- Meiji Restoration
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The Meiji Restoration (明治維新 Meiji Ishin ), also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868. 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.
Alliances and allegiances
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 (Emperor Meiji'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, Emperor Meiji 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
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 was of significant influence.
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) Emperor Meiji to strip Yoshinobu of all power, setting the stage for official restoration. On January 3, 1869, 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, 1869
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.
There were many causes to the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese knew that they were behind the rest of the 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. The main leaders of this were: Itō Hirobumi, Matsukata Masayoshi, Kido Takayoshi, Itagaki Taisuke, Yamagata Aritomo, Mōri Arinori, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and Yamaguchi Naoyoshi. However, 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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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. The victory against Russia was the more shocking as it was the first time since the Mongol invasion of Europe that an Asian nation had defeated a European power in 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 patterns of the Tokyo’s samurai classes that has eventually become the norm in the realms of education, media, government and business.
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.
Raw silk production and export from Japan Year(s) Production/exports, annual average (tons)[ambiguous] 1868–1872 1026/646 1883 1682/1347 1889–1893 640 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
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
Controversy in semantics
Ongoing debate continues between historians as to the historical legitimacy of the name "restoration", as opposed to a "coup" or "revolution". There are reasons to call it all three.
Advocates of the term "coup" would point out the fact that there was a change in only the regime, with the fighting confined to the elite, which managed to avoid being spread to the rest of society and that there was a shared sense of national mission and class values. However, this term only refers to the political leaders—not commoners. More importantly, it also does not represent the wider historical context of the period, and the various ideological struggles of the time in addition to the subsequent radical changes of society.
The direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Tokugawa Regime in 1868 identifies this event as a revolution. This term also implies an anticipation of subsequent radical changes and indicates that the regime was toppled through the combination of concerns and actions of different groups. This term is problematic because it gives the false impression that rebels had unified or coherent plans for the future and it does not account for the relatively peaceful transition or how much actually stayed the same within the country.
The events of 1868 can be viewed in terms of a restoration because the opposition made claims that the Tokugawa Shogunate had usurped the power to govern from the Emperor. This claim as well as the strictly isolationist sentiments of the times is an accurate representation of the event, in some ways. The word restoration implies a focus on the elite ideological debates but does not address the regional and religious tensions of the period. It also undervalues the strategic nature of restorationist claims and gives a false impression of unity among the rebelling houses. The most detrimental implication of this term is that it offers no concrete explanation of how ordinary people came to accept the legitimacy of direct imperial rule.
- Land Tax Reform (Japan 1873)
- Lists of incumbents
- Meiji-era leaders
- Modernization of Japanese Military 1868–1931
- Meiji Constitution
- ^ Quoted and translated in "A Diplomat In Japan", Sir Ernest Satow, p.353, ISBN 9781933330167
- ^ 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.
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- ^ Yamamura, Kozo. "Success Iligotten? The Role of Meiji Militarism in Japan's Technological Progress." The Journal of Economic History 37.1 (1977). Web.
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- 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.
- Tokugawa Period's Influence on Meiji Restoration
- Japanese Meiji Period Architecture (1868-1912)
- Essay on The Meiji Restoration Era, 1868-1889 on the About Japan, A Teacher's Resource website
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