by Michio Asakawa
Tokyo Rika University

Paper presented at
Sheffield College, England
September 1998

Translated by Jay and Mariko Clarke

My name is Michio Asakawa, and I am writing a chapter in the "Military History Section" of the "Anglo-Japanese Relations History Project." My chapter covers Anglo-Japanese military cooperation from the opening of Japan in 1854 to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. While Japan was going through the turmoil of rapid modernization, the relationship between the two countries evolved from that of teacher-student to that of partnership.

Although it was the United States that had opened Japan, the United States quickly disappeared from the diplomatic picture because of its Civil War of 1861 through 1865. Consequently, England and France exercised the major influence on the creation of modern Japanese armed forces during the pre-Restoration period. Even after the Imperial Restoration of 1868, the Meiji government modeled its navy on Britain's and its army on France's. Germany later replaced French influence on the Japanese army while British influence on the Japanese navy lasted well into the twentieth century.

From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, Japan's military activities in East Asia rested on its cooperation with England which exercised enormous power in the region. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and 1895, Japan joined the Great Powers in partitioning China. At British request Japan sent the largest number of troops among the eight allied Powers during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Thereafter, as tensions between Japan and Russia increased over Manchuria and Korea, Japan and England drew closer. Buttressed by the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, Japan prepared for the coming Russo-Japanese War.

From the seventeenth century under the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan had maintained its isolation for over 200 years. Meanwhile, since the late eighteenth century, Western Powers with commercial ambitions had attempted to open Japan. U. S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry's visit in 1854 successfully opened Japan and forced it to conclude commercial treaties with the Western Powers. The Western Powers in the process, however, were threatening Japan's national integrity and stimulated Japanese xenophobic nationalism. Japan's nationalistic movements in the late Tokugawa period synthesized into the Sonno-Joi, or "Honor-the-Emperor, Expel-the-Barbarians," movement. Internally, Sonno-Joi vigorously criticized the Shogunate's diplomatic policy, and its extreme hostility complicated Japan's diplomatic relations.

England used its military forces to retaliate against those Joi incidents directed at British residents in Japan. At the same time, the British aimed their military activities at guaranteeing the Shogunate's treaty compliance and protecting foreigners.

The Tozen-Ji Temple in Edo [Yedo], present-day Tokyo, became the British legation in 1859. When the legation was twice attacked in 1861 and 1862, the British hardened its attitude toward Japan. Thereafter, relying on its superior maritime power around Japan, England exercised "gunboat diplomacy." England threatened a naval blockade to enforce Japan's treaty obligations. Britain similarly sought to punish the Satsuma and Choshu domains where the Joi movement was centered.

To retaliate for the Namamugi Affair of 1862, the murder of a British resident in Yokohama, England dispatched its fleet to the Bay of Kagoshima and bombarded Satsuma in August of the following year. Through the peace negotiations between England and the Satsuma domain, the two developed close political and military connections.

The Tokugawa Shogunate, meanwhile, assumed a self-contradictory policy to respond to this crisis. On the one hand, the Shogunate sought to smooth out its diplomatic relations with the Western Powers. On the other, it pledged to the Emperor that it would carry out the Joi, "Expel-the-Barbarian" policy. On June 24, 1863, the Shogunate announced the closure of open ports to the Westerners.

Choshu's forces bombed the Western fleets and blocked the Strait of Shimonoseki by force on June 25, 1863--the very day the Shogunate had designated to implement its Joi policy. As another example of the Joi policy, a month later Tottori domain forces cannonaded a British ship in the Bay of Osaka. An allied fleet composed of vessels from England, the United States, France, and the Netherlands retaliated on Choshu. Their naval action and the subsequent landing of army troops completely crushed Choshu's military strength.

As the result, the inability of the radical Joi movement to maintain Japanese isolation became obvious. When the imperial court approved Japan's commercial treaties with Western countries, the Sonno-Joi movement lost its legitimacy and rapidly declined.

The murders of foreign residents and bombardings of Western ships by Sonno-Joi activists gravely damaged diplomatic confidence in the Shogunate. To protect Western residents in Japan, England and France pressed the Shogunate government to approve the stationing of their military forces in Yokohama. The British forces stationed there consisted mainly of army troops transferred from Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Africa as well as some marines. The British forces, rotated by units, stayed in Yokohama until 1875.

In 1862 and 1863, the Tokugawa Shogunate tried to respond to these internal and external crises by reforming its military system. The Shogunate initially followed translated Dutch military manuals. Direct instruction by Westerners to modernize Japan's military forces began in 1864 and 1865 when the Shogunate adopted British-style training for its battalion of infantry and artillery soldiers. Failing to obtain British cooperation to educate its officers, however, the Shogunate turned to France and invited French military instructors and switched to mimicking the French army.

As for the Japanese navy, it had developed under Dutch instruction since the 1850s. The Shogunate sent Japanese students to the Netherlands to study naval technology and tactics. England in 1867 sent seventeen naval instructors, led by Commander Richard E. Tracy. They taught Japanese students at the Kaigun Denshu-sho, the Japanese Naval School in Edo. In 1868 upon the outbreak of the Boshin War, Japan's civil war, the Western Powers declared their neutrality. British naval cooperation with the Shogunate ended with the naval ministry's order to withdraw instructors and with the collapse of the Shogunate.

