Kobe Incident (神戸事件)

Kobe Incident was an incident that occurred on February 4, 1868, in which in front of Sannomiya-jinja Shrine of Kobe (present-day Kobe City), a troop of the domain of Bizen (present-day Okayama Prefecture) injured French sailors who had crossed the array of the troop, and shot horizontally to the Minister-Counselors from Western countries who were inspecting the place which was supposed to be the settlement site (present-day Former Foreign Settlement). That incident became the first diplomatic problem for the Meiji government.

This incident expanded to the temporal occupation of the center of Kobe by the foreign military, but the person in charge of the troop that caused the incident, Zenzaburo TAKI, committed suicide by disembowelment, which led to a tentative solution.

Sakai Incident occurred right after this incident, so through these two incidents Seppuku (to commit suicide by disembowelment) gave a strong impression to foreigners.

The outset of the incident

Soon after the outbreak of Boshin War on January 27, 1868, the new Meiji government ordered the domain of Bizen to guard Settsu Province, Nishinomiya (present-day Nishinomiya City) in order to contain the domain of Amagasaki (present-day Hyogo Prefecture), which was on the side of the Tokugawa family. The domain of Bizen sent 2,000 soldiers before January 29, and of all the soldiers, 500 (some theory insists that it was 800) led by Karo (chief retainer) Tatewaki HEKI advanced on the ground with a cannon. These soldiers chose to walk on the Saigoku-kaido Road instead of the 'TOKUGAWA Road,' built by the bakufu in order to prevent foreigners from bumping into Daimyo-gyoretsu (feudal lord's costumed procession), due to the opening of Hyogo port (present-day Kobe port) on January 1, 1868, and this choice partly triggered the Incident.

A little past 13:00 on February 4, when the troops of the domain of Bizen approached Kobe Sannomiya-jinja Shrine, two French sailors came out of a nearby building and tried to cross the array. From the viewpoint of Japan, this was a very rude act called 'Tomowari,' which was provided in Bukeshohatto (Acts for the Military Houses), so that a chief of the third battery Zenzaburo Masanobu TAKI stopped them, holding a spear. However, as the sailors could not understand his words and muscled to cross the array, TAKI slightly injured them by tilting with the spear.

After this, several sailors once retreated into a private house and took out their pistols, and TAKI, seeing their pistols, shouted'Pistols, pistols,'so that his men mistakenly took his shout for an order to fire and a gunfight was started. Although it was started as a skirmish on the Saigoku kaido Road, some pistols were pointed to the minister-counselors from western countries who were inspecting the settlement site nearby and fusilladed them several times. Most of the bullets passed over their heads instead of hitting them and made holes in foreign flags flying on the rooftop of Hyogo Unjo- sho (Kobe custom office) of the former bakufu located on the other side of the settlement. The Westerners' testimonies differed as to whether this was intended as warning shots or the soldiers intended to kill but failed due to a lack of practice.

Transition of the incident

English minister-counselor Harry PARKS, who happened to be at the site himself, got furious, announced the emergency to the foreign warships that were gathered to celebrate the opening of Hyogo port, then the U.S. Marine force, British guards, and French sailors chased the troops of the domain of Bizen out of the settlement and exchanged gunfire at the side of Ikutagawa-River. HEKI, Karo of Bizen, ordered the troops to stop firing and withdraw, so that no one died and very few people were injured in both sides.

The powerful countries which had consulates in Kobe executed military occupation at the center of Kobe on that day in the name of the guard of the settlement (foreign settlement), and seized the Japanese ships anchoring at Hyogo port. At that time the Imperial Court had not declared to the foreign countries the handover of political power from the TOKUGAWA bakufu to the Meiji Government, and Shunsuke ITO (later Hirobumi ITO) held talks with them but the negotiation broke down.

On February 8, the Imperial Court was rushed into declaring the opening of a country to the world and amity, and announcing the handover of the political power to the Meiji Government, and then resumed the negotiation with Michitomi HIGASHIKUZE as its representative.

The requirements from the foreign countries were the guarantee of safety of the foreigners living in Japan and the severe punishment of the Japanese who was in charge of the incident, which meant the execution of TAKI. There were some opinions that the punishment for injuring foreigners was too severe, and from the Japanese viewpoint the act of TAKI was quite natural for a samurai, at least as a reaction to 'Tomowari,'but it was difficult to resist the strong demand of the powerful countries and the plea for saving TAKI made by Munenari DATE through ITO and Saisuke GODAI (later Tomoatsu GODAI) to the last minute of the deadline was rejected by the voting of Leon ROCHES of France and other minister-counselors'.

At last on February 24, the domain of Bizen accepted the demand of the foreign countries, and on March 2 it made TAKI commit suicide by disembowelment in the presence of the diplomats of the powerful countries at Eifukuji Temple and at the same tiime put HEKI, who was a chief of the troops of the domain of Bizen, under house arrest, which tentatively settled the Incident.

The meaning of the incident

Kobe Incident was the first diplomat incident since the Meiji government was established through Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor). Consequently the matter was solved by sacrificing the life of a man, Zenzaburo TAKI, under the pressure by the powerful countries, but the Meiji government appealed to them its legitimacy as a government in charge of the diplomatic policy after that.
Also it was the incident that forced the Imperial Court to change its policy drastically from 'Joi' (expulsion of foreigners) to 'Opening of a country to the world and amity.'
However, the announcement of 'opening of a country to the world and amity' was made only to the foreign diplomats, and still there were some supporters of Joi within the new government, so that the fact was not disclosed domestically. The formal domestic announcement was a decision made at the conference of a law-making body in the new government on July 7, 1869.

Depending on the conclusion, this incident would possibly have developed into as serious a situation as Anglo-Satsuma War, and Kobe might have been put under the unreasonable occupation like Hong Kong or Shanghai City, so it is also important in the context of the Japanese history that the national crisis could be avoided at the sacrifice of Zenzaburo TAKI.


Major Alfred Thayer MAHAN, who later became famous as an advocator of the theory of sea power, was the vice chief of the U.S. warship Ikoroi, which was anchoring at Hyogo port during the Kobe Incident.

[Original Japanese]