Japanese diplomacy underwent profound changes during the nineteenth century. Rather than explaining these through a narrative of modernization imposed by the West, these studies of Japanese diplomats transcend conventional periodization to consider the case for East Asian modernization from within.
The changing landscape of foreign relations in the nineteenth century had a profound effect on diplomacy in Japan. Western encroachment in East Asia was rapidly transforming a regional order that now seemed increasingly untenable in the wake of China's defeat in the First Opium War. As they faced the opening of treaty ports in Japan, Tokugawa officials had to adapt to conducting diplomacy in languages and on terms never experienced before. A new, more complex network of relations with the Western powers emerged, as Japan was incorporated into an unfamiliar world order, the Westphalian system of sovereign states. Such developments could easily be situated within a conventional narrative of modernization in East Asia, viewed as largely a response to pressure from the West. For Japanese diplomats as well, the volatile international climate certainly presented a challenging environment. The aim of this panel, however, is to focus rather on the agency they exerted in shaping Japan's relations with foreign states. Viewed in this context, it may be possible to interpret the roles played by such diplomats within a context of East Asian modernization from within, not necessarily imposed by the West. The structure of our panel is designed to explore some dynamics of Japanese diplomacy during this period of transition. The papers consist of case studies focusing on three key individuals who - at different times - made notable contributions in this field. The first examines the experience of Tsutsui Masanori, a shogunal retainer who was involved in pivotal negotiations with Russian and American envoys in the 1850s. The second addresses the role of Sameshima Naonobu, Japan's first resident minister in Europe, as Japanese legations opened during the 1870s. The third explores the efforts made by Hayashi Gonsuke to promote foreign awareness of the Meiji Constitution during his terms as Minister Plenipotentiary in China, following the Russo-Japanese War and again during World War One. Spanning three generations from late Tokugawa (Bakumatsu) through Meiji and Taishō eras, these studies transcend conventional historical periodization, an approach that may suggest further avenues of enquiry on the making of diplomacy in modern Japan.