The Meiji government was created with the destruction of the Shogunate by the Imperial Restoration and the following civil war. At the beginning, the new government was built upon confederacy uniting various feudal domains. In 1871, Japan established its first centralized and unified national state by officially abolishing its feudal system.

During the civil war of 1868 and 1869, the Imperial Meiji government recruited military forces from the feudal domains loyal to the Emperor. These forces proved capable of adapting methods of modern warfare and effectively fought against the Shogunate and its allies. Since the 1850s, many of these imperial domains had already attempted to Westernize their military forces. Using military manuals from England, France, the Netherlands, and others, each domain adopted a different military style. The Satsuma and Saga domains were the first to accept military knowledge and weapons from England after 1864. The British military style rapidly spread among the imperial domains because Satsuma and Saga assumed leadership of the imperial forces during the civil war. Also England, despite its diplomatic neutrality, maintained a benevolent attitude toward the imperial forces.

When the new government standardized its military system in 1870, Meiji leaders had to choose either a British or French model for their army. Leaders from Satsuma preferred the British style, while those from Choshu preferred the French. In the end, the government decided upon the French model to best utilize the training its officers had already received during the Tokugawa period. The new Japanese army followed the French model until the early 1890s when Japan adopted the German style.

Concerning the Japanese navy, in 1870 the government decided to follow the British model. The central government took the initiative in establishing a modern navy by emphasizing the educational apparatus. Almost half of first instructors in the Kaigun Heigaku-ryo, the Naval Academy, were former Shogunate vassals who brought Dutch systems and customs into the academy. At the same time, the academy hired Western instructors, mainly British naval officers, to teach foreign languages, gunnery, navigation, and so on. In 1873, the government invited a group of instructors, led by Commander Archibald Lucius Douglas, from the British navy. This Douglas mission laid the foundation of British traditions in the Japanese navy.

With the abolition of the feudal system in 1871, the Meiji government launched its military forces on a national level. Immediately after the Restoration, the Japanese military consisted of old domain officers and soldiers, most coming from the samurai warrior class. The new government introduced national conscription in 1873 and gradually created a national force to replace the old feudal military system.

The initial purpose of Japanese militarization in the early Meiji period was to suppress the rebellious warrior class, the former samurai who had lost their exclusive privilege to fight. However, as Japan's rivalry with Qing (Ch'ing) China over Korea intensified, the Japanese military transformed its objectives in preparation to fight foreign wars.

Japan spent the 1880s and beyond preparing itself for a war with China. The army adopted German style formations and training and shaped itself as an expeditionary force. The navy bought the newest, powerful battleships from England and started training in new naval tactics under the direction of Captain John Ingles of the British Royal Navy.

Overall in the early 1890s, China possessed larger forces than did Japan. Its army, though, was much less modernized than was Japan's. However, the Chinese navy, which had developed under British tutelage since the mid-1880s, was equipped with large battleships and posed a threat to Japan. Aware of its material inferiority, the Japanese navy took Captain Ingles' tactical suggestions for fighting the Chinese navy. Upon contacting the enemy's fleet, the Japanese vessels were to increase their speed, quickly approach to the enemy, and use quick-firing guns. Japan adopted the 12 cm-caliber, quick-firing guns developed by the British company of Armstrong in 1887. This type of gun could fire its projectiles every 20 seconds, which was much faster than was China's Krupp cannon's rate of fire of every 90 seconds.

As soon as the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894, the Japanese army overwhelmed the Chinese and advanced into Chinese territory. Meanwhile, Japan's victory over China's Northern Fleet in the Yellow Sea drew the interest of the Western Powers to Japan. The international environment became more favorable for Japan.

In 1895, as a peace treaty was being negotiated, China requested the intervention of the Western Powers to pressure Japan to reduce its demands. As a result, Russia, France, and Germany imposed the so-called "Triple Intervention" designed to prevent the cession of the Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula to Japan. This intervention triggered Japan's further militarization, this time directed against Russia under the slogan of "Gashin Shotan," or "Sleeping on a Bed of Nails," to keep the nation alert for future military action.

Five years later and at British request, Japan dispatched its troops to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. The number of Japanese troops was the largest among the eight allied Powers. Westerners highly praised the effectiveness and cooperation of the Japanese military. The Boxer Rebellion, partly supported by the Qing government itself, was resolved in 1901 as the Qing officials agreed to a peace settlement with the Western allies. The Chinese government and the allied Powers concluded the Boxer Protocol, a concession by the Qing government which opened a wide door to an increased and rapid penetration of the Western Powers into China.

Russia's occupation of Manchuria inaugurated a new phase in the Russo-Japanese rivalry over northern China. Japan, feeling threatened by Western colonialism and racism--and especially so regarding Russia's expansion toward Manchuria and Korea--saw the region as its strategic "security belt" necessary to protect Japan. To cope with Russia's renowned military establishment, Japan not only successfully increased its military capabilities, but also diplomatically tied itself more closely with England.