Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Coups of 1873) (明治六年政変)

Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Coups of 1873) is a major political change in the early Meiji era caused by Seikanron (debate on subjugation of Korea). Half of the Sangi (councillor) that was the government leaders at that time, and about 600 military men and bureaucracies left their services.
Also known as Seikanron Seihen (political changes of debate on subjugation of Korea)


It all started with Takamori SAIGO's issue that was an envoy dispatching to Korea. After the Restoration (Japan), Japan opened the country to the world, and sent an envoy to Yi Dynasty Korea several times to convey the information about it. In the Korea at that time, Heungseon Daewongun took the reins of government, he started to adopt a national policy that revives the Confucianism and expulsion of foreigners, and caused to develop an opinion that break off relations with Japan. In addition, it is said that they tried to get the government to implement subjugation of the Korea with Japanese Embassy at that time (this can be seen in a letter written by Saigo for Itagaki). It is said Saigo was premised on the use of force rather than negotiation on the grounds of this, and it became an established theory for textbooks and the like. However, there's another theory that the letter written for Itagaki was used as an expedient to persuade Itagaki and Saigo's true intention placed the great value on negotiation.

Taisuke ITAGAKI, Shojiro GOTO, Shinpei ETO, Taneomi SOEJIMA, and Toshiaki KIRINO agreed to Saigo's envoy dispatch, and people who have opposed were Toshimichi OKUBO, Tomomi IWAKURA, Takayoshi KIDO, Hirobumi ITO, Shigenobu OKUMA, Takato OKI, and Kiyotaka KURODA. Contrary to the compact that promised the Rusu-seifu (government while heads of government are away) wouldn't conduct major reform while dispatching Iwakura Mission, the internal confusion caused by the drastic reform hardened OKUBO and other opponent's attitudes.

Prior to the homecoming of the official travel group of Iwakura Mission including OKUBO, on the August 17, dispatch of SAIGO to the Korea as an ambassador plenipotentiary was once approved in a Cabinet meeting, but when the Emperor Meiji received a report of the proposal on the next day he rejected the SAIGO's dispatch plan based on the agreement that "won't decide important matters related to the country until the official travel group's homecoming", and asked them to wait for homecoming of Tomomi IWAKURA, and report it again after deep deliberation with IWAKURA (IWAKURA comes home on September 17).

OKUBO didn't think Daewongun lend an ear to persuasion, and thought SAIGO will be killed (even if he won't be killed, if Daewongun rejected the envoy, it can be a legitimate reason for outbreak of war) inevitably when he went to Korea, and he felt a sense of danger that they will start the war with Korea as a result, and his strategic decision that Japan doesn't have national strength at that time to strain the relationship (as a result, wage a war) with Korea, Qing, and eventually Russia, an emotional backlash to the remaining group that ignored agreement and about to dabble in diplomatic gambling, he strongly opposed because of the presence of a diplomatic matters (Ryukyu attribution issue with Qing [see the Taiwan expedition], territorial right problem on Sakhalin and Kurile Islands with Russia, territorial right problem on Ogasawara Islands [Bonin Islands] with England, revision of the unequal treaty) that must be dealt with before Korean Peninsula problem on Japanese international standing, and he correlated it with expenses etc and appealed postponement by telling disadvantage of subjugation of Korea.

The cabinet meeting held on from October 14 to 15 got complicated, but chairman SANJO who was afraid of SAIGO's remark that he will resign when his idea couldn't put through as a result of a tie (there is a possibility that numerous bureaucracies and military men from Satsuma will leave from central government in case of Saigo's resignation), determined immediate dispatch. The councilors of opponents (pro-postponement) OKUBO, KIDO, OKUMA, OKI, submitted their letter of resignation, and the Udaijin (minister of the right) IWAKURA also offered his resignation.

They only needed to report it to the Emperor Meiji and ask for the imperial decision, but the Dajodaijin (Grand Minister) Sanetomi SANJO who was more than likely on the opponent side was taken with illness on the October 17, lapsed into a coma.

After IWAKURA took up the deputy of the Dajodaijin (Grand Minister) position based on Dajokan system, he tried to control the Meiji Emperor's intention. And on the October 23, IWAKURA submitted his written opinion that ask for postponement of dispatch SAIGIO as his "informal opinion" besides the written opinion of the cabinet approval. After all, this written opinion got through, and dispatch of SAIGO was postponed indefinitely and vanished in smoke. Maneuvering reversed the cabinet approval.

