpreted and they found themselves one morning at sea in a sailing ship before the mast.
It was impossible for them to enter an intelligible protest of any kind, so they sensibly adapted themselves to circumstances and worked their way to England, learning how to reef a top-sail, scrape a deck, and cheerfully lose their little stock of silver at mysterious games of chance in the forecastle.
They reached London with just five dollars remaining, and being obliged to wait a whole day without friends or food, they proceeded to negotiate the purchase of a loaf of bread.
Hoping that the five dollars would suffice, and trusting that if it were more than sufficient the excess would be returned to them, they tendered the whole to an honest baker near the docks, received their loaf of bread, and are still without the change.
A year later they had learnt, among many other things, the true meaning of Western civilization and the fatuity of attempting to hold their country aloof from it.
Just then news reached them that their chief, the Prince of Choshu, had erected forts at Shimonoseki, had fired upon passing vessels, and had practically proclaimed his defiance of all the treaty Powers.
Hastening back to Japan, they found that active measures were in progress for the despatch of an allied fleet against Shimonoseki.
They knew well how such a contest must end, and the step they took with the object of averting it was an earnest of the resolute directness that has distinguished their whole careers.
Waiting on the British Representative, they prayed him to delay the despatch of the fleet, explaining that if time were given them to visit Choshu they were not without hopes of effecting a peaceful arrangement.
The application must have surprised Sir Rutherford Alcock, but, to the great credit of his discernment and humanity, he not only listened to those youths, but actually asked Admiral Kuper to send them in a man-of-war to Shimonoseki.
The Barrossa was detailed for the service.
Her commander was Captain Dowell, who, revisiting Japan just 21 years afterwards as Admiral Sir William Dowell, K.C.B., found his two friends at the head of the Japanese Government as Minister President and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The Barrossa remained 12 days at Himejima, near Shimonoseki, and during the whole of that time unceasing but fruitless efforts were made by Inouye and Ito to shake their clansmen's purpose.
The men of Choshu were determined to fight; they wanted blows, not arguments, and, as history tells, they soon had their wishes gratified by the allied fleets.
The result of the engagements at Shimonoseki indicated the wisdom of the young envoy's counsel, but threw their clan into confusion.
Space forbids me to detail the incidents that ensued, further than to say that the leading part taken by Inouye and his conspicuous ability drove his opponents to desperate measures.
They fell on him one night, after he had left his Prince's presence, and almost cut him to pieces.
Carried home, he had just strength to ask his brother to perform for him the last office claimed by a Samurai - decapitation.
Such a request was in those days imperative.
In an instant it would have been complied with, when the wounded man's mother threw her arms about him and by some strange instinct of love declared that he would recover.
Three weeks later his enemies learnt that he had survived.
They seized him, helpless as he was and incapable of movement, and threw him into prison, where one night the tramp of men coming, as he supposed, to execute him, proved to be the sound of rescue.
Thenceforth he advanced rapidly in influence and office, until in 1873, he filled the post of Vice-Minister of Finance under the Mediatized Government.
It was at this time that he presented to the Throne a memorial showing that the Government's expenditure exceeded its legitimate resources and recommemding retrenchment.
His opinions were not approved and he resigned his post, proceeding immeadiately afterwards to Europe, where he remained five years.
In 1878 he returned to Japan at the request of his Government, and accepted the portfolio of Public Works, only to be transferred shortly afterwards to the Foreign Office, which he directed with admirable ability until recent events proved that his countrymen had not risen to the level of his statesmanship in the matter of treaty revision.
No more conclusive evidence of the success of his foreign policy could be adduced than the fact that he accomplished the apparently insuperable task of reconciling the conflicting interests of 16 Western Powers, and of bringing an Oriental State for the first time within measurable distance of admission on the pale of Christendom.
It is true that at the very moment of achievement events proved too strong for him, but many of the solid results of his work remain to his country, and he has the satisfaction of knowing that his programme is to be pursued without flagging, the order of procedure alone being changed.
His successor is Count Ito, Minister President of State, who, to take the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, resigns that of the Imperial Household.
The occupancy of the latter post by the Minister President had been a souce of discontent to the Opposition, who will doubtless be pleased by the change now made.
It is well understood, however, that Count Ito only goes to the Foreign Office as a temporary measure.
He will doubtless transfer the portfolio eventually to either Admiral Vicount Enomoto, formerly Japanese representative in St. Petersburg and Peking, and now Minister of State for Communications, or to Viscount Mori, who represented Japan for some years at the Court of St. James's, and is now Minister of State for Education.
There is reason to believe that the former appointment is the more likely.
