Bunkyu Reform (文久の改革)

The Bunkyu Reform was a series of policy changes covering personnel affairs, office organization and various rules and regulations carried out by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in 1862.

Although the bakufu shifted to the quasi-emergency regime due to the chaotic political situation since the opening of the country to the world in 1854, such change was not initiated by the bakufu itself (the cabinet officials of the Shogunate) but was forced under the pressure from the imperial envoy dispatched by the initiation of Hisamitsu SHIMAZU who was the father of the the lord of the Satsuma Domain as well as the court nobles supporting Kobu Gattai (an idea of uniting the court and the shogunate), so the reality was that the shogunate had no option but to carry out the reform.

Sequence of Events

In the midst of the political turmoil including an intensification of the Sonno Joi movement (the movement advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners) caused by the change from the national isolation to the opening of the country to the world as well as the dispute over shogun's successor between the Hitotsubashi group (which supported Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA) and the Nanki group (which supported Yoshitomi TOKUGAWA), the enlightened and farsighted daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) had been advocating the necessity of the political reform of the bakufu. But the reforms hit a setback due to the oppression on reformists such as Ansei no Taigoku or the sudden death of Nariakira SHIMAZU.

After his older brother Nariakira died, Hisamitsu SHIMAZU became Kokufu (father of the country) (also called "Lord of the Second Citadel") to assist his son Tadayoshi SHIMAZU, who became a new lord, and he carried out his older brother's last wish to move up to Kyoto with the troops, which his older brother could not accomplish, attempting to promote the bakufu's political reform by having the imperial court dispatch the envoy. The troops headed by Hisamitsu left Kagoshima on March 16, 1862 and arrived in Kyoto on April 13 (hereinafter the date is based on the old lunar calendar). If the bakufu had had absolute political power as it used to, the situation that "Saburo (the third son) SHIMAZU", who was a tozama daimyo (non hereditary feudal lord) having no special rank or title even though he was the father of the lord, went to Kyoto with his troop and approached the court nobles without the bakufu's permission would have been deemed as unforgivably reckless, but the bakufu which was losing its authority since the Sakuradamongai Incident did not have the power to stop it.

On the other hand, a radical group of the low ranking samurai, roshi (masterless samurai) and others supporting the Sonno joi movement was expanding its influence in Kyoto mistook that Hisamitsu coming to Kyoto with his troops would take the lead for realizing the Sonno joi and overthrow the bakufu by the military power initiated by the imperial court. Hisamitsu's true intent was the political reform of the bakufu and Kobu Ichiwa (union of the shogunate and the imperial court, another way of calling Kobu Gattai) from the beginning, so he ordered the purge of the extremists of the domain such as Shinshichi ARIMA (Teradaya Incident on April 23).

Hisamitsu approached the court nobles such as Gon Dainagon (provisional major counselor) Tadafusa KONOE, Giso Tadayoshi NAKAYAMA, Sanenaru Ogimachi-SANJO and submitted a petition. The contents of the petition included the remission and reinstatement of those punished due to Ansei no Taigoku (suppression of extremists by the shogunate), Yoshinaga MATSUDAIRA, former lord of the Echizen Domain, to assume Tario (chief minister), Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA to act as guardian for Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians", also called as Shogun) and the crackdown of the roshi who radically supported Sonno joi. Hisamitsu's petition was accepted by the Emperor Komei and it was decided that Shigetomi OHARA would be dispatched as imperial envoy to Edo on May 9. Hisamitsu's idea was considerably incorporated into the chokusho (imperial rescript).

On June 7, Shigetomi OHARA, accompanied by 1000 Satsuma troops led by Hisamitsu, went to Edo and started the negotiation with the bakufu. For the bakufu which had been fully entrusted with the administration of the country, being ordered to reform by the imperial court was an unprecedented event and the bakufu got confused, but it had to finally accept almost all of the order.

