Steampunk Timeline Japan

1852 – Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry sets sail for Japan with four ships, hoping to establish contact with the so-called "Closed Country". The Tokugawa Shogunate has so far limited foreign contact to the port of Nagasaki, dealing almost exclusively with the Dutch. Perry's expedition is based on the advice of James Glynn that a demonstration of force will be necessary to produce a result favourable to the United States.

1853 – Perry drops anchor at Uraga Harbour near Edo. On being told to proceed to Nagasaki, he refuses, demanding permission to deliver a letter from President Millard Fillmore and threatening to use force if denied. Seeing that they cannot hope to oppose Perry's modern weapons, the Japanese government allows Perry to come ashore at Kuruhima and deliver his letter. Before he leaves, Perry promises to return for a reply "soon".

1854 – Perry returns to Japan with eight ships, signing the Convention of Kanagawa on the 31st of March. In the Convention, Japan accedes to nearly every demand made by president Fillmore; the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate will be opened to US trade, shipwrecked sailors are guaranteed safety, and a permanent consul is established. Spurred on by the American example, Great Britain forces a similar treaty with Japan in October. These treaties effectively ends Japans policy of isolation.

1858 – The French, Dutch, Russian and British governments all push for further concessions from the Japanese government, similar or greater to those of the United States. There is also a growing internal division between factions who wish to open Japan to the west immediately, and those who push for expelling or otherwise driving off the "barbarians" until their weapons can be countered.

Matters come to a head with the signing of the Harris Treaty, which demands that U.S. citizens should not have to obey Japanese law, as well as forcing the opening of more ports. and Edo, the shogunate capital and political heart of Japan, to foreigners. To most Japanese government officials, this is highly dangerous, as well as an insult. Having learned the lessons of the Opium War of 1840, however, the Japanese government accedes to the U.S. demands, if with poor grace. This sets a dangerous precedent for the country, as for the first time its sovereignty is curtailed.

The Harris Treaty is followed by similar treaties with Russia, the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, leading to further rancour and anger within Japan. Various political factions begin to mutter about toppling the Shogunate and installing a new government. Serious talk of rebellion is brewing.

1859 – The opening of Japan exposes the country to the new, western paradigm, especially the designs of Djuka Tesla and the Analytical Engines of Charles Babbage, introduced to the country by the U.S. and British trading missions and consulates, respectively. Although Japan has kept somewhat abreast with the developments in the west thanks to contact with the Dutch in the enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki, this new development is worrying. Concerned with the sheer gap in advancement, many Japanese begin to wonder whether or not it would even be possible to attempt to expel the foreigners at all.

The pro-modernization factions of Japanese society now see an opportunity and decide to take it. In order to ensure Japan's independence from Europe and the United States, they begin secretly sending their sons to study abroad, in direct violation of the Shoguns edicts. They believe that only by understanding these new sciences can Japan hope to remain a sovereign country, and are willing to risk everything for their goals.

1860 – Japanese students enrol at the Tesla Institute, as well as at prestigious universities all over Europe, from London to Berlin. The main subjects they enrol for are almost without fail those related to mechanical engineering, metallurgy, mathematics, or analytical computation. Japan also opens embassies in the United States, France, Germany, and Great Britain.

Inside Japan, something new is happening. Fascination with the stark, strange harmony of clockwork devices is beginning to replace the nervous distrust of the ways of the "outsiders" among certain segments of the populace. In particular, those who have studied the "Dutch" or "Western" Learning (rangaku in japanese) embrace the new clockwork devices eagerly. These rangaku-sha or "Students of the West" begin studying and modifying the devices they can acquire, and even improving on them in some circumstances.

