Japanese nationalist thinking in the Meiji era

Japanese nationalist thinking in the Meiji era

During the final days of the Tokugawa shogunate, the nationalist ideas of prominent "daimyo", such as Mito Nariaki and others continued to develop, with some promoting "fukko" (a return to the past) and "osei" (the Emperor's supreme authority). This was a Japanese reaction to foreign inroads since the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the Kanagawa Accord. The nationalist motto "Fukoku Kyohei" (Rich State with Powerful Army) arose in this period. Indeed, the desire to defend national values against pernicious foreign influences and to promote national development using Western ideas, in accord with traditional values, made the Meiji Restoration possible.

End of the Shogunate

The Meiji period began January 13, 1868 (ninth day of the twelfth month, according to the Japanese calendar), when the Satsuma-Chōshū troops joined the Echizen, Owari, Tosa and Aki rebels. They took the Shogun's Palace, defeated the loyal Tokugawa forces and proclaimed a new Imperial restoration. A council was called, excluding the Tokugawa supporters. Political administration was returned to the Tenno for "a return to the Jinmu epoch". The Shogunate was abolished, and its property and land confiscated. The last Shogun was demoted to "daimyō" status.

But Yoshinobu, the last Tokugawa Shogun, refused to retire to Osaka. Together with noble generals, he planned to make things right. This final plan to recover power and retake the Tokyo Palace was destroyed by the Satsuma-Chōshū alliance supporting the emperor in Toba-Fushimi on January 27, 1868, in a battle reminiscent of the battle of Sekigahara 200 years before, which had ushered in the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Revolutionary government declared the Tokugawa Clan "Imperial rebels" and sent Saigō Takamori to command the "Imperial Forces" against Edo, where at last Yoshinobu's land forces surrendered. To the north of Edo, the venerable Aizu clan resisted until November. .

The Shogun's last defenders and the remnants of the Shogunal Navy, retreated to the Ezochi in Hokkaidō and established Japan's only republic, but they surrendered in May, 1869.

Prominent figures in the Meiji Restoration

Prominent figures in the Meiji Restoration included:

From the central court:

*Sanjo Sanetomi
*Iwakura Tomomi

From the Satsuma Clan:

*Okubo Toshimichi
*Terashima Muneori
*Godai Tomoatsu
*Saigō Takamori
*Kuroda Kiyotaka
*Matsukata Masayoshi

From the Chōshū Clan:

*Takasugi Shisaku
*Kido Koin
*Omura Masujiro
*Ito Hirobumi
*Inoue Kaoru
*Yamagata Aritomo
*Hirosawa Saneomi

From the Tosa Clan:

*Itagaki Taisuke
*Goto Shojiro
*Fukuoka Kotei
*Sakamoto Ryoma

From the Hizen Clan:

*Okuma Shigenobu
*Soejima Taneomi
*Oki Takato


*Yokoi Shonan
*Katsu Kaishu
*Yuri Kimimasa
*Inoue Kowashi

These founding clans were collectively called "Satcho-Dohi", an abbreviation of Satsuma, Chōshū, Tosa, and Hizen. Satsuma and Chōshū provided the military force, while the more centrally located Tosa and Hizen helped provide political stability. The Satsuma and Chōshū clans later increased their monopoly over government structures, with the Satsuma clan founding private military schools for its members.

The military remained under the control of Chōshū clan, represented by Omura Masujiro and Yamagata Aritomo, but the Imperial Guard was controlled by Saigō Takamori of Satsuma. Yamagata modelled the Japanese military on the Prussian Army, which he observed while on a governmental mission to Europe. This was the first step in modernizing the Japanese Army to European levels.

Japanese society abolished many social divisions, and in 1869 organized a simplified class system: the daimyo and the kuge of the imperial court became the Kazoku (nobility); samurai were classified as Shizoku (minor nobility) or sotsuzoku (soldiers); and the rest of people (including the Eta and Himin) were Heimin (common citizens). The use of katana was discretionary for samurai, who were permitted to marry noble women.

