Post-Restoration Japan faced a number of serious problems in its relations with East Asia and the West, all of which came to a head in seikan ronsō, the clash in the Council of State, October 1873, over sending a punitive expedition to Korea. Essentially this was a struggle to define the nature of the Meiji Restoration—how radical would it be—and to decide who would control the politics of Japan's renovation, but intermixed with these domestic issues were several questions of foreign policy. To Japan's leaders, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, and Sakhalin were as important as Korea; security of the frontier in East Asia as significant as equal treaties with China and the West. And for historians with the advantage of a century of hindsight, the debate is important evidence in assessing the strength and sophistication of expansionist sentiment in early Meiji Japan. Does modern Japanese imperialism date from this period as consistent and persistent government policy or simply as a set of commonly held aspirations and desires, stronger in some than others or more evident outside of government than within it? To assist in answering these questions there is a wealth of Western and Japanese language diplomatic correspondence and numerous memoirs, letters, and diaries. The clash pitted die returning members of the Iwakura embassy and their allies at home against prominent officials in the caretaker government. The envoys, who had gained from their journey to die West a better understanding of international politics and the instability of the world order as well as a clearer perception of the gigantic transformation Japan must undergo, won with the argument of restraint abroad and rapid reform at home. But were the differences primarily in methods and timing and not ultimate intentions? Were Japan's leaders only biding their time until domestic strength made foreign adventurism possible, as is often charged? There is little evidence that Iwakura's group had such ulterior motives. In the grosser sense of the existence of an elaborate plan of conquest, there was no imperialist conspiracy. In the more complex sense of consistency of dreams, aims, or ambitions, there was more continentalism among public critics than officials. The victors in the debate wished to create a strong and enlightened state capable of taking whatever measures seemed necessary, whether at home or abroad. Expansion into frontier regions therefore was always a possibility but even then for security and prestige rather than overseas dominion. Such thinking guided the government for the next twenty years. However more research is needed on the basic character of Meiji Japan's political and economic institutions, the expansionist sentiments of the government's critics, changing concepts of security, and Japan's response to Western imperialism.

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