Meiji Restoration

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The Meiji Restoration (明治維新 Meiji Ishin?), also known as the Meiji Ishin, Renovation, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. Although there were emperors of Japan before the Meiji Restoration, the restoration established the practical abilities and consolidated the political system under the Emperor of Japan. The goals of the restored government were expressed by the new emperor in the Charter Oath. The Restoration led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure, and spanned both the late Edo period (often called Late Tokugawa shogunate) and the beginning of the Meiji period. The period spanned from 1868 to 1912 and was responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernized nation in the early twentieth century.

Alliances and allegiances[edit]

The formation in 1866 of the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance between Saigō Takamori, the leader of the Satsuma domain, and Kido Takayoshi, the leader of the Chōshū domain, built the foundation of the Meiji restoration. These two leaders supported the Emperor Kōmei (the Emperor's father) and were brought together by Sakamoto Ryōma for the purpose of challenging the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate (bakufu) and restoring the Emperor to power. On February 3, 1867, the Meiji emperor ascended the throne after Emperor Kōmei's death on January 30, 1867. This period also saw Japan change from being a feudal society to having a market economy and left the Japanese with a lingering Western influence.

End of the Shogunate[edit]

Main article: Bakumatsu

The Tokugawa Shogunate came to its official end on November 9, 1867, when Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th Tokugawa Shogun, "put his prerogatives at the Emperor's disposal" and resigned 10 days later. This was effectively the "restoration" (Taisei Hōkan) of imperial rule – although Yoshinobu still had significant influence and it was not until January 3, the following year, with the young emperor's edict that the restoration fully occurred.[1]

Shortly thereafter in January 1868, the Boshin War (War of the Year of the Dragon) started with the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in which Chōshū and Satsuma's forces defeated the ex-shogun's army. This forced (or allowed) the Emperor to strip Yoshinobu of all power, setting the stage for official restoration. On January 3, 1868, the Emperor made a formal declaration of the restoration of his power:

The Emperor of Japan announces to the sovereigns of all foreign countries and to their subjects that permission has been granted to the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu to return the governing power in accordance with his own request. We shall henceforward exercise supreme authority in all the internal and external affairs of the country. Consequently the title of Emperor must be substituted for that of Taikun, in which the 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.

—January 3, 1868
Mutsuhito[2]

Some shogunate forces escaped to Hokkaidō, where they attempted to set up a breakaway Republic of Ezo; however, forces loyal to the Emperor ended this attempt in May 1869 with the Battle of Hakodate in Hokkaidō. The defeat of the armies of the former shogun (led by Enomoto Takeaki and Hijikata Toshizō) marked the final end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, with the Emperor's power fully restored.

Motives[edit]

A teenaged Emperor Meiji with foreign representatives at the end of the Boshin War, 1868-1870.

There were many causes to the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese knew that they were behind the European world when American Commodore Matthew C. Perry came to Japan to try to issue a treaty that would open up Japanese ports to trade. Perry came to Japan in large warships with armament and technology that far outclassed those of Japan at the time. The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, acted in the name of restoring imperial rule in order to strengthen Japan against the threat represented by the colonial powers of the day. The word "Meiji" means "enlightened rule" and the goal was to combine "western advances" with the traditional, "eastern" values.[3] The main leaders of this were: Itō Hirobumi, Matsukata Masayoshi, Kido Takayoshi, Itagaki Taisuke, Yamagata Aritomo, Mori Arinori, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and Yamaguchi Naoyoshi. Under the leadership of Mori Arinori, a group of prominent Japanese intellectuals went on to form the Meiji Six Society in 1873 in order to continue to "promote civilization and enlightenment" through Western ethics and ideas. However, during the restoration, political power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogunate to an oligarchy consisting of these leaders, mostly from the Satsuma Province (Ōkubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori), and Chōshū Province (Itō Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, and Kido Takayoshi). This reflected their belief in the more traditional practice of imperial rule, whereby the Emperor of Japan serves solely as the spiritual authority of the nation and his ministers govern the nation in his name.

Effects[edit]

Allegory of the New fighting the Old in early Meiji Japan, circa 1870.

The Meiji Restoration accelerated industrialization in Japan, which led to its rise as a military power by the year 1905, under the slogan of "Enrich the country, strengthen the military" (富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei?).

