Boshin War

戊辰戦争 (1868–1869)


Date January 1868 – November 1869
Location Japan
Result Continuation of Shogun authority

Tokugawa Yoshinobu returns to power


Flag of the Japanese Emperor Imperial faction:

Flag of Satsuma domain Satsuma Domain,

Flag of Choshu domain Chōshū Domain,

Flag of Tosa domain Tosa Domain ,

Flag of Hiroshima domain Hiroshima Domain,

Saga Domain

Tokugawa family crest Tokugawa Shogunate Flag of Ouetsu Reppan Domei or the Northen Alliance in Japan Ōuetsu Reppan Dōmei
Commanders and leaders
Ruler: Meiji Emperor,

CIC: Saigō Takamori, Army: Kuroda Kiyotaka


Ruler: Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Army: Katsu Kaishu, Navy: Enomoto Takeaki,

~30,000 ~ 80,000
Casualties and losses
~7,300 killed ~4,300 killed

The Boshin War was the first major war to occur on Japanese land since the Mongol Invasion, and was the struggle between the Shogunate Tokugawa forces led by Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the Imperial forces led by Meiji Emperor.

Emperor Meiji wanted to return power to the imperial court after having it taken from them in the 12th century. The Tokugawa forces, however, wanted Yoshinobu to remain in power as his ancestors did since 1603.

The war began when disgruntled nobles in the south began supporting the emperor due to the Tokugawa's handling of foreign powers in the last four decades leading up to the war. The southern samurai entered an alliance and drove the Shogun from power, replacing him with the Emperor Meiji. Tokugawa Yoshinobu abdicated knowing the position he was in. By doing this Yoshinobu hoped that the house of Tokugawa would be able to participate in the future Imperial government.

While many court officials advised to break apart the house of Tokugawa and pass legislation to do so, the emperor wished to extend a merciful hand and overruled these decisions. This led to disgruntlements that had its effect later on. Meanwhile, the emperor and Tokugawa Yoshinobu met and started talking about the modernisation of Japan.

As French and English help started off the improvements in industry and rail transportation, separatist forces on the southern island of Kyushu rose and captured the domains one by one. The houses of Chōshū, Satsuma andn later Tosa each wrote a letter indicating they rejected foreign influence and launched a campaign against the combined forces of house Yamato, Fujiwara and other emperor supporting houses. 

Although the emperor supporting forces were backed by modern arms from abroad, the traditional samurai overpowered the inexperienced infantry and artillery units that outnumbered them. Using ancient techniques of subterfuge, fear and shock tactics, they drove their opponents from the field in Toba-Fushimi, Awa and Edo.

Following the surrender of the emperor, the remaining forces of Tokugawa fled to the outskirts of northern Japan where they fought a guerrilla war for another fourteen years until all resistance was broken. The new shogun, Saigo Takamori, issued an edict to close the gates again. This became known as the era of matasakoku (closed again). Ironically, the Takamori regime used the newly imported technology to fend off foreign powers from the main ports. Where Commander Perry was able to impress the ruling class of the power of the Western gunboats, the newly created naval defenses and gun batteries prevented a new opening of the country.

Lead up to War

By 1866, French military missions were appearing all over Japan with French generals being employed by the local Daiyamos and the Shogun himself.

Shogunate troops around 1864.

 During March 1866, the Shogun employed several French generals to help modernize his own army. This modernization was tested in the Summer of the same year when Anti-Shogun extremists conducted a coup on the Chōshū domain and the Shogunate announced the Second Chōshū expedition. When the Shogun and allied Domains arrived, they were slaughtered even though the Shoguns troops were "modernized", Chōshū troops had extensive training, modern weapons and better tactics. By late 1866, any or all hopes of a "truce" was inevitable due to the loss of Tokugawa authority and the deaths of both Shogun Tokugwa Iemochi (succeeded by Tokugawa Yoshinobu) and Emperor Kōmei (Succeeded by Emperor Meiji).

War aftermath

The German and British forces did establish new relations with the now ruling shogun Takamori. Trade relations were established. However, they were restricted and the development of Japan was all but stopped. Present day Japan is as developed as any Third World country according to Western standards. The Japanese traditions are stil held high, which makes for a strong country with many touristic sites where customs can still be found that were practiced 400 years ago. This is why Japan has an important tourism industry. Hokkaido is an area that is not much visited by foreigners. Although the remaining forces at the time of the war were for Western relations, their descendants view any foreigner as a memory of how Japan was violently opened up and scarred for centuries.

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