Weber, Till (Text)
Lunyakov, Sascha (Illustrations)
From Samurai to Soldiers – Japan in the 1860s
From the early 17th century until the 1860s, Japan was ruled by samurai led by the Shoguns of the powerful Tokugawa dynasty. The long period of peace following almost incessant civil war had negative effects on the proficiency of these feudal warriors. When industrialized Western powers whose armies and navies were equipped with the most modern weapons began to take interest in Japan in the 1850s, a tumultuous period of reforms and radical changes ensued – Bakumatsu. From this time emerged a country which had thoroughly albeit painfully rid itself of former taboos: modern rifles and artillery produced new tactics, while modern uniforms replaced the samurai’s former splendour in arms. Now even non-samurai could become fighting men. By the 1870s, the Emperor Meiji ruled over a new Japan which no longer had any use for its ancient warrior élite.
The Zeughaus Verlag’s third volume of the history of the samurai provides a detailed overview of the opposing parties as well as their respective military reforms. The reader is introduced to the various modern and traditional-minded combatants, from lowly but efficient regular infantry to the gallant desperadoes filling the ranks of the Shinsengumi. Rag-tag militias replaced proud and resplendently attired samurai fighting for a lost cause. Tactics, arms, clothing and equipment are presented in detail. The author describes the campaigns and battles which changed the country’s face between 1866 and 1869, and introduces the protagonists of the struggle which culminated in modern Japan’s entrance onto the world stage.