Two clearly distinct political factions are becoming apparent: The Modernization faction desires a return to Imperial rule while embracing western ideas to preserve Japan's independence. The Shogunate Isolationists seek to keep the Shogunate in power and return as much as possible to the policy of isolation. Although the Shogunate is also seeking to modernize Japan to some extent, they are far more cautious. Most of the samurai clans take a carefully neutral position, waiting to see who will gain the upper hand. Not surprisingly, the rangaku-sha side almost exclusively with the Modernizers.

1863 – After the Battle of Gettysburg, Japanese diplomats immediately dispatch copies and translations of the articles detailing "The Gun". The news that such a weapon exists horrifies the senior military officers of the Shogunate. They can clearly see the implications for Japan if the country does not acquire these weapons. More shocks are in store, however, as news of Confederate Airships arrive. The Shogun decides to suppress all news of these horrifying new weapons, even from the Emperor. Although the Emperor is a supporter of Isolationist policies and staunchly opposed to western influence in Japan, Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi fears that news of this development will lead the Emperor to reconsider his position.

1864 - Several lower-ranking members of the Shogunate military sympathetic to the Modernizers, discover what the Shogun has done. Unable to keep silent about the potential threat facing the country (being colonized at the barrel of a Gatling Gun), they reveal the news to the Modernizers in January. They, in turn, break the news to every member of the samurai caste. Faced with a clear and present danger to the country, many of the undecided samurai clans side with the Modernizers. The main leaders of the Modernization faction decide to act, and act swiftly. A hasty alliance is established between the domains of Satsuma and Choshu, who, while hostile to one another, have always been staunch supporters of the Emperors return to power. Old enmities are, however, set aside in favour of more pressing matters.

Gathering their supporters, Sakamoto Ryoma, main leader of the Modernizers, along with Kido Takayoshi, Okubo Toshimichi, Saigo Takamori, Ito Hirobumi, Inoue Kaoru, Mori Arinori, and Yamagata Aritomo march on Kyoto, the spiritual heart of Japan. With the support from their new allies, they seize the imperial palace after bitter fighting with Shogunate forces. Once the palace is in their hands, they inform the Emperor of the new weapons developed by the westerners. Incensed that the Shogun has kept this news from him, the Emperor sees Tokugawa Iemochis actions as treasonous. In a bitter proclamation, he denounces the Tokugawa Shogunate and its actions as an attempt to usurp power. The Modernizers immediately spread the news as fast as they possibly can. This seals the fate of the Shogunate.

Although still enjoying considerable support in certain domains, the Emperors denouncement means that the majority of the samurai as well as the common people align themselves to the Modernizers. Outnumbered, the Shogunate forces lose several battles in their traditional strongholds throughout February and March. Finally, seeing that to fight on is hopeless, Tokugawa Iemochi commits seppuku. Several of his closest supporters follow him, as well as his heir, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Without leadership, the Shogunate forces collapse. By the end of April, the last of the Shogunate loyalists have surrendered or fled north to Hokkaido.

Through a formal declaration, the Emperor officially reclaims the governing powers formerly ceded to the Shoguns;

"Following recent events, and the demise of Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi, the Emperor of Japan announces to the sovereigns of all foreign countries and to their subjects, that the governing powers and supreme authority in all the internal and external affairs of this country shall return to us. Consequently the title of Emperor must be substituted for that of Taikun, in which treaties have been made. Officers are being appointed by us to the conduct of foreign affairs. It is desirable that the representatives of the treaty powers recognize this announcement." - May 8, 1864.

Returning to the tradition of pre-Shogunate Japan the Emperor appoints Sakamoto Ryoma Chancellor of the Realm, reviving that ancient title, before retiring to Kyoto. Embittered by what he considers the Shoguns betrayal, although he sees the necessity of reforming Japan in the face of new weaponry, he wishes as little to do with the new order as possible.