The Meiji oligarchy that formed the government under the rule of the Emperor first introduced measures to consolidate their power against the remnants of the Edo period government, the shogunate, daimyo, and the samurai class.

In 1868, all Tokugawa lands were seized and placed under "imperial control", thus placing them under the prerogative of the new Meiji government. With Fuhanken Sanchisei, the areas were split into three types: urban prefectures ( fu?), rural prefectures ( ken?) and the already existing domains. In 1869, the daimyo of the Tosa, Hizen, Satsuma and Chōshū domains, who were pushing most fiercely against the shogunate, were persuaded to "return their domains to the Emperor". Other daimyo were subsequently persuaded to do so, thus creating, arguably for the first time, a central government in Japan which exercised direct power through the entire "realm" (天下).

Finally, in 1871, the daimyo, past and present, were summoned before the Emperor, where it was declared that all domains were now to be returned to the Emperor. The roughly 300 domains (han) were turned into prefectures, each under the control of a state-appointed governor. By 1888, several prefectures had been merged in several steps to reduce their number to 75. The daimyo were promised 1/10 of their fiefs' income as private income. Later, their debts and payments of samurai stipends were to be taken over by the state.

The oligarchs also endeavoured to abolish the four divisions of society.

The Tokyo Koishikawa Arsenal was established in 1871.

Throughout Japan at the time, the samurai numbered 1.9 million. (For comparison, this was more than 10 times the size of the French privileged class before the 1789 French Revolution. Moreover, the samurai in Japan were not merely the lords, but also their higher retainers—people who actually worked.) With each samurai being paid fixed stipends, their upkeep presented a tremendous financial burden, which may have prompted the oligarchs to action. Whatever their true intentions, the oligarchs embarked on another slow and deliberate process to abolish the samurai class. First, in 1873, it was announced that the samurai stipends were to be taxed on a rolling basis. Later, in 1874, the samurai were given the option to convert their stipends into government bonds. Finally, in 1876, this commutation was made compulsory.

To reform the military, the government instituted nationwide conscription in 1873, mandating that every male would serve in the armed forces upon turning 21 for four years; followed by three more years in the reserves. One of the primary differences between the samurai and peasant class was the right to bear arms; this ancient privilege was suddenly extended to every male in the nation. Furthermore, samurai were no longer allowed to walk about town bearing a sword or weapon to show their status as in former times.

This led to a series of riots from disgruntled samurai. One of the major riots was the one led by Saigō Takamori, the Satsuma Rebellion, 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 largely composed of former samurai. This sent a strong message to the dissenting samurai that their time was indeed over. 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.

However, it is equally true that the majority of samurai were content despite having their status abolished. Many found employment in the government bureaucracy, which resembled an elite class in its own right. The samurai, being better educated than most of the population, became teachers, gun makers, government officials, or military officers. While the formal title of samurai was abolished, the elitist spirit that characterized the samurai class lived on.

The oligarchs also embarked on a series of land reforms. In particular, they legitimized the tenancy system which had been going on during the Tokugawa period. Despite the bakufu's best efforts to freeze the four classes of society in place, during their rule villagers had begun to lease land out to other farmers, becoming rich in the process. This greatly disrupted the clearly defined class system which the bakufu had envisaged, partly leading to their eventual downfall.

The military of Japan was also strengthened, and they showed themselves as a growing world power by winning both the Sino-Japanese war, and the Russo-Japanese war.

Besides drastic changes to the social structure of Japan, in an attempt to create a strong centralized state defining its national identity, the government established a dominant national dialect that replaced local and regional dialects called hyojungo, which was based on the patterns of Tokyo's samurai classes that has eventually become the norm in the realms of education, media, government and business.[4]

Industrial growth[edit]

The rapid industrialization and modernization of Japan both allowed and required a massive increase in production and infrastructure. Japan built industries such as shipyards, iron smelters, and spinning mills, which were then sold to well-connected entrepreneurs. Consequently, domestic companies became consumers of Western technology and applied it to produce items that would be sold cheaply in the international market. With this, industrial zones grew enormously, and there was massive migration to industrializing centers from the countryside. Industrialization additionally went hand in hand with the development of a national railway system and modern communications.[5]

Raw silk production and export from Japan
Year(s) Production/exports, annual average (tons)[ambiguous]
1868–1872 1026/646
1883 1682/1347
1889–1893 4098/2444
1899–1903 7103/4098
1909–1914 12460/9462

With industrialization came the demand for coal. There was dramatic rise in production, as shown in the table below.

