Britain and Meiji Japan
by Mr Adrian Thorpe CMG FRSA

Date: Thursday 9 January 2020

British involvement in the modernisation of Japan, the end of the Shogunate and its replacement by rule by the Emperor

Britain and Meiji Japan

From 1600 to 1867 Japan was administered by the Tokugawa Shoguns from their power-centre in Edo (now Tokyo). In theory they were temporary military governors granted their authority by the Emperor in Kyoto, whose rule was however largely symbolic. From 1639 the Shogunate enforced a “closed country” policy prohibiting almost all trade or other contact with the outside world. The arrival in 1853 of US warships under Commodore Matthew Perry, determined to force the end of this policy, triggered a civil war which ended with the fall of the Tokugawas in 1867 and the assumption of supreme rule by Emperor Meiji in 1868. During this period Britain assisted the “reform” faction, and when the young Emperor began an ambitious programme to remodel Japan as a modern industrial state with Western institutions British advisers and planners were heavily involved. In his lecture Adrian Thorpe will give an account of how this came about.

Adrian Thorpe graduated from Cambridge and entered HM Diplomatic Service in September 1965. Much of his career was spent in the Far East including a total of 14 years in the British Embassy Tokyo – first as Information Officer, then as First Secretary (Economic), and finally as Minister (Deputy to the Ambassador). He speaks Japanese – as well as German, French and Spanish – and has travelled all over the country.

He and his wife Miyoko married in 1968 and have lived near Sherborne since retirement in 2002.

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