Taisho Period: A Japanese Version of Democracy
Democracy is a kind of government where all concerned citizens of a particular country have an equal say with regards to decisions that could affect their existence in that nation. The system allows eligible members of the nation to equally take part in the proposal, development, and creation of laws, either directly or indirectly. The term “democracy” comes from the Greek word “demokratia”, which means “rule of the people”. “Demokratia” is made up of two other Greek words, “demos” and “kratos”, which mean “people” and “power” respectively. Democracy consists of four essential elements. First, it has to have a political system for electing, impeaching, and re-electing government officials through just and unbiased elections. Next, people have to actively participate in politics and in community activities. Also, the protection of all human rights should be prevalent. Lastly, passed laws should apply equally to all citizens. The kind of democracy described above is quite different from the so-called Taisho Democracy, which Japan experienced from 1912 to 1926, although some historians argue that it started in 1905 and lasted until 1932. This time discrepancy, along with the difference between the two versions of democracy, will be explained throughout this paper. The paper will begin by talking briefly about the pre-Taisho period. Next, it would focus on Taisho period itself and on the kind of government prevalent during that time. After establishing the characteristics of Taisho democracy, it will be compared to that of the democracy known today. From the information provided, a conclusion will be drawn to summarize the purpose of this paper. Prior to the Taisho era, Japan experienced the Meiji period. The Meiji period, which was from 1868 to 1912, was the restoration era of Japan from the isolated Tokugawa era. It was in this time that the country’s capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo and the emperor was put back into power, physically. Working behind the scenes was a small group of nobles and former samurais. The Meiji Restoration, as it was also called, was filled with attempts at industrializing and modernizing Japan as it fell far behind because of the previous government. There were a lot of changes made such as reform in the educational system, establishment of an army modeled after the Prussian force, establishment of a navy similar to the British, improvement of transportation and communication networks, support for Japanese businesses and industries, and the making of a European style constitution. As a result of the European style constitution in 1889, the Diet, a parliament, was established. Alongside this, the emperor was officially able to keep his sovereignty and ruled over the army and the navy, and the executive and legislative power. However, the emperor’s power was really held by a ruling clique. Emperor Meiji sided with most of their decisions. During this time, political parties existed but did not have any real power yet due to their members’ lack of unity. Within the Meiji period, in 1905, something happened, which Andrew Gordon, in his book “Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan”, believes to be an important turning point in the political and social order of Japan. In 1905, a major citywide riot broke out in Tokyo in response to the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. For the 30,000 people who participated in the protest, the treaty was a humiliation for the Japanese. Ignorant of the positive results of the war such as the defeat of the Russian Navy, the control of Port Arthur by the Japanese Army, and the major victory at the Battle of Mukden, and the fact that the Japanese economy could no longer support the prolonged war, these activist groups rallied at Hibiya Park, hence the name Hibiya Riot. They especially found it unfair that the treaty enabled Japanese territorial gains in some areas to be...
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