Contents of Reform

Personnel Reform

To assist the young shogun Iemochi TOKUGAWA, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA who was the head of the Hitotsubashi Tokugawa family, was assigned as a guardian. Yoshinaga (Shungaku) MATSUDAIRA, the former lord of the Echizen Domain, was appointed the newly created position of Seiji sosai (chief administrative officer). These reforms described above were in line with the reform instruction in the chokusho.

Separate from the above reforms, the Kyoto shugoshoku (military governor of Kyoto) as a separate post from the existing Kyoto shoshidai (Kyoto deputy) was newly created to keep security in Kyoto, which was deteriorated by radical party of Sonno Joi, and the Lord of the Aizu Domain Katamori MATSUDAIRA assumed office.

Reform of System

Loosening of Sankin-kotai (daimyo's alternate-year residence in Edo)

The Sankin-kotai that required the daimyo to reside in Edo every other year was changed to every three years and the residence period in Edo was shortened to 100 days. The daimyo's wives and children who were forced to live in Edo as hostages were allowed to return to their domain. This was a change of the bakufu's fundamental system since its establishment, which meant the bakufu to be losing its authority.

Promotion of Western Studies

The government increased support "Bansho shirabesho" (the Institute for the Investigation of Barbarian Books) to "Yosho shirabesho" (the Institute for the Investigation of Western Books) as well as sent the Takeaki ENOMOTO and Amane NISHI (illuminator) to study in the Netherlands.

Military Reform

The military reform included the introduction of western military system (tactics of the three combat arms) and the issuance of Heifu rei (ordinance to draft farm soldiers or collect money from Hatamoto [direct retainers of the bakufu] depending on their kokudaka [a system for determining land value for tribute purposes in the Edo period]).

Issuance of "Fukusei henkaku no rei" (Ordinance of dress code reform)

On April 15 (old calendar), the "Fukusei henkaku no rei" (Ordinance of dress code reform) was issued, which stipulated that naganoshi (stretched dried abalone used as a betrothal gift) and naga-hakama (long hakama trailing the ground) that had been used for ceremonial clothing since the beginning of the bakufu be discontinued, as a result, the official ceremonies became simpler with more practical ceremonial clothing.

Influence of Reform

As Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA and Yoshinaga MATSUDAIRA, who had been forced to retire from the forefront of politics since Ansei no Taigoku, returned to the political scene, the reform of the bakufu was expected to be promoted, but eventually the difference of the opinion with Hisamitsu SHIMAZU surfaced and led to the confrontation. On the way back to his domain Hisamitsu SHIMAZU caused the Namamugi Incident.

Even though there was a need for reform, the fact that the reform was forced under the pressures from the father of a tozama daimyo as well as the imperial court that had had no real power in politics until that time gave a tremendous damage to the bakufu's authority. On the contrary, the authority of the imperial court relatively increased, and the bakufu was forced to accept the imperial command which ordered Shogun Iemochi TOKUGAWA to come to Kyoto next year. With the shogun going to Kyoto as a turning point, the bakufu leadership was divided into two: Edo and Kyoto, and the divided bakufu was not fully returned to its previous state until the collapse of the bakufu, which played a part in cutting short the life of the bakufu.

On the other hand, due to the influence by Hisamitsu's actions, the Teradaya Incident and so on the confrontation intensified over the initiative of the Kyoto government between a party of Kobu gattai (reformists of the shogunate government) led by Satsuma, Aizu and other domains and a party of Sonno joi advocators led by the Choshu Domain, Izumi MAKI and other samurai. The success of the imperial orders caused the young and vigorous court nobles, who had been prohibited from voicing their political opinions, to increase their influence and the group of Kobu gattai led by Imperial prince Nakagawa no miya Asahiko and the group of sonno joi court nobles led by Sanetomi SANJO and Kintomo ANEGAKOJI fiercely confronted. A series of these events led to the Coup of August 18 in the next year and the Kinmon no Hen (Conspiracy of Kinmon) in the year after next.