The Tobaku movement (倒幕運動)

The Tobaku movement refers to the political movement at the end of the Edo period, which aimed to overthrow Edo Bakufu as well as the political power structure. In a narrow sense, it refers to the Tobaku movement that aimed at an overthrow through the exercise of military power, but in a broad sense the meaning includes political maneuvers targeting the transfer of political power without military conflict.

Nowadays, the movements led by Emperor Godaigo at the end of the Kamakura period, as intended to overthrow Kamakura Bakufu (the Shochu Incident or the Genko Incident), are also sometimes referred to as the Tobaku movement.


During the Edo period the study of Japanese literature and culture (particularly the study of Japanese classic literature) flourished, and many foreign vessels came to Japan; when Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States and Evfimiy Vasil'evich Putyatin of Russia came to Japan and requested trade, Bakufu requested permission by the Imperial Court, whereupon the traditional authority of the Emperor and the Imperial Court were revived.

When Bakufu executed trade agreements with various countries and opened the country to foreign trade and diplomatic relations, activists outside of government, who were under the influence of Mito-gaku, built up the argument of tobaku against Bakufu, which, for reasons that were superficial, did not carry out the expulsion of foreigners. Bakufu approached the authority of the Imperial Court and conducted Kobu-gattai (公武合体)policies targeting the re-establishment of their power, but the Sonno joi (尊王攘夷)faction, including the court nobles Tomomi IWAKURA, Takamori SAIGO (Kichinosuke), Toshimichi OKUBO, Tatewaki KOMATSU of the Satsuma clan, Kogoro KATSURA (Takayoshi KIDO) and Saneomi HIROSAWA of the Choshu clan, plotted the acceptance of restoration of imperial rule and tobaku by military power.

The Choshu clan toppled to become chouteki (朝敵), but after the death of Emperor Komei, who belonged to the sect that sought the expulsion of foreigners, Satsuma and Choshu concluded the Saccho Coalition (薩長同盟), and the fifteenth shogun, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, seeking the establishment of the Kougi government, conducted the restoration of imperial rule; however, the Meiji Government was established through the acceptance of restoration of imperial rule (Japan), and upon the defeat of the former Bakufu army in the Battle of Toba Fushimi, the order to hunt down Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA was released, and even though the Bakufu structure was legally extinguished, the Tobaku movement through military power became active.

The course to Tobaku

In the age of imperialism, the great powers of Europe and the United States started to advance into and occupy East Asia. The Opium War broke out between Britain and China, and the island of Hong Kong was taken by the British. In Japan, meanwhile, ships from various countries were arriving at its ports seeking to establish trade relations, as a result of which friction and disputes started to occur. Examples of this include the arrival of Adam Kirillovich Laksman (in 1792), the Phaeton Incident (in 1808), and the Golovnin Incident (in 1811). The feeling that they did not want to have the peaceful world of Edo (society under a system of national isolation) was disturbing and disruptive, and ultimately it led to the movement for the expulsion of foreigners.

As is the general course for all persons/powers in charge of the government in any age, Edo Bakufu, which had shown the overwhelming military power symbolized by the black ships, chose to open the country to the world as a practical solution.

The Imperial Court indicated the intention to expel foreigners. There is no common view as to whether or not Emperor Komei agreed to the above.

During the latter half of the Edo period, the idea of "original way of thinking by Japanese people prior to the introduction of foreign religions" arose in the studies of Japanese literature and culture, which emphasized Japanese classical literature.
This was probably a result of the social feeling or atmosphere, as indicated by words of warning by the priest Ryokan, who 'preferred to use the words of Tang.'
The "originality of Japanese people," which was pursued by this idea, eventually led to the Emperor, and with increasing pressure from foreign countries the feeling for Sonno joi also intensified. The focus of government was transferred to Kyoto.

Upon the visit to Kyoto by the fourteenth shogun Iemochi, Roshi-gumi (浪士組) was established, over concerns of diminished security in Kyoto. Of the Roshi-gumi, those who remained in Kyoto established Shinsengumi.
(Eventually they played a role similar to that of military police.)

Bakufu could not ignore the Imperial Court's request for the expulsion of foreigners, and superficially it ordered various clans to conduct the above.

The Satsuma clan entered into the Anglo-Satsuma War, and the Choshu clan conducted the Shimonoseki War, both of which ended in total defeat.

The Satsuma clan concluded, from the Anglo-Satsuma War, that the expulsion of foreigners was impossible; thus it changed its opinion to one in favor of opening the country, and endeavored to strengthen the clan and acquire advanced technology. After the Shimonoseki War, the Choshu clan maintained its opinion on the expulsion of foreigners, based on the idea of Sonno; however, when Emperor Komei permitted the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan in 1865, Sonno and the expulsion of foreigners could no longer be connected, and those advocating the expulsion of foreigners lost their power. With Ryoma SAKAMOTO of the Tosa clan acting as an intermediary, the Satsuma and Choshu clans reconciled and concluded a secret agreement for tobaku. Subsequently, various clans in western Japan gathered together with the powers seeking tobaku.

Despite the fact that during a certain period of time the Choshu clan showed the attitude of 'obedience to Bakufu' as the result of activities by Zokuron-to (俗論党), before and after such period they were also anti-Bakufu.

As for the Satsuma clan/Tosa clan, while they initially targeted a meeting by various daimyos headed by the Tokugawa clan, at a certain point they turned their back on Bakufu and joined hands with their former enemy, the Choshu clan.

