chapter  9
Sir Harry Parkes and the Meiji Government 1868–1883
Pages 9

ON 8 FEBRUARY 1868, a month after the coup which heralded the Meiji Restoration, a historic meeting took place in the Customs House at Kobe. Sir Harry Parkes, British Minister to Japan, had his first formal meeting with representatives of the new government. By this time Parkes had spent more than twenty years in China and his views of East Asians were clearly defined. He believed that most ‘Orientals’ obstructed Western commerce and diplomacy, and were deserving of a particularly direct and unequal style of negotiation. More specifically Japan posed difficulties which were not present in Manchu China. It had a confusing duality of sovereignty, and its many fiefs (han) resembled independent kingdoms rather than obedient provinces. Japanese society was also structured in a particularly menacing way. The samurai class was armed and dominant, and its members often used their swords to terrorize British diplomats and traders. These dangerous contingencies did much to shape Parkes’ views and those of the Foreign Office in the closing years of the Tokugawa bakufu. Broader concepts of political and economic interest also helped to define British policy towards Bakumatsu Japan.