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06 December 2005 @ 02:15 am
Jan 1, 1858 - Edo, Japan  
In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States of America appeared in Edo Bay with four warships and demanded that Japan open its ports to foreign trade. This event triggered what was to become known as the "Bakumatsu" or "End of the Bakufu".

The people of Japan were instantly divided in their opinions on how to handle this act of foreign aggession. There were some who recognized the technological advantage that the Western countries of the world had over Japan and advised that the country should open to trade immediately. It was only in this way that Japan could become a modern country of the world and defend itself, they warned. However there were others who believed that the traditional spirit of the samurai would be enough to defend their country. They argued that the foreigners should be expelled from the "Land of the Gods" at once and became known as "exclusionists".

Many of those who argued against acceptance of the foreigners also preached "imperial loyalism". Of these, there were many who had a deep and traditional hatred of the shogunate. Others were angered at the Bakufu for having allowed the coutnry to become so weak. Since the emperor, who had no real authority, was known to hate the foreigners and to want them gone from Japan, they began to rally about him and insist tha the government's failure to carry out his will was treason. Their slogan was, "Sonno-joi" or "Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians."

Meanwhile, the crisis sparked a serious debate among those in authority over who the next shogun could be. There were some who pushed for change in the government by supporting a candidate from Mito domain. Others attempted to maintain the status quo by supporting a much younger candidate from Kii. To gain support, both sides pretended "imperial loyalism".

It was not long before the issues of succession and expelling the foreigners began to overlap. This state of affairs continued until December of 1857. During all this time, the American government had been putting more and more pressure on the shogunate to sign a treaty allowing trade between the two countries. The Chairman of the Shogun's Council of Elders, Hotta Masayoshi, made a radical attempt to appease the exclusionists by appealing directly to the imperial court for approval of the treaty. In all of its nearly 300 years, the shogunate had never asked permission from the court for anything and this merely helped to strengthen the idea that the Bakufu had grown too weak to rule Japan.

The eyes of all those in power are now turned toward Kyoto, waiting to find out how the imperial court will respond...

While these things are of concern to all Japanese, for the ordinary folk back in Edo there is the more important task of going through one's daily life to worry about. And one place where ordinary life continues is a small dojo in the Ichigaya area of Edo called the Shieikan, where students come to study the Tennen Rishin Ryu under its master, Kondo Shusuke. Kondo-sensei is getting on in years and is looking forward to the day when he will retire and hand things over to his adopted son, Kondo Isami, who shows great promise as the next master of Tennen Rishin Ryu.

And then there is young Okita Soujirou. Already a very skilled swordsman, an important date has arrived for him. On this day, Jan 1, 1858, Okita will turn 15 and be counted as a man. The preparations for his "genpuku" have already begun...