Was the Meiji Period a Restoration or a Revolution?
The Meiji restoration occurred during the last half of the nineteenth century in Japan. This period is one of the most important events in Japanese history as it brought about significant transformations to Japan’s social and political structure. This explosion of change began with the adoption of Western ideologies which had previously been shunned in Japan. With the flood of new technology and other important ideas, Japan was able to reshape itself into a much stronger, country ready to take on the world.
To catapult Japan into a position of power and recognition among other countries, the lords of Choshu and Satsuma decided to adopt the technology and secrets of the West. First they forced they forced the resignation of the Shogun in 1867. The lords of Choshu and Satsuma then restored the emperor, named Mutsuhito, back to power. The revolution occurred in years that spanned both Japan’s Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji Era. Meiji Era is known as enlightened peace because of the influx of knowledge that created a “better” Japan. The Meiji restoration was a chain of events that led to enormous changes in Japan's political and social structure. The roots of this sudden change in ideology can be attributed to the arrival of Commodore Perry's American naval squadron in 1853, appearing to open Japan but in actuality the country had exploded from within. None the less the success of Perry’s expedition triggered a collapse of Japan’s self-imposed isolation and the fall of the feudal shogun government. This allowed for a complete overhaul of the country creating a Japan in 1912 that faintly resembled itself forty-five years prior. Though throughout the Meiji period, conflicts arose over how much Japan should emulate or borrow from the Western powers. Just as opinions divided between kaikoku (open the country) and jôi (expel the barbarians) after Commodore Perry landed in 1853, tensions continued throughout the Meiji period regarding Japan's policy toward foreigners and foreign ideas. Within a short time after 1868, the majority of Japanese went from xenophobia to xenophilia. Not only did the Japanese adopt many outward aspects of Western civilization such as ballroom dancing, men cutting their hair, and beef eating, they also adopted many Western ideas and institutions as the Meiji oligarchs pursued a policy of fukoku kyôhei (rich country, strong military) to catch up with Western countries and to gain national strength and wealth.
When the Meiji emperor was restored as head of Japan in 1868, the nation was a militarily weak country, was primarily agricultural, and had little technological development. The country was controlled by hundreds of semi-independent feudal lords. The Western powers--Europe and the United States--had forced Japan to sign treaties that limited its control over its own foreign trade and required that crimes concerning foreigners in Japan be tried not in Japanese but in Western courts. When the Meiji period ended with the death of the emperor in 1912, Japan had a highly centralized, bureaucratic government, a constitution establishing an elected parliament, a well-developed transport and communication system, a highly educated population free of feudal class restrictions, an established and rapidly growing industrial sector based on the latest technology and a powerful army and navy. It had regained complete control of its foreign trade and legal system, and, by fighting and winning two wars (one of them against a major European power, Russia), it had established full independence and equality in international affairs. In a little more than a generation, Japan had exceeded its goals, and in the process had changed its whole society. Japan's success in modernization has created great interest in why and how it was able to adopt Western political, social, and economic institutions in so short a time. This political revolution "restored" the...
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