The new government wastes no time. Emboldened by their victory over the Shogunate, they set about drafting a new constitution, abolishing feudalism and centralizing power as much as possible. Using the reports of airships and Gatling guns as a spur, they persuade the remaining, sceptical Daimyos that this is for the good of the entire country. Sakamoto, inspired by the example of the United States, pushes for a constitutional democratic monarchy, pointing out that the new innovations that threaten Japan come from a nation where everyone has a voice. He does not, however, argue for universal suffrage, realizing that this would be too radical an idea at this time.

Very grudgingly, most of the Daimyo acquiesce, although several are doubtful about the reports of the new weapons. By December, the main articles of the new constitution is in place, establishing a parliament with Upper and Lower Assemblies, modelled to some extent on Great Britain as well as on the U.S. In practice, however, the power will prove to remain with the leaders of the Modernizers.

1865 – The first ever elections are held for the Lower Assembly on the 1st of March. Instead of organizing along political parties, the elections go by the former domains, now re-named prefectures, much as in the United States. The Upper Assembly is reserved for the hereditary nobility, like the House of Lords in Great Britain. The assemblies are to advise the imperially appointed ministries, as well as acting as a legislative body. The entire structure of the new government becomes known as the Daijokan, hearkening back to the Nara and Heian eras.

Unused to having a voice at all, let alone an influence in who is a part of government, most Japanese citizens eligible to vote are expected by most to do so in accordance to the old, traditional loyalties. The leaders of the Modernizers, however, spend most of the time up to the election printing and distributing pamphlets informing the citizenry of just what democracy means. Those who cannot read (and there are many) have the pamphlets read to them by those who can. As a result, several members of traditionally low castes such as merchants, artisans and farmers suddenly find themselves in a position of influence, albeit small.

With the main structure of government now in place, Chancellor Sakamoto begins an ambitious programme to swiftly modernize Japan. As students begin to return from abroad, they are enrolled in the various ministries where it is believed they can do most good.

Special consideration is given to those who have studied engineering, metallurgy and the new clockwork mechanisms abroad. A new separate ministry, the Ministry of Western Learning or "Rangaku-sho", is created to deal specifically with these issues, and to expand the nations capabilities in this regard. Many of the rangaku-sha are given positions in this new ministry.

On another front, the ministries of the executive and finance begin importing western machinery in bulk, as well as hiring workers from Europe to instruct Japanese citizens in their workings and maintenance. Several new coal-mines are opened, and older ones are expanded to provide fuel for the rapid industrialization the government is undertaking. The ministry of the Military begin reforming the army along western lines, working through the ministry of finance to import weapons and instructors from abroad.

In June of 1865, Osamu Akira returns to Japan. A member of a low-ranking family of samurai, he had nevertheless been sent to study at University College London in 1859. While in England, he became enamoured with the analytical engines of Charles Babbage, and upon graduating with degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics, secured a job with the British Analytical Computation Company.

Upon his return, Osamu is given a post at the Rangaku-sho and immediately recommends bringing analytical engines to Japan. Recognizing his talents and the abilities of analytical engines, Chancellor Sakamoto promotes Osamu to the post of junior minister of the Rangaku-sho. By the end of the year, Japan has imported twenty analytical engines.

As reports of the aerial duel over Washington D.C. and the end of the U.S civil war reach Japan, Chancellor Sakamoto asks the Rangaku-sho to develop similar craft for the Japanese army. Working from diplomatic missives, newspaper articles, and using imported rifle barrels, they manage to reverse engineer a functional Gatling gun. While lacking brass cartridges, the engineers have found that with care and some glue, sealed bamboo cylinders will serve adequately. To prevent splinters from injuring the crew, small screens are installed around the feed from hopper to breech.

Takahashi Genma, a samurai who has become an officer in the nascent Japanese army, field tests the weapon in an elaborate mock-up of a battle for the Upper and Lower Assemblies as well as the imperial ministers. Straw training dummies mounted on runners and outfitted in armour taken from disgraced shogunate supporters are charged towards him and his crew and Takahashi orders his men to open fire. By the time the crew runs out of ammunition, there is virtually nothing left of the targets. Even the most ardent traditionalist can't deny the truth anymore; the samurai are obsolete. Over the following weeks many samurai unable to accept the new order, but seeing its necessity, take their own lives.

