The boshin war or the last samurai
The Boshin War is a Japanese civil war that began in January 1868 and ended in May 1869. It saw clash between the armies of the Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa clans, close to the Emperor and supported by Great Britain , and on the other hand the troops belonging to the Tokugawa shogunate and the clans which remained faithful to it supported by the French Empire. This war marks a break between the Edo era, where the predominant class is that of the samurai, and the Meiji era where the samurai lost all their privileges and Japan began its westernization and industrialization.
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Satsuma samurai
Historical context
The arrival of Commodore Perry in Edo Bay in July 1853 put the shogunate in difficulty. The councilors of the shogunate wanted to find a compromise with the foreigners while those of the emperor wanted an outright expulsion of the foreigners. The Shogunate has no other choice than to open Japan to foreign trade while making military preparations. This was seen as an admission of weakness by the shogunate and triggered an unprecedented political crisis. Different treaties were signed with the West and the isolation of Japan, which had lasted 250 years, ended. The trade with the West engendered a serious economic crisis which caused the discontent of the population. The murders of foreigners and their reprisals only confirmed the weakness of the shogunate. This is why in 1863 the emperor Komei took an active role in the affairs of the State breaking with centuries of tradition by giving the order "to expel the barbarians".
Internal rebellions
In 1864, a faction of the domain of Choshu tried to take control of Kyoto and the imperial palace. The Shinsen Gumi special militia forces discovered the participants' plan to set Kyoto on fire and managed to arrest a large number during a clash at the Ikedaya Inn (what became known as the Ikedaya Affair). The Choshu clan attempted to capture the emperor on August 20, 1864, but the Aizu and Satsuma clans helped by the Shinsen Gumi managed to defend the gates of the imperial palace. Following this the stronghold of Choshu was held responsible and a punitive expedition was led by the Shogunate but without success.
The start of the Boshin war
Weakened by its inability to put an end to the rebellion of the Choshu clan and claims for compensation from foreigners following various incidents, the shogunate suffered a further blow at the death of the Shogun in 1866. In 1867, favorable warlords to the emperor proposed to his successor to resign and submit to the emperor. At first he accepted and then challenged her on January 17 which led to the battle of Toba Fushimi ten days later.
The battle of Toba Fushimi
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Following the order of the confiscation of the lands of the shogun by the Imperial Court, the army of the shogunate marched on Kyoto under the pretext of freeing the emperor from the influence of the Satsuma and Choshu clans.
The shogunal army was three times the size of the imperialist army, however a large part of the shogunate troops were armed with yaris and katanas while the imperialist army was almost fully modernized and had Gatling machine guns as well as Armstrong howitzers. .
On January 28 the Shogun was declared an enemy of the Court which threw the forces of the Shogunate into confusion and disarray since the imperialist army became at the same time the imperial army and whoever opened fire on it would be accused of treason. Some shogunate troops chose to cease fighting while others loyal to the samurai code decided to continue.
Gradually the Shogunate troops took refuge in Osaka Castle after many setbacks due to the appearance of the imperial banner. The Shogun fled which led to the abandonment of the castle and its capture without resistance by the imperial army. This defeat weakened the Shogunate and favored the choice of war rather than that of political compromise.
Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the last shogun in French uniform
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Battle of Toba-Fushimi
The Battle of Ueno
On July 4, 1868, a battle broke out in Ueno to protect the Shogun who had taken up residence at the Kan'ei-ji temple. From this base the shogunate troops created unrest in Edo (present-day Tokyo), forcing the imperial troops to attack their entrenched positions. Despite heavy losses, the imperial troops managed to seize the temple.
This defeat shattered the last pockets of resistance protecting Edo and the last stronghold of the Shogunate fell completely into the hands of the imperial army. It was renamed Tokyo on September 3, 1868 and the emperor came to settle there, making Tokyo the capital of Japan.
The end of the era of the samurai
Following the seizure of the lands of the shogun by the new government, the domains of Tosa, Hizen, Satsuma and Choshu who had been his most fervent opponents agree to place their domains under the control of the emperor. Other daimyos are following this trend which leads for the first time to a real centralization of power. In 1871 all the estates were returned to the emperor and transformed into prefectures. The debts and payments of the samurai are assumed by the state. This charge represents a very heavy financial cost for the new government, which first of all led in 1873 to the taxation of allowances and then in 1876 to the conversion of these into state bonds.
To reform the army, the government instituted national conscription in 1873. In fact, the privilege of the samurai to be the only class to bear arms was suppressed (Katana and Wakizashi). Samurai are also losing the right to carry guns in town. These reforms lead to the Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigo Takamori (he inspired the character of Katsumoto in The Last Samurai) which is quickly subdued by the new Imperial Army (similar to the events of the movie The Last Samurai). Despite the fact that the samurai distinction became purely symbolic, their martial ideal was perpetuated in romantic form and was often used as a propaganda tool.
The true story of the Last Samurai
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The French mission sent by Napoleon III
Jules Brunet was part of the mission sent by Napoleon III at the beginning of November 1866 under the orders of Captain Jules Chanoine to instruct the army of Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa. After the conquest of Edo by the imperial forces, France is forced to proclaim its neutrality and withdraw its troops from the territory, however Brunet accompanied by 8 comrades refuses to withdraw in solidarity with the Japanese brothers in arms that he has educated.
On December 25, 1868, troops loyal to the shogun retreated to Hokkaïdo to found the Republic of Ezo, of which Brunet was military adviser to the Minister of Defense.
On June 30, 1869, the Republic of Ezo, besieged by imperial forces, was forced to surrender and Brunet and his companions were barely repatriated to escape torture.
Returned to France, he receives an official reprimand but will never be dismissed despite the rumor.
He later became deputy director of the Châtellerault manufacture.
The character of Nathan Algren (played by Tom Cruise) in "the last samurai" is very inspired by Jules Brunet. However, the director decided to situate the story a few years later (1876 in the last samurai against 1868 for the real Jules Brunet).