The Emergence of political ideologies

"For Socialism, see main article Socialist thought in Imperial Japan"

Socialist Christian Missionaries were the first to introduce modern socialism as a political and social movement to Japan. In 1901 Kotoku Shusui and others made a major effort to constitute a Japanese Social Democratic Party (Shakai Minshuto) based on universal fraternity, abolition of social classes, redistribution of wealth, and nationalization of public services. Another important early Socialist leader was Katayama Sen who later founded the Socialist Alliance party with these socialist doctrines, and eventually retired to the USSR and converted to Communism. These ideologies were also later modified and combined with Japanese and foreign socialist political theories like Social Darwinism, Marxism, Kita Ikki's State Socialism and other similar ideas. [http://www.econ.kyoto-u.ac.jp/review/10000259.pdf]

In this period the political theorists Professors Yoshino Kazuko of Tokyo University and Minobe Tatsu Kichi brought forward their theory of the "Tenno" (emperor) as State Organ or State Entity. They proposed the concept of "minponshugi" (Government towards people), as opposed to "minshushugi" (democracy, government for people); in other words, "in local policy the last finish of sovereign exercise of nation debt to having the people." Yoshino Kazuko also founded the Reimeikai Party, a movement based on Christian Socialism, Confucian political morality, Marxism and syndicalism, with some populism. These parties opposed government actions, and in 1920 the movement died politically. It mattered for the future growth of Japanese Socialism ideological movements.

This period gave birth to the first Nationalist Secret Societies and Contemporary Nationalist movements and Parties, such as the "Aikukosha" (Patriotic Society), founded in Osaka during 1875 by Itagaki Taisuke, to take up the flag of the popular cause. He was based in the "Minken" ("people's rights") anti-government movements and the protection of rights in 1873. From these points originated the "Genroin" (Senate) charged with composing a new constitution and converted into an influential group thought up by Okubo, Kido and Itagaki. In 1884 a new nobility was established, in the Prussian Style; a Chamber of Peers formed the basis of a noble oligarchy.

The Meiji system of government

These groups created the Meiji Constitution in 1889 with a mix of political Western techniques and traditional Japanese political ideas. Government philosophy concerning the Emperor’s relationship with the people and political power, was based in Japanese principles from earlier centuries. These philosophies regarded the emperor as a sacred monarch with powers over the central government and as the personification of the nation. Under this system all Japanese were subjects of the emperor and served a debt of loyalty. In this period the surging ideological concept of Imperial Japan (Dai Nippon Teikoku) with a sacred leader represented by Emperor (tenno) led to the importance of the Yasukuni Jinja as center of patriotic sacrifices.

The Government was organized in its present form: the capital was transferred to Edo, later called Tokyo (Eastern Capital), and the Government gave the Imperial Family, with great celebration, the "Heaven Temple", the ancient shogunal palace, in December 1868. Based in the Nara government system, the Government was organized in 1869 with State Council (central cabinet) and Shinto Affairs Department (in charge of national religious topics). The Cabinet was composed of a Consultive council (Sangi), and Interior Affairs, Finance, War, Foreign Affairs, Marine, Justice, Public works, Education and Imperial House Affairs Ministries.

The Shinto Affairs Department and Imperial House Affairs Ministry poses ampled sovereign in your areas of influence, and particularly the last entity poses your proper laws at the margins of the central constitution, a part of Imperial family laws in the same constitution. The Imperial House Ministry directly served the Imperial family and rendered private counsel to the emperor, with powers over the Prime Minister and the cabinet.

The Diet (Japanese Parliament) was bicameral, with the upper house composed of peers (nobility) and the lower with deputies promoted by traditional parties and gained their posts in national and local elections. The first elections was participated in by about 450,000 electors (1% of population). The lower chamber did not possess any real political powers, but they could impede or analyze decisions of the chamber.

The Meiji Constitution of 1889 notably mixed Western political techniques and Japanese traditional ideology. Government philosophy, if based in the dogmatical question of sovereign and Emperor relationship with government, could be considered a traditional hereditary government form (Kokutai). In other words the Emperor (Tenno) was the sacred and absolute monarch over the central government and at the same time also personified the nation. All Japanese subjects were subjects of the emperor and had a sacred debt for loyal service.

