Japan's Transformation Under Meiji Rule

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Assess the transformation undergone by Japan under Meiji Rule.

The ascension of Emperor Mutsuhito (Meiji) to the Japanese throne on the third of November 1852 marked the dawn of a revolution for the Japanese people. Mutsuhito, known posthumously as Meiji, literally meaning “Enlightened Rule” served as the figurehead to the Meiji Oligarchy, a privileged ruling class clique formed by powerful Samurai, which reformed and revolutionised Japan, transforming it into a world power within half a century. The Meiji Oligarchy succeeded the Tokugawa Shogunate, a feudal military dictatorship which had ruled Japan for 256 years. The Meiji leadership revolutionised Japan in response to the “Opening of Japan”, the arrival of the Black Ships, lead by Commodore Mathew Perry of the United States Navy. Under Meiji Restoration, Japan was modernised and revolutionised under the slogan "Enrich the country, strengthen the military" (Fukoku kyohei) and as the slogan suggests, militarism was a key factor in the revolution of Japan. Under the authority of the Emperor, the social system was restructured, extensively restructuring Japan’s governance and diminishing the power of the Samurai. The changes were all thanks to the extensive political reform which took place subsequent to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shoganate. Finally, the manner in which education was administered was modernized and offered to all citizens to cement the modernisation of the nation.

The most notable area of reform within Japan during Meiji’s reign was the militarisation of its people. This reform worked in parallel with the Meiji Restorations social reforms, in that the exclusive right to bear arms was stripped from the Samurai class and extended to the wider populace, as outlined in “The Modern History of Japan” . In 1873, 21 years after Meiji’s accession, conscription was introduced mandating compulsory military service for males turning 21 years of age for a four-year term. This was followed by a compulsory three more years in the reserve forces, creating a peacetime force of 26,000. The ancient, exclusive privilege of a right to bear arms and the claim of status based upon it, was suddenly bestowed upon the entire male peasantry, much to the dismay of the Samurai class, under the government’s proclamation “all are now equal in the empire and without distinction in their duty to serve the nation”. According to The Modern History of Japan; “The conscript army was to be a means by which the government could indoctrinate a rising generation in chosen ideals,”

yet initially the Meiji Government struggled to do this. The Japanese adopted Western methods of combat, hiring numerous Western military personalities to train their newly created soldiers. The army's main priority was to defend Japan against attacks from abroad, yet it struggled to quell mere peasant revolts at home, the real test however was against the traditionalist Samurai, seemingly mentally ill-equipped to cope with change. Japan spent copious sums of money purchasing the services of gunnery and naval specialists and military trainers with a European manner, with young Meiji himself being fascinated by anything Western. In response to home-grown formidable military opposition, the rural Samurai, the Japanese government in 1878 increased the conscription period in the reserve forces to nine years, amassing a peacetime force of 73,000 and a total wartime force of in excess of 200,000. In 1894, the government splurged on artillery and arms, equipping the entire military strength with modern rifles, newly of Japanese construct, in addition to the newly developed “gatling gun” – a machine gun of devastating force. The newly formed Navy also benefited greatly thanks to Meiji’s emphasis on military prowess. In1872 the Japanese navy possessed 17 war ships, by 1900, and there were over 35 warships and 26 torpedo boats. An indicator of the importance of military strength to the Japanese government was...
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