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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

History of Japan

The Meiji Emperor,
moving from Kyoto to Tokyo, end of 1868.


The Meiji Restoration (明治維新 Meiji Ishin?), also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution or Renewal, was a chain of events that led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure. It occurred in the latter half of the 19th century, a period that spans both the late Edo period (often called Late Tokugawa shogunate) and the beginning of the Meiji Era.


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 Ryoma 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 capitalist 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 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, 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

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 Toshizo) marked the final end of the Tokugawa Shogunate; with the Emperor's power fully restored.


The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, acted in the name of restoring imperial rule. The word "Meiji" means "enlightened rule" and the goal was to combine "western advancements" with the traditional, "eastern" values.[2] The main leaders of this were: Ito Hirobumi, Matsukata Masayoshi, Kido Takayoshi, Itagaki Taisuke, Yamagata Aritomo, Mori Arinori, Okubo Toshimichi, and Yamaguchi Naoyoshi. However, political power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogun to an oligarchy consisting of these leaders, mostly from the Satsuma Province (Okubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori), and the Chōshū province (Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, and Kido Takayoshi). This reflected their belief in the more traditional practice of imperial rule, whereby the emperor performs his high priestly duties and his ministers govern the nation in his name.


The Meiji Restoration accelerated industrialization in Japan, which led to its rise as a military authority 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.

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.[3]

Industrial growth

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.[4]

Year(s) Production/Exports (annual average(in tons))
1868-1872 1026/646
1883 1682/1347
1889-1893 640
1899-1903 7103/4098
1909-1914 12460/9462
Raw Silk Production and Export from Japan 1868 to 1913

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

Year Coal Production (metric tons)
1875 600,000
1885 1,200,000
1895 5,000,000
1905 13,000,000
1913 21,300,000
Coal Production in Japan in Various Years from 1875 to 1913

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

Year Number of Steamships
1873 26
1894 169
1904 797
1913 1514
The Size of the Japanese Merchant Fleet in Various Years from 1873 to 1913

Year Track (in miles)
1872 18
1883 240
1887 640
1894 2100
1904 4700
1914 7100
Miles of Train track in Japan (years stated from 1872 to 1914)

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.[5]

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.

See also


  1. ^ Quoted and translated in "A Diplomat In Japan", Sir Ernest Satow, p.353, ISBN 9781933330167
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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 Nov. 2009 <>.
  4. ^ Yamamura, Kozo. "Success Iligotten? The Role of Meiji Militarism in Japan's Technological Progress." The Journal of Economic History 37.1 (1977). Web.
  5. ^ De Bary, William Theodore; Donald Keene, George Tanabe, Paul Varley (2001). Sources of Japanese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 023112984X. 

Further reading

  • Akamatsu, Paul (1972). Meiji 1868: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Japan. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 1247. 
  • Beasley, W.G. (1972). The Meiji Restoration. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 
  • Beasley, W.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. 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

Simple English

The Meiji Restoration was a time of change in Japan. In the Japanese language, Meiji-ishin is the term for Meiji Restoration. The term describes a number of events that took place in the politics and society of Japan. These events changed the shape of Japan’s political and social system. These changes took place mainly during three years - from 1866 to 1869.

At that time (1866), Tokugawa Shogunate was ruling Japan. In the year 1866, two leaders came together under an alliance. The name of this alliance was the Sat-cho Alliance. The name of the first leader was Saigo Takamori. He was the leader of the Satsuma Province. The second leader was Kido Takayoshi, the leader of the Choshu. A person named Sakamoto Ryoma brought the two leaders together. These two leaders supported the Emperor of Japan. At that time, Japan’s emperor was not having much power. With their support of these two leaders, the emperor could regain much of his powers. Tokugawa Shogunate’s rule ended on 9th November 1867. Still, some authority remained with them. In 1868, an army of forces from Satsuma Province and Choshu defeated the forces of Tokugawa Shogunate. With this, the power of Tokugawa Shogunate ended completed.

The leaders of the Meiji Restoration acted in the name of Japan’s emperor and to restore (that is, to return) emperor’s powers. But, the leaders also kept to themselves a number of powers. In fact, even after Meiji Restoration, an oligarchy had the real power. The oligarchy ruled in the name of the emperor. In plain words, an oligarchy means a group of persons who has the real powers.

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan’s progress was very fast. Its industry developed rapidly. Within next three to four decades (by 1905), Japan had become a military power, comparable to any other powerful country of that time.


  • Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878)
  • Kido Takayoshi (1833-1877)
  • Saigo Takamori (1827-1877)
  • Iwakura Tomomi (1825-1883)
  • Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909)
  • Kuroda Kiyotaka (1840-1900)
  • Matsukata Masayoshi (1835-1924)
  • Oyama Iwao (1842-1916)
  • Saigo Tsugumichi (1843-1902)
  • Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922)
  • Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915)
  • Saionji Kinmochi (1849-1940)krc:Мэйдзи реставрация

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