Dancing and Diplomacy

Up until the late Meiji period, party dresses were not a social problem for the Japanese woman. She wore her seasonal kimono and, by tradition, rarely attended parties, certainly never parties where foreign gentlemen and their ladies were likely to be present. But foreign minister Inoue Kaoru attempted to change this with a policy of entertaining foreigners in western style. His elaborate plan called for the construction of a special building which was Galled Rokumeikan, Inoue's idea of entertaining foreign guests in their own fashion was not strictly for social reasons. He, along with other Japanese ministers, believed that foreign dignitaries and members of legations would be more likely to accept revisions to inequitable trade agreements made by Japan when the country was opened. These treaties, signed at a time when Japan was in no position to bargain, were decidedly favorable to the foreign countries and a source of continuous irritation. And so it was that a small number of Japanese women got their first western party dresses. With the importation of the sewing machine, the number of western dresses available increased rapidly and a whole new dressmaking (yosai) industry was formed. The elaborate parties had no effect upon treaty revision. This fact, added to the expense and disregard of established convention, brought this style of diplomacy into disrepute and ultimately caused the resignation of foreign minister Inoue. The new foreign minister, Okuma, believed that dancing and fancy dress balls were the province of businessmen, not of the Japanese government.

Main Page
The New Japan
Trains Run on Time
Industrial Beginnings
Satsuma Rebellion
First Industrial Fair

Dancing and Diplomacy
The First Constitution
War with China
War with Russia
The New Face of Tokyo
Toward the Future