On October 14, 1867 the Imperial Court gave a secret tobaku order to Satsuma/Choshu (but some believe this order was a work of forgery). Nevertheless, through such facts as the advice/efforts of Toyoshige YAMAUCHI, the feudal lord of the Tosa clan, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, conducted the restoration to imperial rule on the same day that such order was given.

The Battle of Sekigahara and the Tobaku movement

It is ironic that the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, which was decisive in the establishment of Edo Bakufu by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, left many lessons to various daimyos over a period of more than 200 years, which led to the Tobaku movement.. The cases of the Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa clans, who played the leading role in tobaku, should be noted.

The Satsuma clan

It is said that the Shimazu clan sided with the Western Army because it lacked the ability to gather information. The Shimazu clan at that time lacked sufficient knowledge regarding the situation in the Kyoto-Osaka district, so it had no choice but to join the Western Army; it was their regret over this decision that resulted in the Satsuma clan starting to show signs of becoming an independent realm, placing spies in various regions and trying to strengthen its ability to collect information. Any spies entering its territory were severely punished, even if they were related to Bakufu, and thereby the clan endeavored to avoid the leakage of information, continued to accumulate foreign currency through secret trade with overseas countries, and acquired military power exceeding that of Bakufu.

The power thus strengthened was utilized in the Tobaku movement that followed, and while the Satsuma clan pretended to be pro-Bakufu at all times it ended up secretly concluding the Saccho Coalition.

The Choshu clan

In the case of the Mori clan, despite its having taken a neutral position in the Battle of Sekigahara, its territory was reduced and hard feelings against the Tokugawa family accumulated within the Choshu clan. Throughout the Edo period, the Choshu clan superficially existed as a normal clan that assumed an attitude of obedience toward Bakufu; however, it is said that with each new year it conducted a ceremony to confirm its hard feelings against Bakufu (although no decisive evidence exists). Such hard feelings exploded at the end of Edo period when a young man called Shoin YOSHIDA appeared. When YOSHIDA was executed as a result of the Ansei Purge (安政の大獄), the Choshu clan started to clearly indicate its attitude of opposition to Bakufu at all times, which resulted in the Kinmon Rebellion (禁門の変), and twice they were punitively expedited by Bakufu. In the meantime there occurred a coup d'etat by Zokuron-to, a pro-Bakufu power, and opinions within the clan temporarily shifted to pro-Bakufu; but Zokuron-to was defeated by Kihei-tai (奇兵隊) led by Shinsaku TAKASUGI, and the opinion of the clan again shifted toward the Tobaku movement. The Choshu clan directly displayed its hard feelings toward the Tokugawa family as a result of defeat in the Battle of Sekigahara. Perhaps because of such directness, after the restoration Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA's ill feelings against the Choshu disappeared; however, it is said that he had strong ill feelings against Satsuma, which pretended to be pro-Bakufu but ultimately moved over to the enemy ("Last Shogun Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA (最後の将軍 徳川慶喜)," "Ryoma ga yuku (竜馬がゆく)," written by Ryotaro SHIBA).

The Tosa clan

In the case of the Tosa clan, the Battle of Sekigahara ultimately resulted in many tragic events. Before the war, Tosa was under the rule of the Chosokabe clan, but the clan was unfortunately subjected to the confiscation of its land as the result of the war, and Tosa had to accept a new daimyo, Kazutoyo YAMAUCHI. However, Kazutoyo was ordered by Ieyasu TOKUGAWA and Hidetada TOKUGAWA to exclude the vassals of the former lordship, the Chosokabe clan. In accordance with such orders, the Yamauchi clan tried to distinguish between the vassals of the Chosokabe clan, who were called Goshi (郷士), and its own vassals, who were called Joshi (上士). Subsequently, when the Chosokabe clan was extinguished in the Siege of Osaka, the Joshi continued to exercise severe discrimination against the Goshi for more than 200 years.

As the result of hard feelings against such treatment, talented people such as Zuisan TAKECHI, Ryoma SAKAMOTO and Shintaro NAKAOKA appeared among the Goshi, and their success effectively sped up the Tobaku movement. However, for Sakamoto and Nakaoka the target of their hard feelings was not the Tokugawa family but the bakuhan system, which had given birth to the discrimination between the Joshi and Goshi; they conquered such feelings and cooperated with Joshi such as Shojiro GOTO, Taisuke ITAGAKI, etc., and urged Bakufu to restore imperial rule. However, most of the Goshi who were active in the Tobaku movement died violently without seeing the Meiji Restoration. Goshi such as Takechi, who was executed on false charges by the daimyo Yodo YAMAUCHI, numbered more than a few. As a result, the people who in fact conducted Tobaku were not Goshi who had been humbled by the Tokugawa family after the Battle of Sekigahara but were instead Joshi who had received overwhelmingly preferential treatment by the Tokugawa family. The soldiers of the Tosa clan fought well in the Boshin Civil War under the leadership of Taisuke ITAGAKI, and while Ryoma SAKAMOTO planned the restoration of Imperial rule, it was carried out by Yodo. Also, people who were successful within the new Meiji government were nearly all Joshi, such as Goto and Itagaki. This was because of Yodo's attitude in which, although he oppressed kinno (勤皇) activists within his clan, he served the Imperial Court and at the same time took actions for the benefit of Bakufu. As a result, although Yodo's name is listed among the Bakumatsu-no-shikenko (幕末の四賢候), he continued to defend Bakufu even when the Tobaku movement became active; this brought about confusion in political conditions at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period, and his reputation declined. This was truly an irony of history, but it was also very logical, considering the fact that Bakufu had placed Yodo in a position as daimyo.