Of course, a few other internal disturbances contributed to the upheaval during the late Tokugawa era. In an eerily timely manner, the end for the Shogunate was signaled by the appearance of the comet, commonly known as Donati, in the night skies of 1858 (Nenzi, “Caught” 2). Despite a prevalence of rational, scientific thought, the Japanese people could not help but see the comet (or broom-star as they referred to it) as a sign of things to come. Indeed, during the time of the comet, Japan saw earthquakes, floods that resulted in a compromised rice crop (and resulting riots), outbreaks of cholera, a terrible fire in Kyoto, the death of a shogun, and of course the upheaval brought about by the treaties with the United States (Nenzi, “Caught” 3).
Donati's Comet by William Turner, 1858
The fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the subsequent Meiji Restoration were truly the result of the myriad of differing external pressures and internal strain. It seems that pre-modern Japan valiantly held onto its traditional principles as long as could safely do so. Globalization and modernization were inevitable, and fortunately were accomplished without the Japanese people being subject to invasion or foreign rule. This would have likely done serious damage to Japan’s vibrant, fascinating, and ancient culture. Though the imperial loyalists never managed to “expel the barbarians”, and ultimately found themselves fighting against the same rebelling samurai that supported the sonno joi movement originally, Japan to this day remains a distinct and unique culture.
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