River Water: Snow Falling Like Flowers

YOSHITOSHI TSUKIOKA: River Water: Snow Falling Like Flowers, between 1870-1880

Ii Naosuke (1815-1860), daimyo of Hikone, was a member of the Shogun's Council when Perry arrived at Edo. At first opposed to opening Japan, he changed his mind when he got an accurate idea of the relative strength of the enemy. On April 23, 1858, with Shogun Tokugawa Iesada dying, Ii was elected Chief Minister by the Shogun's Council. The council was split over the succession. The most direct heir was a boy of twelve. The other was Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu, son of the daimyo of Mito, Nariaki, and a leading exclusionist. Ii, known for foreign sympathies, decided for the boy, Tokugawa Iemochi, enraging the Lord of Mito.

Further, under intense pressure from America, Britain and France, Ii took the unprecedented step of acting without the consent of the Emperor, an exclusionist, and signed the Harris Treaty with the U.S. He opened Yokohama for foreign trade, and sent a Japanese ambassador to Washington. Opposition was executed, imprisoned or exiled, including Nariaki, who was placed under house arrest.

The insult to the Emperor and to the house of Mito could not, in traditional Japan, pass unavenged. Ii was assassinated at the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle on a snowy morning in March, 1860, as he arrived in a palanquin(background left) to attend the Shogun's court. His assassins, seventeen Mito and Satsuma samurai, waited near the gate with swords hidden under snow capes. Despite the print, they surprised Ii's bodyguard, killing Ii in the palaquin, before he could react.

Although the exclusionists were back in power, Nariaki died in September the same year. And, it was already too late. The treaties were signed: Japan could not easily reverse direction.

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Yoshitoshi biography.


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