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The Bakumatsu (幕末), literally translated without historical context as "Curtain Call", refers to the radical social movement which occurred at the end of the Edo period. Often translated as "the end of the Tokugawa shogunate", the Bakumatsu brought the end of the samurai caste's established dominance in the political world. It has no specific dates, but historians generally agree the rough time frame is 1853~1869.

Prior to these years, Japan had largely remained in political isolation for over a century and the Tokugawa shogunate remained the supreme military regime. Foreign trade was strict, only allowed at specific checkpoints beyond the main islands. Due to the brutal Christian war and suspicions of foreign traders, it was illegal to study Western thought or practices —besides ancient texts or Confucianism from China— because they were considered a "threat to society". Scholars who were caught teaching or practicing them could have been incarcerated, striped of their wealth, banished, or executed. As more intrepid scholars were persecuted —even with these laws in place— the shogunate and politicians were discretely seeking to somehow exploit European practices. They approached anything European with mild interest, many believing the rest of the world to be a curious but unwanted venture. Their interests were piqued when the treasured teachings of China lost in the First Opium War, and a cry for reform began to echo with a handful of politicians.

Many incidents of foreign sailors docking on Japan's shores were swiftly dealt with by the shogunate, asking travelers to answer the imperial court's questions before being dismissed from the island nation. However, Western ideologies and culture went beyond the discreet interest of scholars and politicians once American "black ships" docked near Edo. Matthew Perry and his crew drew the attention of the nation when his ships lingered in the south. People were shaken by the foreign visit and the shogunate's apparent ineptitude to deal with them, causing a radical spark of nationalism to rivet throughout the country. Political ideologies and activists emerged as a result, and groups became severely divided to protect their ideals. The main focus of these ideals strongly compared ancient Japanese customs with the dilemma of accepting European practices.

Ultimately, the violent outbreak of ideals resulted in bloody and deadly riots and wars. The shogunate exhausted its resources to deal with them, and the Emperor Meiji's ascension to the throne allowed the formal acceptance of Harry Parkes and European technology, giving the government's suppression forces a severe advantage over any other insurgents. As the samurai caste were being modernized, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, a lover of the Western world himself, was convinced by this and other reasons to step down as the ruling power and rule as shogun in name only. With the shogun weakened, the emperor was no longer a puppet figure head and the Meiji period was established. The final violent conflict against the imperial government ended with the Battle of Hakodate.


The Bakumatsu has several contrasting ideologies during its brief time period, many of which have been given simple terms by contemporary historians for recognition. These are the ones which appear frequently within Koei titles of the era.

  • Sakoku (鎖国, "Closed country") - Restricted access to Japan, illegal and taboo to explore the regions outside the main islands without a permit. Severe dichotomy between the rich, emerging middle class (merchants), and the poor. Despite strict regulations regarding travel, the shogunate barely oversaw merchants' oft corrupt pricing, protection for trade ships, and security for impoverished locals. Censored and outlawed European practices. "Outsiders" and "barbarians" included European travelers and indigenous tribes near Russia and Japan like the Ainu. Criticized and opposed throughout the Bakumatsu.
  • Sabaku (佐幕, "Pro-Shogunate, Assist shogunate") - Supporters sponsored by the Tokugawa shogunate who follow its practices prior to controversial imperial reform to lower the importance of the samurai caste. Military law enforcement throughout the social movement. Followers are not necessarily agreed on whether to accept or deny Western practices. Opposes royalty and revolutionaries.
  • Kinnou (勤王, "Pro-Emperor, Attend to royalty, Loyalists") - Supporters sponsored by the emperor and the imperial court. Pushes for the emperor's rule and lowering shogunate's status above all else. Accept Western practices once convinced it is beneficial for obtaining a stand on the country. Opposes shogunate and revolutionaries.
  • Sonnou-Joui (尊王攘夷, "Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians, Revolutionaries, Rioters, Extremists") - The meanings of the mantra were altered with the arrival of American black ships. Mainly associated with upset nationalists who believe that nothing foreign should be accepted since it's a threat for the people. Upset with the shogunate's flip-flopping policies, insufficient government overseeing for suffering populace, and anything which appeared controversial to isolated Japan. Staged group uprisings throughout the era.
  • Toubaku (倒幕, "Overthrow the shogunate, Revolutionaries") - Displeasure with shogunate's policies similar to sonnou-joi. Unlike the sonnou-joi, this ideology stresses pacifistic and intellectual solutions to protest the shogunate. Properly uses the government's system to propose a new legislation. Open to European trade and thought. Followers are not necessarily employed by the government or emperor.
  • Joui (攘夷, "Exclusionism, Expel barbarians") - Ancient Chinese practice of accepting Western trade but not Western thought. Traditional means used for centuries in Japan. Narrowly focused on aspects which might prove beneficial based on ancient practices. Criticized to be flawed once the Western technology and tactics overpower feudal beliefs in the wars. Remained within Japan during Meiji period.
  • Kaikoku (開国, "Open country") - Promotes acceptance of Europeans for sciences, technology, trading, and so on. Places western thought on a pedestal of innovation for the country rather than sticking completely to traditional values. Pushes for reforming jurisdictions everywhere in Japan compared to selective cases stressed in other ideologies.

Ten Outstanding Heroes of the Restoration[]

The Ten Outstanding Heroes of the Restoration (維新の十傑, ishin no jukketsu) refers to individuals who supported the Meiji restoration, or the restoration of power for the emperor. Since it is a posthumous honorary title of sorts made up by historians and critics, the listing for these individuals varies on the source.

Yamawaki Yukihito lists samurai retainers:

  1. Ōkubo Toshimichi
  2. Saigō Takamori
  3. Komatsu Tatewaki
  4. Ōmura Masujirō
  5. Kido Takayoshi
  6. Maebara Issei
  7. Hirosawa Saneomi
  8. Etō Shimpei
  9. Yokoi Shōnan
  10. Iwakura Tomomi

Shōzo Kanazawa includes patriots and/or revolutionaries:

  1. Yoshida Shōin
  2. Rai Mikisaburō
  3. Arimura Jizaemon
  4. Takahashi Taichirō
  5. Kiyokawa Hachirō
  6. Tomobayashi Mitsuhira
  7. Hirano Kuniomi
  8. Sakuma Shōza
  9. Takasugi Shinsaku
  10. Sakamoto Ryōma

Three Outstanding Heroes of the Restoration[]

Out of the aforementioned ten, there were three nobles considered to be particularly influential. Again, this recognition was given to them posthumously.

  1. Kido Takayoshi
  2. Saigō Takamori
  3. Ōkubo Toshimichi

See also[]