The Constitution of Meiji Japan
Centuries of feudalism brought good times to Japan, but in the end the military dictatorship of the final shogunate was bathed in corruption and discontent grew amongst the people of Japan. The Tokugawa government was coming to an end due to a downward spiral in morality which led to corruption, famine and the decline of the samurai. As the samurai’s power declined the merchant class began to rise with the samurai becoming dependent on the merchants for their salaries. Up to this time in Japanese history the merchant class was at the bottom of the pecking order and their rise was bound to upset the balance of the caste system installed by military rulers 700 years ago. From an historical perspective we will look inside Japan as feudalism dies and the rebirth of imperial rule and the creation of the Meiji Constitution moves Japan into a semi westernized constitutional monarchy. The end of the Edo period and samurai class began with the 14th Tokugawa Shogun and his power struggle with Commodore Perry followed by the 15th Shogun and his power struggle with two daimyo clans pushing for imperial restoration of Japan. The first blow to the Tokugawa shogunate occurred when Commodore Perry forced the Shogun to allow trade with the US by displaying US Navel steam powered ships equipped with heavy artillery and rockets. Perry’s success in prodding the shogun into allowing trade with the US caused the Shogun lose face and his inability to maintain the status quo of isolationism to keep Japan free from the barbarians birthed the sentiment for deposing the Shogun. To make matters worse the Shi Shi samurai of the southern provinces assassinated some foreigners in a nationalist movement to expel the foreigners. The result was that the Shi Shi were bombed by the foreigners which led them to call for the restoration of imperial rule further weakening Tokugawa Iemochi’s power structure and authority. Tokugawa Iemochi, died in 1867 and was replaced by Tokugawa Yoshinobu who was in accord with Japanese historians and imperialists’ claims that authority be restored to the Emperor. Traditionally, the shogun held power behind the scenes and the 15th shogun wrongly assumed he would still hold a degree of power in the new arrangement so in 1867, the new shogun transferred his power to Emperor Komeo in Kyoto. Shortly after handing over power to Emperor Komeo, the Emperor died and was replaced with his son Mutsuhito which officially started the Meiji period from 1868 to 1911. Mutsuhito, better known as the Emperor Meiji was the 122nd emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession recorded in the history of Japan. At the time Meiji ascended to the imperial throne he was 15 or 16 years old and was largely a figurehead coached by two powerful daimyo clans named Satsuma and Choshu. Meiji dissolved the house of Tokugawa by imperial decree thus removing political power from the Tokugawa. This action came suddenly and was fueled by Satsuma and Choshu clan alliance wanting to remove all political influence of the Tokugawa clan. The Tokugawa samurai marched on the Emperors palace in Kyoto to remove him which resulted in Boshin War that lasted less than a year and saw the samurai defeated by modern military equipment and strategies from the west. The shogunate did attempt to modernize their military by buying steam powered warships and favoring some western strategists but ignored some key suggested attacks by westerners and ultimately lost the short lived civil war. The unconditional surrender by the shogunal minister of army forces Katsu Kaishu ended the Boshin War and allowed for the Meiji Reconstruction era to begin and begin it did with the first attempt called the Charter Oath. The Charter Oath, Japans first attempt at modernization which was signed by the daimyos and nobles of new Meiji era after it was read to them they signed it and swore to uphold the new law of the land....
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