The 1873 Seihen, or great political crisis, was at first sight a purely political struggle. A caretaker government had been governing Japan for two years; its leaders objected strongly when Prime Minister Iwakura and his colleagues returned from their great mission to Europe and North America to demand policy changes. In particular, they objected to the dropping of plans for an invasion of Korea. This book demonstrates that much more was at stake: the continued dominance of the great western clans (Satsuma and Choshu); control of the armed forces; the question of whether the government was subject to the rule of law; and most importantly, the economic spoils of Japanese expansion into Hokkaido, and potential expansion elsewhere, the most imminent possibility being Korea. "Let's attack Korea!" was the slogan of the losing faction in the 1873 struggle: as the author shows, this slogan and its associated policies were quietly adopted by the victors.
Donald Calman sets the events of the years around 1873 into a much wider context showing that the thread of aggressive, economically-inspired overseas expansion runs through Japanese history both early and later: from as early as the late Sixteenth Century, through the period of militarism and imperialism, right up to the present. A further important argument put forward is that much writing about Japan, from home and from abroad, has played down the true extent and true nature of Japanese imperialism.