Coal production
Year Coal production
(millions of
metric tons)
(millions of
long tons)
(millions of
short tons)
1875 0.6 0.59 0.66
1885 1.2 1.2 1.3
1895 5 4.9 5.5
1905 13 13 14
1913 21.3 21.0 23.5

Coal was needed for two things: steamships and railroads. The growth of these sectors is shown below.

Size of the merchant fleet
Year Number of steamships
1873 26
1894 169
1904 797
1913 1514
Length of train track
Year Track
(mi) (km)
1872 18 29
1883 240 390
1887 640 1,030
1894 2,100 3,400
1904 4,700 7,600
1914 7,100 11,400

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ One can date the "restoration" of imperial rule from the edict of 3 January 1868. Jansen (2000), p.334.
  2. ^ Quoted and translated in "A Diplomat In Japan", Sir Ernest Satow, p.353, ISBN 978-1-933330-16-7
  3. ^ Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, R. Po-chia Hsia et al.. The Making of the West, Peoples and Cultures. Vol. C. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2009. 712-13.
  4. ^ Bestor, Theodore C. "Japan." Countries and Their Cultures. Eds. Melvin Ember and Carol Ember. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 1140-1158. 4 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Pepperdine University SCELC. 23 November 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com.lib.pepperdine.edu/gvrl/infomark.do?&contentSet=EBKS&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GVRL&docId=CX3401700121&source=gale&userGroupName=pepp12906&version=1.0>.
  5. ^ Yamamura, Kozo. "Success Iligotten? The Role of Meiji Militarism in Japan's Technological Progress." The Journal of Economic History 37.1 (1977). Web.

Further reading[edit]

  • Akamatsu, Paul (1972). Meiji 1868: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Japan. New York: Harper & Row. p. 1247. 
  • Beasley, William G., . (1972). The Meiji Restoration. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 
  • Beasley, William G. (1995). The Rise of Modern Japan: Political, Economic and Social Change Since 1850. New York: St. Martin's Press. 
  • Craig, Albert M. (1961). Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 
  • Jansen, Marius B.; Gilbert Rozman, eds. (1986). Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 
  • Murphey, Rhoads (1997). East Asia: A New History. New York: Addison Wesley Longman. 
  • Satow, Ernest Mason. A Diplomat in Japan. ISBN 4-925080-28-8. 
  • Wall, Rachel F. (1971). Japan's Century: An Interpretation of Japanese History since the Eighteen-fifties. London: The Historical Association. 
  • Breen, John, 'The Imperial Oath of April 1868: ritual, power and politics in Restoration Japan', Monumenta Nipponica,51,4 (1996)
  • Francisco Barberan & Rafael Domingo Osle, Codigo civil japones. Estudio preliminar, traduccion y notas (2 ed. Thomsons Aranzadi, 2006).
  • Harry D. Harootunian, Toward Restoration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), "Introduction", pp 1 – 46; on Yoshida: chapter IV "The Culture of Action – Yoshida Shōin", pp 184 – 219.
  • Najita Tetsuo, The Intellectual Foundations of Modern Japanese Politics (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press), chapter 3: "Restorationism in Late Tokugawa", pp 43 – 68.
  • H. Van Straelen, Yoshida Shōin, Forerunner of the Meiji Restoration: A Biographical Study (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952).
  • David M. Earl, Emperor and Nation in Japan (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1972), on Yoshida: "Attitude toward the Emperor/Nation", pp 161 – 192. Also pp. 82 – 105.
  • Marius B Jansen, Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) especially chapter VIII: "Restoration", pp 312 – 346.
  • W. G. Beasley, The Meiji Restoration (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1972), especially chapter VI: "Dissenting Samurai", pp 140 – 171.
  • Conrad Totman, "From Reformism to Transformism, bakufu Policy 1853–1868", in: T. Najita & V. J. Koshmann, Conflict in Modern Japanese History (New Jersay: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 62 – 80.
  • Jansen, Marius B.: The Meiji Restoration, in: Jansen, Marius B. (ed.): The Cambridge history of Japan, Volume 5: The nineteenth century (New York: Cambridge UP, 1989), pp. 308–366.

External links[edit]