Takahashi is appointed liaison between the army and the Rangaku-sho.

1866 - The industrialization of Japan begins to pick up speed. Textile mills, iron foundries and steelworks are established in major cities. As a consequence, cities begin to grow. This also creates a demand for skilled labour beyond the old system of artisans. With the acute necessity of catching up with one hundred years of western advances, and the growing demand for an educated workforce, the Skamoto government embarks on a massive campaign of education. Public schools and universities are established all over the country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, teaching a wide variety of classical and modern subjects, including rangaku. Foreign scholars are invited to teach at these new establishments, bringing with them influences from all over the world. In addition, Japanese students whose families can afford it, are sent abroad, along with several on government-sponsored scholarships.

The Rangaku-sho completes its first airship, the Susano-O. Named for the storm god of Japanese myth,its construction is an elongated cylinder some 150 ft in length, made from bamboo and covered with silk, containing several buoyancy cells. A long, narrow gondola is suspended beneath the cylinder, containing a small steam-engine in the rear, as well as crew quarters and provisions. Steering is provided by an old-fashioned rudder connected to two propellers, one on each side of the gondola. As on the T.I.M. ships, trim is maintained by pumping ballast water from one end on the ship to the other, but the Susano-O achieves lift by using Hydrogen, being much easier to produce. The ships armaments consists of three Gatling guns, one to a side and in the bow. Satisfied with the result, the Japanese government orders several more to be made, while the Rangaku-sho is tasked with improving on the design.

Several undesirable features of the new political system become apparent over the course of the year. While democratic in theory, in practice the ministers of the various departments hold most of the power. Though the Chancellor and ministers are technically answerable to the Assembly, they are under no obligation to actually follow the Assembly's advice. For Sakamoto, this is a concern, as he and several others wish to see a true democracy. However, for the time being they are focused on reforming the country, leaving such concerns for later.

As the army is being modernized, so is the navy. The first steamships produced exclusively in Japan are launched in November, giving Japan the beginnings of a modern navy.

1867 – The Emperor dies suddenly from smallpox, at the age of 35. Following tradition, he is given the posthumous name Komei after the era during which he reigned. He is succeeded by 14 year old Crown Prince Mutsuhito. Unlike his father, the new Emperor is fully aware of the challenges to his country, and throws his support behind the governments effort to modernize the country rather than remain aloof. As a sign of this, he moves the imperial seat from Kyoto to Edo, uniting the cultural and spiritual capital with the political capital. In an imperial edict, Edo is renamed Tokyo.

A problem that threatens the Sakamoto reforms, now referred to by many as the "Great Work" begins to make itself known; Japan has very little iron, relative to its needs. If the governments goals are to be achieved, alternate supplies must be found, either through trade or conquest. Sakamoto, loath to see Japan become a colonizing nation itself, begins to import iron from China and Korea. Several high-ranking members of the samurai class, however, are not well pleased by this and argue that Japan needs to expand her influence, with force if necessary.

1868 – By the Japanese calendar, the era of Meiji or "enlightened rule" begins in August. The young Emperor, in a further break from tradition, takes the name of this era as his own, becoming known as Emperor Meiji.

The Rangaku-sho moves into the Nerima district of Tokyo, having been assigned several estates formerly owned by shogunate supporters. Formerly a farming district, Nermia becomes the centre for technological and scientific innovation in Japan. . With nearly unlimited government funds, the ministry creates a massive compound of workshops, foundries, small factories, laboratories, testing areas and libraries. Among some, Nerima is soon jokingly referred to as the Rangaku-kyo, or "capital of western learning". The words raganku and rangaku-sha are now synonymous with science and scientist.

