Meiji Period  ( 明治  )1868 - 1912





 video of Meiji Japan


Emperor Meiji


The coup of the anti shogunal Satsuma/Choshu samurai resulted in the 'restoration' of  the emperor , meaning that the emperor should once again be at the center of the political system to provide legitimacy and continuity , but not actual power to the emperor .



The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, acted in the name of restoring imperial rule. However, political power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogun to an oligarchy consisting of themselves, mostly from the Satsuma Province (Okubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori), and the Chōshū province (Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, and Kido Koin).



Japanese history from the

Edo to Meiji period


This was mostly because their idea of imperial rule was the ancient one where the emperor performs his high priestly duties, while his ministers govern the nation in his name.The teenage emperor Mutsuhito ( 1852 - 1912 ) later to be known as Meiji ( Enlightened Rule ) ruled over a period of tremendous transformation  The last shogun, Yoshinobu retired and the shogunal base at Edo was renamed Tokyo ( eastern capital ) and the emperor moved into the shogunal castle, renamed the imperial palace

the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo .


Tokyo 1905


Japan was lucky that the European powers were distracted by richer and easier pickings in China and did not seriously seek to colonize Japan . However, the fear of colonization made the oligarchs who really ruled Japan act with great urgency and enact vast changes. Under the banner of fukoku kyohei ( 富国強兵 rich country, strong army ) decided on westernization and many missions were sent overseas to learn western methods and practices . Over 3,000 foreign experts were brought to Japan to learn from the West .



 Meiji Revolution 1


Shopping for a government




Rejecting the British model, Iwakura and other conservatives borrowed heavily from the Prussian constitutional system. One of the Meiji oligarchy, Ito Hirobumi (1841 – 1909), a Chōshū native long involved in government affairs, was charged with drafting Japan's constitution. He led a Constitutional Study Mission abroad in 1882, spending most of his time in Germany. He rejected the United States Constitution as "too liberal" and the British system as too unwieldy and having a parliament with too much control over the monarchy; the French and Spanish models were rejected as tending toward despotism.


the 1889 Constitution of the Empire of Japan (the Meiji Constitution) provided for the Imperial Diet (Teikoku Gikai), composed of a popularly elected House of Representatives with a very limited franchise of male citizens who were over 25 years of age and paid 15 yen in national taxes, about 1 % of the population, and the House of Peers, composed of nobility and imperial appointees; and a cabinet responsible to the emperor and independent of the legislature. The Diet could approve government legislation and initiate laws, make representations to the government, and submit petitions to the emperor. Nevertheless, in spite of these institutional changes, sovereignty still resided in the emperor on the basis of his divine ancestry.


In the early years of constitutional government, the strengths and weaknesses of the Meiji Constitution were revealed. A small clique of Satsuma and Chōshū elite continued to rule Japan, becoming institutionalized as an extraconstitutional body of genro (elder statesmen). Collectively, the genro made decisions reserved for the emperor, and the genro, not the emperor, controlled the government politically.

Throughout the period, however, political problems were usually solved through compromise, and political parties gradually increased their power over the government and held an ever larger role in the political process as a result. Between 1891 and 1895, Ito served as prime minister with a cabinet composed mostly of genro who wanted to establish a government party to control the House of Representatives. Although not fully realized, the trend toward party politics was well established.


The end of feudalism


The new government needed to consolidate its authority. the continued existence of feudal domains was a threat to this, and they were abolished . Many former heads of the Han were appointed governors .In 1871, the domains were completely abolished and the whole country reorganized into prefectures. The daimyo were allowed to retain a tenth of their domains former revenue and in 1884 they were elevated to the peerage .The four class system was scrapped and people were free to chose their occupation and where they would live .Many of the peasantry were unhappy with the rapid changes and forced service in the army, and there were uprisings against the new regime .Many of the large merchant houses that were tied to the old shogunate went bankrupt as well.


The new Army



In 1872 it was decided to build a new army on the basis on conscription and not retain the samurai .By the late 1870s the samurai were not allowed to wear swords and were phased out by 1876 . Japan followed the Prussian model for the army and the British for the navy . By 1876, using the same gunboat diplomacy that America had used on it, Japan was able to force open  Korea to Japan .in 1876 . To gain control of Korea and throw of its control by China, Japan went to war with China in 1894 over Korea end the war in 1894 and gaining Taiwan . by the time of emperor Meiji's death in 1912 Japan was recognized as a world power .the sped of modernization was amazing .Some of the samurai revolted against this system, led by Saigō Takamori,the Satsuma rebellion  (Seinan Sensō 西南戦争 )of 1877 , which eventually turned into a civil war. This rebellion was, however, put down swiftly by the newly formed Imperial Japanese Army, trained in Western tactics and weapons, even though the core of the new army was the Tokyo police force, which was formed in great parts of former samurai. This sent a strong message to the dissenting samurai that their time was indeed up. There were fewer subsequent samurai uprisings and the distinction became all but a name as the samurai joined the new society. The ideal of samurai military spirit lived on in romanticized form and was often used as propaganda during the early 20th century wars of the Empire of Japan.


The Sino-Japanese war


The world was shocked by the defeat of China in Korea in the Sino-Japanese War (1894 – 1895). China had a stronger navy on paper. Japan broke through as an international power with a victory against Russia in Manchuria (north-eastern China) in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 – 1905.



Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War


Meiji factory


The government established many new major industries and sold them off to chosen entrepreneurs, a factor in forming the huge industrial combines that would become known as the zaibatsu . In the early years, the main industry was textiles, but later moved into manufacturing and heavy industry and becoming a major shipbuilder by the end of the period .Japan emerged from the Tokugawa-Meiji transition as the first Asian industrialized nation. Economic reforms included a unified modern currency based on the yen, banking, commercial and tax laws, stock exchanges, and a communications network. Establishment of a modern institutional framework conducive to an advanced capitalist economy took time but was completed by the 1890s. By this time, the government had largely relinquished direct control of the modernization process, primarily for budgetary reasons.

Many of the former daimyo, whose pensions had been paid in a lump sum, benefited greatly through investments they made in emerging industries. Those who had been informally involved in foreign trade before the Meiji Restoration also flourished. Old bakufu-serving firms that clung to their traditional ways failed in the new business environment.





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