Prague Papers on the History of International Relations (Jun 2016)

Richardson Affaire: Great Britain and the Tokugawa Bakufu 1862–1863

  • Roman Kodet

Journal volume & issue
no. 1
pp. 52 – 59


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After Japan was forced to open its ports to the western powers, by the threat of western navies, it was further compelled to sign unequal treaties with the Great Powers. This triggered a sonnō jōi movement led by young samurai, who criticized the ruling Tokugawa regime for its concessions to the foreigners. They therefore sought to expel the Westerners and close the country to their trade. Their second task was to bring the downfall of the shogunate and the restoration of the Imperial rule. In order to achieve this, many radical samurai mounted murderous attacks against the foreigners. One of the most serious of these incidents occurred in September 1862, when British merchant Charles Lennox Richardson was murdered by samurai from the Satsuma domain. Apart from the previous attacks this time the culprits could be identified. British minister to Japan Colonel Neale therefore demanded the punishment of the assailants and an indemnity from the bakufu for its inability to secure lives and safety of British nationals. The Tokugawa government tried to resist and resorted to delaying tactics because of its fear of internal impact, if it yielded. It was only after the British representatives demonstrated, that they are willing to use the naval forces at their disposal, that bakufu submitted.