1869 – Fascinated by the reports of the boy-genius Tesla and the writings of Hiraga Gennai, an 18th century inventor and electrical pioneer, Hakubi Tetsuo begins work on an upgraded, clockwork driven version of Gennais electrostatic generator. Taking Tesla's discoveries of resonant frequencies and incorporating them into his device, Hakubi creates the raikou-yakuin or "lightning staff", a device which creates and amplifies a static charge in a generator worn on the back before channelling it through an insulated metal staff by way of a copper wire. While cumbersome, heavy, and highly dangerous to use, the Japanese army is intrigued by the possibilities of a weapon that requires no ammunition. Hakubi is assigned to create a safer, less cumbersome model for military use and if possible a weapon that is effective at range.

The air-works at the Rangaku-sho unveils their new, upgraded airship. With the lessons learned from the Susano-O, the new ships are huge. 330 feet in length, with a much larger gondola, the airship Miyamoto is launched on the 3rd of November in honor of Emperor Meiji's birthday. Armed with four Gatling guns as well as a bomb bay, a clockwork automatic pilot and even sporting limited armour plating to protect the crew, these behemoths are the finest weapons in Japan's arsenal. It is also produced entirely by the Japanese themselves, with no outside help.

The reports of the Miyamoto causes the western powers to take serious notice of the changes going on in the far east. Imperial Japan can no longer be dismissed as a quaint, primitive backwater. Great Britain, for the first time seeing the country as potential threat and shocked by the rapid developments taking place under the Sakamoto regime, drafts a cautious congratulation and overture regarding "a possible strategic partnership to guard common interests in the East, and avoid unfortunate misunderstandings". A junior diplomat, Ernest Satow, delivers the document to Chancellor Sakamoto directly. France and the Netherlands follow suit.

Prussia, lacking major overseas interests of their own, are far more open, sending warm congratulations on "the achievements of the Japanese people". Otto von Bismarck sees Japan as a perfect foil for British and French interests in the region and Prussian diplomats begin negotiations of a treaty between the two countries. Aware of Japan's relative lack of iron, the Prussians offer favourable terms on Japanese silk in exchange for iron.

A massive coup for the Japanese government, the ministry of Civil Affairs publishes the full text of these missives to the general public, sparking celebrations in several circles. The memory of the so-called Unequal Treaties forced upon the Shogunate by the more advanced western powers is still fresh, and the British letter is seen by a wide majority as the final vindication of Sakamotos policies.

1870 – The second election for the Lower Assembly is held. Those candidates aligned with the Modernizers do not even have to campaign. Once the final ballots are counted, the Lower Assembly is fully controlled by the Modernizers, having won a sweeping majority with 78 % of the seats.

Japan begins to produce its own industrial equipment for the first time, while continuing to expanding its navy, both at sea and in the air. Coal production has more than quadrupled over the last five years, and rail roads now connect most of the major cities. Gas lighting is installed along the main roads of Tokyo. While still lagging behind the west in some respects, the country is rapidly catching up.

Russia, having a long-standing dispute with Japan over the Kuril islands and especially the island of Sakhalin which is settled by both countries, is deeply troubled by what it sees as a possibly expansionist threat right on its border. Moving to secure its claim on Sakhalin, tsar Alexander II dispatches a navy squadron and a battalion of soldiers to "safeguard our people living on the isle of Sakhalin against possible aggression". Underestimating just how far Japan has advanced technologically, tsar Alexander hopes that the Japanese will back down and negotiate a settlement of the issue once and for all.

Chancellor Sakamoto, however, does not back down. On behalf of the chancellor, foreign minister Aoki Shuzo dispatches a polite yet steely request for Russia to withdraw its ships and troops from Sakhalin before Japan will enter negotiations. Scoffing at the request, Russia ignores the demand. For several tense weeks both sides engage in heavy diplomatic wrangling, but in the end Russia proves intractable. On the 19th of July, Sakamoto gives the order for Yamagata Aritomo to send the air fleet as well as the navy to Sakhalin, and force the Russians to withdraw.