It cannot be too clearly stated that these changes indicate no alteration in the country's foreign policy.
The project of treaty revision on Count Inouye's lines - that is to say, the opening of the entire country in exchange for the recovery of Japan's judicial autonomy, and the resumption of negotiations to that end so soon as the completed legal codes can be laid on the table at the Conference - continues always to be the project of his successor.
Count Inouye himself, though he retires from the Cabinet, remains in the Government.
He has consented to accept the relatively unimportant and inferior post of Court Chancellor, and it is hoped that a field for the exercise of his talents and energy may soon be found in directing the legal and judicial preparations now declared an essential preliminary to the consummation of his great scheme.
His loss to the Cabinet is in a measure compensated by the accession of General Count Kuroda, who becomes Minister of State for Agriculture and Commerce.
This statesman enjoys an almost phenomenal degree of popularity; not that he has ever given evidence of conspicuous abilities, but rather for the sake of the associations that are preserved by his personal prowess and dignified courtesy, and because his frugal habits of life as well as his apparently neutral attitude in politics have invested him with the character of a popular hero in posee.
The crisis reveals a noteworthy phase of Japanese politics.
It shows that national feeling has grown painfully sensitive in respect of foreign relations.
Of the two concessions to which exception was chiefly taken, one was the engagement that Japan's laws should be on the basis of Western principles.
There is no immediately apparent objetion to this.
Every educated Japanese would admit that he hopes to see such laws enacted and enforced in his country.
The purpose of the pledge, in short, is unexceptionable; it is the pledge itself that provokes criticism.
Impetuous patriots cannot bear to think that their country should promise anything whatsoever to foreign States with respect to the nature of her laws.
It is true that the purpose of the promise referred solely to jurisdiction over foreigners; it did not apply in any respect to Japanese laws as such.
But there has gradually grown up in Japan a party persuaded that their country is the victim of her own weakness, and that her just claims would be at once recognized did she possess the means of enforcing them, or did she make a really resolute effort to have them recognized.
By these politicians an engagement of the nature in question is counted a distinct confession of weakness.
Others argue, with some show of reason, that in framing her codes Japan, having to reckon with her own circumstances and usages, cannot and should not undertake to be rigidly bound by the dictates of Western jurisprudence.
It is vain to remind these critics that Western jurisprudence is a term of wide import, and that Japan's case, even as stated by themselves, could easily be included within the limits of Europe's very diverse codes and customs.
In reply, they point to undoubted fact in their country's experience - namely, that every ambiguous clause in her international agreements has hitherto been arbitrarily construed to her disadvantage.
She would be mad, they say, did she ignore this lesson and expose herself again to such a fate.
So, too, of the second concession - that an authenticated English translation of Japan's codes should be communicated to foreign Governments eight months before the revised treaty went into operation.
To obviate any misinterpretation of this stipulation, it was accompanied by a note distinctly limiting its scope to the purposes of the treaty, and divesting it of any semblance of encroachment upon Japan's legislative independence.
It must further be remembered that, under the extraterritorial system as at present interpreted, no Japanese law as such has any binding force upon the foreign residents; to become operative, it must be approved and, re-enacted by the foreign representatives.
In view of this, to Japan, most painful actuality, it is plain that the objections urged to the communication of the translated codes as the condition precedent to the recovery of judicial autonomy are the outcome of an almost romantically sensitive patriotism.
And such unquestionably is the mood of a considerable section of the nation.
Foreign Powers are confronted by a state of affairs very similar to that which they found here, but wholly failed to comprehend, 25 years ago.
The liberality, hesitating perhaps, but certainly honest, shown towards us by the Tokugawa Regents, placed a powerful weapon in the hands of their conservative enemies, and we ourselves materially assisted the strokes of the weapon by the exacting and distrustful attitude we maintained towards our allies.
There is, indeed, no question of conservatism now.
All parties in the State are more than willing to throw the empire open to foreign trade and residence, in return for Japan's admission to the comity of civilized nations.
But whereas one section of the people would vainly, and at great cost to us and their country, seek to exact the exchange as a right, the other, represented by the present Cabinet, would make it a subject of prudent and peaceful compromise.
There can be no doubt as to the direction in which Western interests point.
We mistook our friends for our foes 25 years ago, but we made no mistake about our interests.
The case would be very differnet today if, by imposing too heavy terms on our friends, we should unhappily become the means of placing the control of Japan's foreign policy in the hands of men pledged to rigidly maintain the restrictions of the present treaties, or to relax them on conditions that we could scarecely accept.
The Times - Dec.2nd
Going Back to Article List