Then, SAIGO submitted his letter of resignation on that day, and ITAGAKI, GOTO, ETO, SOEJIMA were submitted their letter of resignation on the following day, the October 24. It was accepted on the October 25, and five councilors of the supporter stepped down from their public post. Besides, military men who agreed to the Seikanron, they didn't blame SAIGO who returned home without training the replacement of the downfall councilor, Konoe-totoku (Commander-in-Chief of the Inner Palace Guard) that was violation of law, instead, on the contrary, they encouraged only SAIGO to make a comeback to the government, and the large numbers of bureaucracies and military men who were close to ITAGAKI and GOTO were resentful at it and resigned.

After this, Kaoru INOUE and Aritomo YAMAGATA who had been forced into downfall by Shinpei ETO made a comeback to the public position some time after SAIGO and ETO's resignation. Also, this political changes caused the Shizoku no hanran (revolt by family or person with samurai ancestors) and Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Right).

Stories written later

However, the Seikanronso (confrontation on the subjugation of Korea) wasn't over. Because, the issue of diplomatic relations itself with Korea was unsolved, and there's a remains existence who was a Seikan-ha (supporters for subjugation of the Korea) like Masaharu IJICHI, and, in the imperial decision made by the emperor, it wasn't mentioned to "cancel" dispatching an envoy to Korea, but simply said to "postpone" it, and the reason they stated was only the problem with Russia that has been the most tangled at that time. In fact, there is a possibility to read it to dispatch an envoy to Korea once again after they solved border issue with Russia. And due to the conclusion of the Chishima-Karafuto Kokan Joyaku (the Treaty of Saint Petersburg), Seikan-ha who remained in the government started raising their voice to make an envoy's dispatch to Korea come true this time. However, the debate to dispatch an envoy to Korea with a view of subjugation of the Korea died down due to the occurrence of the Taiwan expedition and the downfall of Daewongun, instead, an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shigeru MORIYAMA (Later became Gaimu shojo who's post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) was dispatched to Wakan (consular office) as a special envoy for restoring relations by pure diplomacy, and started to negotiate with the representatives of Korean government. The negotiation started in September 1874, once reached an agreement ("September Agreement") on the basic policy that restores practical level relationship and have an official negotiation to restore the diplomatic relation after a reasonable period of time, and then, finalize the details after gained approval from both governments on the policy. However, after Japanese side received a report from Moriyama who was coming back to home country for the time being, and while responding to the Osaka conference and the Saga War the Korea problem was left behind and postponed the approval for the "September Agreement", and Daewongun regained his strength, and the principle of excluding foreigners arose again in Korea. For this reason, the secondary negotiation that was started in February 1875 to work out the details were arguing on different planes in every way. In addition, the negotiation was held in Busan distant from both capitals the Wakan located, and under the circumstances that the person in charge were unable to grasp the whole situation of their own government as well as other side's government, started blaming each other for violation of "September Agreement" mutually, and then, it was broken off in June. Meanwhile, the attention of the Japanese government and domestic public opinion shifted to the issues that related to the Shizoku no hanran (revolt by family or person with samurai ancestors) and establishment of constitutional system, and gradually former Seikan-ha were losing their interest on Korean issues. For this reason, they required to pull the special envoy Moriyama out of Korea on August 27, and decided to see how it works for a time. Soon after that, Ganghwa Island incident has arisen, and the negotiation between Japan and Korea entered a new stage.

In this way, they set a precedent that the emperor's intention surpasses the official decision. The dangerous aspect of it is the political decision-making can be possible for someone who get possession of emperor, for example, if someone who insinuated oneself into the emperor establish unreasonable regulations in the name of the emperor, there's possibility that it can become effective directly. And, the emergence of the conservatives in the imperial court centered on the Jiho (an aide) that formed right after the Seinan War brought that possibility into reality. Hirobumi ITO and his colleagues realized that risk, and tried to deify the emperor when they legislate the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, to "enshrine the emperor in the Shinto altar" makes third party incapable of participating easily, and legally suppressed the authority of the emperor.

[Original Japanese]