Mitford writes that at the time, a large number of palisades, storehouses and toll gates were being constructed in an area selected for foreign residents. However the construction itself was premature and so it would be necessary to wait until the ambassadors of various countries arrived to take up lodgings. One particular problem concerned the palisades, about which there were many opinions. They were regarded as an inappropriate indication of government intent vis-a-vis the promotion of interaction between East and West.
Mitford writes that on the 7th of December, a number of officials under instruction from the Shogun met up with Mitford and Satow before they returned to Edo. According to the information they shared with the British diplomats, the resignation of the Shogun was no more than the implementation of an earlier plan and so was not that significant. Neither Mitford nor Satow believed this. They remained convinced that this (the resignation of the Shogun) was the result of the uncompromising attitude of the nobility.
On the 12th of December, Mitford and Satow headed to Hyōgo in order to see for themselves what preparations had been completed. Mitford writes that there was a lot of excitement in the air fuelled by expectations around the opening of the port. The town of Kobe, which had been selected for foreign settlement, had been celebrating for several days, and people dressed in layers of red clothing had been accompanying the carts transporting soil up to the new settlement area. Expectations were that this festival would be repeated in places throughout Hyōgo province. It was clear that the people of the province believed that foreign trade would contribute to their prosperity.
When both diplomats returned to Osaka on the 13th of December, the town was abuzz with joy and excitement. Recently slips of paper on which the name of Ise Shrine was written had fallen, somewhat miraculously, like rain from the sky. Mitford explains that Ise Shrine was the largest Shintō shrine in existence and had continued its traditions for generations. He explains that a thousand or so people, in celebration at this event, donned vibrant clothing of red and blue, raised red lanterns, and danced about shouting “eejanaika, eejanaika! (Isn’t it grand?!)” as loudly as they could. Every house had objects placed in front of them, namely multi-coloured candy, mandarins, silk purses, rope normally found out the front of shrines, and flowers. Mitford writes that it was an extraordinary sight, and one that he was unlikely ever to see again. For the two British diplomats, these events were like the old fables of Stonehenge. In the case of Japan, while it had traditions of great antiquity, somehow they still appeared to be alive. Mitford says that there is a famous quote which states “Respect for the past has the same importance for humanity as filial piety”. Mitford writes that in the depraved world he was living in, he was fond of quoting these words.
Mitford then writes that Westerners had lost much of the “spirit of Japan” shown by the Japanese, regarding this as noteworthy. He said the basis of this spirit lay in the legends of the Shintō faith. This was why the common peasant could express such joy at bits of paper falling out of the sky and danced as he liked in the manner of David before the Ark of the Covenant, knowing that this was imbued with a meaning drawn from the sacred traditions of old. The peasant believed the world should bow in admiration of acts based on such traditions, which were, in his eyes, ‘heroic’.
Mitford writes that as soon as he and Satow returned to Osaka, the same hoary old political arguments started up again. Satsuma, Chōshū, Tosa, Uwajima, and Aki had joined together to demand reforms. Other daimyo had indicated that they would join this movement, although there was still a lot of prevaricating going on. Mitford and Satow realized was that if the conspiracy currently underway in Kyoto failed in its purpose, then these daimyo would likely go back to attacking and killing foreigners as before. Mitford did not believe that this was because they disliked interacting with foreigners, for many were in favour of maintaining foreign relations, but because they wanted to cause friction between the Bakufu and the various treaty nations. The Bakufu, lacking the power to be able to discipline any culprits responsible for instigating such crimes, would then simply claim that it could not take responsibility for these incidents.
Mitford believed that the assembly of leaders of the reform movement from the various western provinces in Osaka, itself located close to Kyoto, held great significance. One of those leaders was the famous Saigo Takamori of Satsuma, who thereafter would get caught up in a rebellion in that province and eventually commit ritual suicide (seppuku). Another prominent leader was the aforementioned Goto Zōjirō, the same one who explained to Mitford and Satow about the plan to assassinate them in Ōtsu. A letter from Yamauchi Yōdō also carried a nuance that suggested that the downfall of the Bakufu was a fait accompli. On the 20th, Mitford and Satow had their first meeting with Ito Shunsuke (Hirobumi). At the time he was a relatively minor figure, but in time he would become a politician and take hold of the highest seat of power in Japan. Ito told both British diplomats that it looked as though it would be difficult to avoid conflict, but it was being done in order to bring peace to the land. To achieve this, it would be necessary to seize some of the vast tracts of land currently held by the Tokugawa family. Ito believed that it would be better to extend the time between the arrival of the foreign delegations and the opening of the trade port. He was told, however, that this was out of the question. Ito then said that in order to placate the foreigners it would be best to open the port, but the reformers would continue in their plan to remake Japan’s political system. Mitford and Satow warned Ito that if in the course of implementing the reforms any foreigners were harmed, or if they were planning to reject any of the treaties, then Japan would pay an extremely high price for such actions.