Basis of economic growth

The motto "Fukoku-Kyohei" formed the basis of rapid Japanese economic, commercial, and industrial development. In 1886, when the "Matsukata deflation" ended, when Japan placed itself on a solid monetary base for sustaining its subsequent industrial development. Under the guidance of Matsukata in charge of National finances, during 1881 an energetic deflationary policy was embraced, the banking system reorganised, the Bank of Japan (government central bank) founded, and a modern system of monetary circulation created. In 1905 the modern industrialisation of the Japanese state commenced. At the same time, the basis of later industrialist empires known as Zaibatsu was laid, the most important being Mitsui and Mitsubishi. Over ancient bases of scientific investigations if developed in dept along growning of industrial development. The national education centres such as universities and other official centres aided in these process.

These economical and industrial empires possess political influence when the Seiyukai Party are supported by Mitsui and Minseito are support for Mitsubishi, at the same time Mitsui poses relation with the Japanese Army and Chosu Clan, in other side Mitsubishi stay connect with the Japanese Navy and Satsuma Clan.


In Meiji times, the contemporary development of political and press repression began with the "Peace Preservation Act" for police control of freedom of expression and freedom to assemble.

Respect for philosophical and theological works commenced with Norinaga Mootori and was continued by one of his followers, Atsutane Hirata, who mixed Christian and Shintoist Doctrines to create the foundations of the State Shinto Theory and Shinto contemporary theology. Their works also provided some theological support for Japanese contemporary doctrines of expansionism.

In line with these studies, other theorists, on orders of the Emperor, used the Meiji Constitution as the basis for composing the "Imperial Rescript for Seamen and Soldiers" in 1890. This theological-political text reaffirmed the new State Shintoist doctrines, which served as the basis for the cult of Emperor Worship, the official national theology of Shinto, and the philosophical basis of contemporary Japanese doctrines of nationalism.

Within this ideological environment, the Emperor ordered the "Imperial Rescript on Education", the fundamental text where the theoretical bases of Japanese Nationalist Educative System in these times were set out, to be followed in depth during Showa times. Based on the Kamikaze Shinto myth of national defence and the Bushido code, some ideologists founded certain nationalist ideals presenting Japan as a "sacred nation protected by the gods". These ideals were developed in Showa times.

An "illustrated conservative" ideology was born in the same times for preserving the spirit of high moral national values and Japanese ethics. The national political constitution (Kokutai) promoted a radical return to Shinto traditions, defended by some thinkers who considered Western values as depravities or immoralities. They considered interesting the ideas of Social Darwinism and the German state orientation in the times of Bismarck. German political theory was converted into the logical fundamental basis of the 1889 Japanese constitution.

More of this proceeded from central government and the Imperial Household Ministry. The traditionalists took as their base the importance of education and its fundamentals. Along with this was launched the first contemporary research by Shinto investigation groups seeking to eliminate Confucian-based education in the name of Imperial Japanese values. As a result, the Imperial Order on Education in 1872 was based in Western educational system but unified by Shintoist ideals and Confucian doctrines of public and personal morality for the support of Japanese national reconstruction.

In 1890, the Emperor issued the "Imperial Rescript on Education", under which all Shinto and Confucian values were mixed with the contemporary educational system in service of the State. In this situation, a new nationalist pride was born with successes in industrial development along with the return of traditional values, with Confucian ideals and the political ideologies of Shinto.


In Meiji times, Japan began the creation of its diplomatic and foreign policy, with the aid of some foreign advisers. Formal diplomatic firsts were:

*First commercial and diplomatic equality with China (1871)
*Effective control of the Ryūkyū islands and Bonin islands, taken by the Japanese navy (1872)
*Diplomatic control and exchange of Sakhalin (Karafuto) for the Kuriles with Russia and fixing the spheres of influence in Siberia (1875)
*The Korean crisis, over lack of recognition of the Meiji government. This provoked proposals for war against the Koreans.
*A Japanese Navy expedition to Formosa with the alleged motive of avenging Japanese seamen killed by Taiwanese (1874)
*The Japanese use patrol boats against the Koreans, after which the Koreans signed the Kanghwa Treaty (1876)
*The first Sino-Japanese war opened another diplomatic system (1894-1895)
*This was continued in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905)

The Japanese alliance with the "Entente" in World War I allowed them to take German possessions in Kirchow and the South Pacific Mandate (1918-1919). Under the pretext of fighting against the danger of Communism, Japanese expeditionary forces along with Western units entered the Siberian Mainland (1918-1927). The Japanese also revived old claims to the Sandwich Islands, the Philippines and New Guinea.