Four days later, on the 23rd of July, the Miyamoto class airships Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, Oda Nobunaga and Shinomori reach Sakhalin, closely followed by the navy. Using optical semaphore, the airships communicate the positions of the Russian ships to the navy. The two sides are almost evenly matched, with one exception; The Russians have no airships. Deciding to press this advantage, the commander of the Japanese forces Togo Heihachiro orders the airships to begin aerial bombardment of the Russian forces while the navy closes in.

Using simplified analytical engines designed and manufactured by the Rangaku-sho, the airships are able to drop their payloads on the Russian vessels with near pin-point accuracy. Unable to defend themselves from attack from this quarter, the Russian sailors are reduced to taking pot-shots with rifles at the envelope holding the airships aloft in a vain hope of puncturing a gas cell and bringing them down. This is made much more difficult, however, as the Japanese airmen harry them with Gatling fire. Two of the Russian ships are sunk. In a matter of hours, the engagement is over, with the Russians forced to retreat. The troops stationed on Sakhalin itself, having seen the Gatling gun in action, surrender unconditionally and are taken captive by the Japanese landing parties.

News of the victory by Japan over what is considered a Great Power stuns Europe. While in other circumstances Russia would become an international laughingstock, the sheer outlandishness of the event leaves only stunned disbelief. On his return, Togo Heihachiro is promoted to admiral for his service to the Emperor, with several journalists giving him the nickname "the Nelson of the East".

The expansionist parties, especially in the Upper Assembly agitate for a full annexation of Sakhalin at the earliest opportunity, as well as engaging what they regard as a weak enemy. With Sakhalin under Japanese control, they have a base for an assault on Manchuria. In an impassioned speech to both assemblies, Chancellor Sakamoto declines. After summarizing the battle and lauding the sailors and admiral Togo, he goes on to outline the dangers of engaging in a policy of rapid and aggressive expansion ending with;

"… so now, let us be gracious in our victory, lest the whole world turn against us. Though our strength is greater than ever, and now proven to the world, we cannot hope to prevail should the Powers of the west ally themselves all against us."

While many in the upper assembly simmer, the lower assembly gives Sakamoto its full support, as does the rest of the ministers. Foreign Minister Aoki meets with his Russian counterpart and drafts the Sakhalin Treaty, wherein Russia cedes all territorial claims to the island in exchange for favourable trade agreements with Japan, as well as protection for Russian residents on the island under Japanese law.

1872 – The samurai Masaki Katsuhito, seeking to unite the new ways that have made Japan great with the old traditions, approaches Osamu Akira with ideas for something new based on reports from California about clockwork prosthetics. The two work closely together for several months, during which, according to one worker "Much noise came from the Masaki workshop. Also much profanity, which I'm sure the kami have noticed.".

The fruit of their labour, however, is a suit of armour created in the traditional samurai design, but containing several mechanisms that turns it from an encumbering weight into a functional exo-skeleton. Taking the idea of the self-winding mechanisms in the "Full-Armature Prosthetic" in a different direction, the two men eliminate most of the weight of the armour, allowing them to add extra protection in the form of proper armour plating. It will not stop a Gatling gun or a point-blank shot, but at most other ranges, the wearer is practically bullet-proof. Naming it Kotetsu-jin armor, Osamu and Masaki offer it to those samurai who feel that the new era has nothing to offer them. This leads to a resurgence of the samurai class, as demand soon outstrips availability. The new Kotetsu-Samurai become bodyguards for high officials, as well as inducted into elite army units.

1873 – Japan begins exporting industrial goods for the first time. With the acquisition of Sakhalin, the Foreign Ministry begins to look abroad for possible trading partners, as well as expanding Japanese influence in the Pacific.

1875 – Present Day