Mitford writes that Ito understood the seriousness of these words, and promised to inform Satow of any activities planned in the cause of the reformers. On the 24th, Ambassador Parkes arrived in Osaka from Edo with a number of staff from the Embassy and lodged in a large manor house located on the reverse side of Osaka Castle and which was falling apart at the time Mitford wrote his memoirs. Mitford was acutely aware that if any conflict between the anti and pro Bakufu forces should break out, then the castle would become a magnet for fighting between the two sides. As such, it was not the safest location to be in, but it met all of the conditions necessary for lodgings. Mitford and Satow were still very much under close observation, and so it was not easy to contact representatives from the reformist side. Mitford writes that the Bakufu’s officials were diligent at their task, however Mitford and Satow were able to deceive them and make their way across the moat around the consul office in the dead of night and link up with friends waiting outside. With them as guides, they would wind their way through the streets to some residence, and there they would spend time chatting. By engaging in such activities, which reminded Mitford of naughty schoolboys making off with apples stolen from a neighbour’s yard, they were able to keep Ambassador Parkes informed of all the comings and goings at the time.
Mitford wrote that the 1st day of January 1868 marked the birth of a new system for Japan. For a number of months, the country had been in a state of unrest similar to a fever. He writes that there were plots, counter-plots, and conspiracies, one of which was touched on earlier, and it would take a few volumes to explain them all. There was the resignation, or mock resignation, of the Shogun. And in the vicinity of Kyoto, a military force was gradually growing in strength. The Lord of Chōshū had been forgiven by the Shogun for his transgressions, an act which had infuriated the Lord of Aizu who then resigned as the guardian of the royal palace in the capital. As will soon become apparent, not all of this information was accurate. Mitford then writes that the cauldron (of the state) was ‘bubbling away’, but the overall peace had not been disturbed. For the reformist daimyo, they insisted that their goal remained the same – to curb the random application of absolute power by the Shogun.
Mitford writes that he and his fellow diplomats had a feeling that the dogs of war had been let loose. He explained that the Lord of Satsuma had abolished the old system of councilors, and a proposal had been submitted to create a system of government that resembled a constitutional government with federal ministers and a federal bureaucracy. He also wrote that he and Satow saw this reform reflected in the advice that they had received from Goto Zōjirō. He wrote that there was strong opposition to the Satsuma plan, and there were many people concerned that this kind of ‘’progressive’ thinking would place the position of the Emperor in jeopardy. Mitford writes that his (Bakufu) informants told him that the time for debate had ended, and that such actions (by the Lord of Satsuma) would lead to war. These informants also told Mitford that they believed that the Shogun was doing everything in his power to ensure the continuation of a peaceful nation, even if that required sacrifices. Yet it also obvious to Mitford that the Shogun had already lost the authority to lead.
Events changed in the blink of an eye, and every day brought with it some new development. Rumours also flew about at a horrible speed, and while some were true, others distorted the truth and were complete fabrications. Yet everything appeared to be moving in the same direction.
Mitford writes that on the 7th of January some officials from the Bakufu came to the British delegation in Osaka, where they delivered a message that the Shogun had departed Kyoto and was on his way to Osaka to speak with Ambassador Roche. This was no more than simple word of mouth, but in reality the position of Shogun had ceased to exist and so Yoshinobu had been forced to depart from Kyoto. The troops from Aizu province who had been guarding the nine gates of the Imperial Palace had been dismissed on the orders of the Emperor, and the capital, along with the person of the Emperor, had come under the protection of a coalition of daimyo. It was in this state of affairs that events came to a halt.
