Revision of treaties (条約改正)

Revision of treaties means diplomatic negotiations to revise the unequal treaties which were concluded between other foreign countries and Japan in Ansei era.


In the second half of Edo Period, the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) concluded a commercial treaty in 1859 with each of the countries which had frequently come to nationally isolated Japan by the sea to request commerce and diplomatic relations (that is, the United States of America, Russia, the Netherlands, England, and France), and those treaties were called the Treaty with the Five Countries in Ansei Era. Those Five-Countries Treaty did not grant Japan tariff autonomy but admitted consular jurisdiction of the other countries, and approved the one-sided most favored nation clause for the benefit of the other countries (which is said to have been requested by the bakufu, which had no intention to admit the Japanere general public to go abroad). The treaties triggered the activation of "Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians" movement, and led to the movement to overthrow the bakufu.

When the Edo bakufu was overthrown in the Restoration of Imperial Rule (Japan), the Meiji government, mainly established by the domains of Satsuma and Choshu, took over the control over the diplomacy from the bakufu, and when the Meiji government was accepted by foreign countries as a legitimate government of Japan after the end of the Boshin War, it announced on February 4, 1869 that the it was necessary to revise the treaties in the future, pointing out that treaties concluded by the Edo bakufu without the admission of the Emperor had some problems.

As these treaties were scheduled to be negotiated for the revision from 1872, Iwakura Mission was dispatched to the United States and Europe in 1871. The purpose of the dispatch of the mission was traditionally considered to be an approach for the treaty revision, but now it is commonly believed that in fact the mission intended to request the foreign countries to postpone the time of the revision due to the delay of improvement of the state law and the modern social system in Japan.

In 1878, Gaimukyo (chief of Foreign Ministry) Munenori TERASHIMA negotiated mainly for the recovery of tariff autonomy, backed by the financial difficulty after the Seinan War, and Minister-Counselor to the United States Kiyonari YOSHIDA and EVERTS Secretary of State of the United States signed a new treaty of the recovery of tariff rights (YOSHIDA-EVERTS Treaty), but it was failed because of the objection of England and Germany and the public opinions that required the recovery of jurisdiction to be prioritized (the treaty with the United States did not come into effect because it was conditional on conclusion of similar treaties with the other countries).

The System of Great Council of State was abolished and the Cabinet system (Japan) was established in 1885. The revision of treaties was carried out in concurrence with the establishment of the Meiji Constitution, and the Foreign Minister Kaoru INOUE of the Hirobumi ITO Cabinet engaged in negotiation while promoting the policy of Europeanization such as the construction of Rokumeikan (Deer-cry Hall). In 1886, INOUE held the conference of revision with the delegation of the foreign countries in Tokyo, and proposed an appeasement plan such as to raise tariffs and to appoint foreign judges, so that he was opposed by the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce Tateki TANI and the government counsel Gustave Emile BOISSONADE. In the next year, 1887, when people knew the proposal, they got furious (especially so because adverse effects of an unequal treaty were being discussed after the Normanton Incident [1886]) and attacked the proposal claiming that it was 'national disgrace,' and then the nation-wide democratic-rights movement was spread (the movement following sandaijiken-kenpaku [the petition for three major matters]). The negotiation for revision of the treaties was suspended and INOUE resigned.

The Foreign Minister Shigenobu OKUMA in the Kiyotaka KURODA Cabinet restarted the negotiation in 1888, but once the package of concessions including appointment of foreigners in the Supreme Court of Law was reported in London Times in England and communicated to Japan, the Japanese general public criticized it severely. OKUMA was attacked with an explosive bomb by a member of the right-wing group who opposed to the revision plan and was seriously injured, losing his right leg, which led to the collapse of the KURODA Cabinet and ended the revision negotiation again. However, on November 30, 1888, the Minister-Counselor to the United States as well as to Mexico Munemitsu MUTSU succeeded in the conclusion of the Mexican-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which was the first equal treaty apart from those with the Asian countries.

The Foreign Minister Shuzo AOKI in the Aritomo YAMAGATA Cabinet restarted the negotiation aiming at the perfect recovery of the legislative rights. This time the diplomatic attitude of England was softened under the international circumstances such as the advance of Russia, but AOKI was forced to resign due to the Otsu Incident in 1891 and the negotiation was interrupted.

Becoming a Foreign Minister in the second ITO Cabinet, Munemitsu MUTSU, who had succeeded in the conclusion of the equal treaty with Mexico, requested the Minister-Counselor to England Shuzo AOKI to negotiate with the country, and in 1894 just before the Sino-Japanese War, he succeeded to conclude the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with England, which heightened the sense of danger against the advance southward of the Russian Empire, and thus abolished the extraterritoriality. This led to the preparation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.

It is after Japan's international status was elavated due to the Russo-Japanese War that the revision of the treaties was accomplished. In 1911, the Foreign Minister of the second Taro KATSURA Cabinet, Jutaro KOMURA signed the modification provisions which included tariff autonomy in the American-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, a revised version of the American-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and thus the revision of the treaty was completed.

[Original Japanese]