The first attempt at organising a puppet state, aided by local supporter elements, was the Republic of the Far East in 1918-1922, with the purpose of taking the Okhotsk coasts and Lake Baikal areas and converting them into provinces of the Empire. Japanese unified inner and outer Manchuria in these times too, and from this period first contact was made with Outer Mongolian territory in 1915-1916. At the same time, some Japanese secret societies with government support operated in central Asia, the Chinese mainland and Xinjiang. These formed some of the bases of future development for contemporary Japanese Imperial Army and Navy geopolitical ideologies and plans for conquest during the 1930s and 1940s, including the Mukden Incident, the second Sino-Japanese war and the Pacific conflict.

US concern at the Japanese presence in Mexico

Another geopolitical topic in the Meiji period, apart from "friendship" with Western allies, was Japan's emergence as a naval power in the Pacific. There was concern that Japan would keenly watch the eastern edge of that ocean, particularly the U.S. Pacific Coasts, Mexico, Latin America and the new Panama Canal. Anxiety over Japan's interests fuelled concern among Americans about their southern border. Many rumours abounded of a Mexican plot to regain the lost lands of the 1848 war with German or Japanese help. Fear of Japanese expansion on U.S. borders existed for years. In 1908 there was a rumour of a secret treaty between Japan and Mexico, and reports of Japanese officers serving with the Armies of Huerta, Carranza or Villa. Fear grew of a Japanese invasion of the United States using the Mexican railway system to transport troops to the American border from landings at Pacific and California Gulf ports, and the oldest Japanese claims on the Hawaii islands.

In April 1915, the Japanese cruiser Asama ran aground while on patrol in the Gulf of California. Other Japanese warships were also reported in these waters. Indian scouts reported to U.S. Army commanders posted along the Arizona border that bands of "Chinos" (Japanese) regularly moved throughout the northern Mexican desert lands. Captain Sidney Mashbir of the Arizona National Guard were dispatched on a secret mission by General Frederick Funston to verify these and other reports about Japanese operating in the Northern Sonora Desert. He led a small patrol into rugged deserts of southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, following a route he assumed the Japanese Infantry and agents would have taken from the Gulf of California. He was concerned one day when he saw Japanese ideographs written in charcoal on the rock walls of several canyons. They were apparently messages left by Japanese patrols. Mashbir drew copies of the symbols and sent them to Washington D.C. for analysis. The response to the mysterious messages read "The writings have no military significance", but confirmed the presence of Japanese agents in the area.

But Mashbir remained convinced that he and his patrol had verified that several companies of Japanese Infantry from "Asama" and other warships marched inland, conducted certain secret operations in northern Mexico and crossed into Southern Arizona. More later himself returned with a patrol group at American bases to study in detail this success.

Japanese expansion

These last geopolitical interest continued in development during Showa times, in Japanese Navy strategic conquest plans during the time of the Pacific war. The most characteristic military traditions in the period were related to Meiji armed revolutionary actions during the assault on the Tokugawa Shogun's Palace (1868), decisive Tokugawa land resistance in Toba-Fushimi (same year), and the last stand of Shogunal forces in naval actions in Hakodate port (1869), the contemporary first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895, Japanese interventions in the Korean peninsula previous to annexation in 1910, Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, and Japanese actions or interventions during WWI in Siberia against the communist menace in 1918-1927.

In Meiji times the Japanese empire also expanded from the metropolitan islands of Japan to include: Liaotung peninsula/South Manchurian Railway zone, Korea, Formosa, South Mandate, all the Ryukyu Islands, all of Sakhalin/Karafuto island, all the Chisima archipelago, Bonin, Minami Tori Shima, for some time the Russian Far East and (later) Baikal areas, to interior Manchuria, Kiaochow and Fukien in China.

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