Mitford writes that he and Satow decided to venture out from the delegation building in order to judge for themselves what was happening. He noticed that patrols of soldiers had been placed along the main thoroughfares, with primitive cannon sited to fire on anyone who attempted to approach Osaka Castle. Mitford writes that it was bitterly cold at the time, and many of the soldiers had wrapped their heads up in scarves. When compared with the poor state of their uniforms, they presented an odd appearance.
The troops from Aizu, when asked about the reasons for the departure of the Shogun from the capital, explained that they did not wish to become involved in any fighting in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace. This was, however, a one sided excuse. The army from Satsuma was certainly in favour of conflict and would attempt to resolve all issues by force, whereas the army from Tosa was more logical and its actions reflected that. Their goals were ultimately the same, though. According to Goto Zōjirō’s study of parliamentary representation, since Japan was in the early throes of industrialization, revolution took place both suddenly and violently.
Mitford writes that by the afternoon, there was every indication that the Shogun’s retinue was approaching Osaka. He soon caught sight of some impressive-looking samurai wearing full sets of armour. They were extraordinarily formal in their actions, and brimmed with an aura of dedication unto death to the Shogun (it was later confirmed that this was indeed no mere show of bravado). Although they had been defeated in battle, hundreds of these Tokugawa soldiers had died a glorious death. Soon after Mitford heard a bugle blow, and saw that the long lines of troops were headed for the castle.
Mitford then writes that he saw something utterly inconceivable. While a number of foot soldiers carried European rifles, there were a great many foot soldiers wearing traditional Japanese armour, armed with spears, bow and arrow, halberds of various description, short and long swords, and looked as though they had stepped out of one of those medieval pictures of battles from the Genpei War. Their half-sleeve overcoats (jinbaori) were different to those of the messenger officials, with all of the colours indicative of Joseph’s dream coat. They wore terrifying masks of lacquered metal, with fierce looking beards and moustaches attached to them, and from the crown of their helmets black horsehair cascaded down to about waist height. It was certainly enough to frighten any enemy, for they looked like monsters that had emerged from some nightmare.
Mitford writes that soon after a column of horse-borne soldiers appeared. All of the Japanese around Mitford and Satow bowed low in deference, and so in line with tradition Mitford and Satow too bowed their heads. In the middle of the mounted retinue, Mitford spotted Lord Yoshinobu, supported by Lord Kuwana and his ally Lord Aizu. They appeared tired and downtrodden, with their heads covered with black cowls, neither looking left nor right, and for all intents trying to remain incognito. A number of their vassals recognized Mitford and Satow and make some gestures of greeting. According to Mitford, he then saw something that was far more pitiful than anything else he had witnessed up to this point. In keeping with tradition, once the retinue reached the castle gates, all of the retainers save the Shogun dismounted from their horses. Yoshinobu, however, continued on horse through the gates and into the grounds of the castle. It was tragedy that had allowed the castle to fall into the hands of the Tokugawa, and now it was to leave their control. It was the last time that the Shogun would enter this great, old castle. And once again, fire would play its cruel role in the fate of the castle.
On the following day Ambassador Parkes endeavoured to arrange a meeting with the Shogun, however this was refused. However Mitford writes that once Parkes heard that Ambassador Roche had been granted an audience, he could not remain silent. With Satow and Mitford in tow, Parkes demanded to be allowed to meet with the Shogun. The French envoy expressed displeasure at this, yet eventually both sides were granted the same courtesy. What they couldn’t escape was the exchange of criticism and angry words (between Parkes and Roche). The Shogun, or should that be the former Shogun, had lost all of his vitality. The aristocrats that had met the British delegation in May with such vivaciousness and confidence now looked like completely different people. The many difficulties, tragedies and humiliations that these men had suffered was plainly etched on their faces. They merely repeated the rather tired excuse that they had left Kyoto out of sense of patriotism and to avoid civil war in the vicinity of the sacred land of the Emperor. They planned on remaining in Osaka, however some told Mitford that they did not know whether they would be attacked there.
As for the state of affairs, they told Mitford that their main goal was to retain control of the Emperor, however Kyoto had been overrun by a group of outlaws against whom they had fought. They did not exchange any opinions with the diplomats on the political situation (or who had control of the state). The two ambassadors praised the actions of the aristocrats, with Ambassador Roche offering faint praise while Ambassador Parkes spoke in more serious tones. It became clear that these aristocrats could not answer the many questions put to them, and let slip how tired and aggrieved they were. As such, the meeting came to a close without any garnering any further information.