Organized Panel Session
Japan experienced repeated political, social, and environmental crises between Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853 and the final defeat of the shogun’s supporters by imperial armies in 1869. I am going to focus on the sense of crisis that pervaded Kyoto from the announcement of the shogun’s impending visit to the city, which re-centered Kyoto in political terms, to the attack on the imperial palace by troops from Chōshū that destroyed the commoner section of the city. Not since the Onin War of 1467-77 had Kyoto suffered such destruction from the flames of war. Yet because the conflagration did not result in large numbers of warrior dead or mark the beginning of a new era, it is often overlooked.
I plan to examine this period of crisis through the writings of men who contributed to ratcheting up the tension that gripped the city. Some spread rumors of attempted poisonings and penned manifestoes promising the punishment of heaven on the shogun and his supporters for disrespecting the emperor. Hirata Nobutane (1828-1872) believed that the emperor could be restored to power only once the Emperor Sutoku’s angry spirit had been appeased for having been sent into exile following the 1156 incident. Maki Izumi (1813-1864), had a vision of the emperor leading his troops in person against the evil forces from the East. In this way the crisis can be seen as arising from deeds done by individuals against the backdrop of larger forces at play.