Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17, 1637 – Shimabara Rebellion Sparks Opening of Nippon

In the 1630s, a climate of heavy taxation and famine would ignite a rebellion that would change the island nation of Nippon forever. In the Shimabara Domain under Matsukura Katsuie (as well as the Karatsu Domain under Terasawa Katataka), peasants were driven into bitter poverty by construction projects by the Matsukura clan attempting to climb the hierarchy of the lords by building up his defenses and preparing for an invasion. Many peasants were Christian, as the previous lord family Arima had been. When the Arima had left, the peasants had stayed, and now the Matsukura enacted persecution to keep the believers of foreign things under its thumb.

Rebellion broke out in 1637 with the assassination of a local tax collector, Hayashi Hyōzaemon. Amakusa Shiro, a charismatic teenager, led them, claiming to be the "Fourth Son of Heaven" prophesied to be the one to begin the Christianization of Nippon. Masterless samurai, many of whom had been involved in the plotting that autumn, joined the peasants, and their ranks swelled by impressing the conquered neighbors into joining their cause. While besieging neighboring castles, armies from nearby Kyushu arrived, and the rebels made a series of advances and retreats, eventually taking refuge in Hara Castle.

Though outnumbering the defenders four-to-one, the shogunate forces were only able to take up a siege of the castle. After several potential strategies, the commanders called for aid from the Dutch, white-faced demons that arrived from far in the west on wooden ships not long after the Portuguese. The Dutch gave the army gunpowder and cannon as well as advisers on how to use them most effectively. Having gone through generations of warfare with Spain during what would become known as the Eighty Years’ War, the Dutch had learned many of the subtleties of artillery. The tradeship de Ryp took up a position along with the battery-mounted cannons on land, and the barrage of the castle began.

After some fifteen days, the rebels broke and called for truce. Incendiaries and heavy shot had devastated the castle and ruined much of their supplies. With the dead piling up, the peasants began to surrender en masse. The castle ruins were burned, and more than 30,000 sympathizers were executed. Amakusa Shiro had died in the barrage, and his battered severed head was returned to Nagasaki.

The shogunate learned valuable lessons from the rebellion. Foremost, the Shimabara peninsula had to be repopulated (even its lords, as Matsukura Katsuie had committed suicide and Terasawa Katataka died childless), and the reshuffling established a new and prosperous hierarchy rewarding those who had worked for the good of Nippon. Another lesson was the dangers of foreign religion, and Christianity was driven underground as the Kakure Kirishitan. The third, and perhaps most important, lesson was the effectiveness of Western technology and technique. Industrial spies were shipped back to Europe, learning all they could of Western weaponry, architecture, metallurgy, textiles, and, key to the future of Nippon, manufacture.

Initially relying on the Dutch, the Nipponese would later turn to the English and even cleverly pit Western countries against one another to gain greater advantages in trade. In the eighteenth century, the Nipponese would emulate the steam engine of James Watt to great success. When Europe became embroiled in the affairs of the French Revolution (ideals refused in Nippon as they found interest only in technology, not social philosophy) and Napoleonic Wars, Nippon seized the opportunity to colonize and create its own empire. Invading Korea and using it as a launching ground for the conquest of Manchuria, Nippon secured the coal and iron mines it needed to lead the world in industrial power.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, Nippon would become the major figure in the Pacific, conquering many of the unclaimed Polynesian islands and using the Hawaiian Royals as a buffer to keep the expansive Americans at bay. The Nipponese purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire after beating out the United States in a bidding war served as the West’s wakeup call to the political clout of Nippon. Later defeating the Russians in war, the West would realize Nippon’s clout was more than mere wealth and trade.

Europeans would clamor to bring Nippon into lasting treaties and even their short-lived League of Nations, but the policy of avoiding Western culture stood. Minor trades could be made for technology (they gained many scientists from Fascism in exchange for resources), but there would be no military pacts. Each time as the West has torn itself apart several times over the centuries, the Nipponese have sat out, gaining a little more wealth, industrial productivity, and power.

In reality, the Dutch guns did not work effectively. The defenders of Hara Castle sent a mocking message, "Are there no longer courageous soldiers in the realm to do combat with us, and weren't they ashamed to have called in the assistance of foreigners against our small contingent?" At Japanese request, the de Ryp was withdrawn, and, after the rebellion was put down, Japan began the sakoku policy severely limiting commerce and foreign relations. It would last more than two centuries until the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853.

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