“By this oath we set up as our aim the establishment of the national weal on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws (Meiji Government qtd. in “The Charter Oath”).” This is the preamble of the Charter Oath of the Meiji government. This document was revolutionary in that it proposed radical change in a country known for its traditional ways. It is a list of hopes and dreams, including “all matters decided by public discussion,” “all classes… shall unite,” “that there may be no discontent,” “evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of nature,” and “knowledge shall be sought from around the word (Meiji Government qtd. in “The Charter Oath”).” It would shape the course Japan will take and lead up to its role in World War Two. A young Japanese teenager, by the name of Mutsuhito (Huffman), was given this document to sign in April 1868 (Morton and Olenik 147). This boy is better known as the Emperor Meiji, or “Enlightened rule (Morton and Olenik 147).” The name “Meiji Restoration” came from this name, and it officially began on January 3, 1868 (Huffman). He and his followers claimed power on this date in a “relatively tranquil coup (Huffman)” that overthrew the previous administration, the Tokugawa regime (Huffman). The Tokugawa Era, begun by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu after a lengthy period of war between the samurai, lasted about two hundred and fifty years, from 1600 to 1868 (Huffman). This period is sometimes called the “pax Tokugawa,” or the “Tokugawa peace (Huffman).” One of the main areas of opposition to the Tokugawa government approaching the mid-seventeenth century was the lower-ranked samurai or “shishi,” “men of spirit (Huffman).” When Shogun Tokugawa Keiki admitted the westerners into the country in 1854, led by Matthew Perry, all of these samurai gained enough support to topple the government in 1868 (Huffman). This coup d’état “brought into power a group of young, visionary samurai from the regional domains (Huffman).” This shift in government was relatively smooth thanks to the evolved nature of the Tokugawa government. James Huffman referred to it as the “unusually high levels of political and educational sophistication.” The change brought on by this revolution was extreme, shocking, and a complete turnaround from the more traditional Japanese way of life that used to be all there was. The westernization of the culture, industrialization of the economy, and creation of a unified national outlook were some of the changes brought about by the Meiji Restoration that were pivotal for the future development of Japan.
The Meiji Restoration’s reforms in the daily life of the Japanese citizens eclipsed the traditional culture of Japan and helped to create a new, westernized and more modern one. Before the Restoration, the previous Tokugawa government played an active role in daily life. The sankin kotai system used by the government helped the development of many different kinds of public works. For the travel of the lords as well as their considerable retinues to and from Edo, better know now as Tokyo, an extensive, complicated system of roads was developed (Huffman). These groups of travelers needed places to stay along their journey, so towns sprang up along the roads, complete with inns created for the lodging of these parties (Huffman). Other things, such as merchants and traders, followed in their wake, helping to prompt the great cultural diffusion experienced during the Tokugawa era (Huffman). This era also saw rise to many important national institutions (Huffman). They built thousands of schools affiliated with various temples, government offices, and many private institutions (Huffman). This influx of education led Japan to a literacy rate ranked among the highest in the world, with about forty percent for men and ten percent for women (Huffman). The culture during the Tokugawa era was very unique and purely Japanese, and has even been called “among...
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Huffman, James. "The Meiji Restoration Era, 1868-1889." About Japan: A Teacher 's Resource. 21 April 2008. Japan Society. 7 March 2012. <http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/ content.cfm/the_meiji_restoration_era_1868-1889>.
Morton, W. Scott, and J. Kenneth Olenik. Japan: Its History and Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
Platt, Brian, annotator. “‘The Imperial Rescript on Education’ [Official Document]." Children and Youth in History. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. 27 Mar. 2012. <http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/136>.
“The Charter Oath (of the Meiji Restoration), 1868.” Asia for Educators. Colombia University. 14 March 2012. <http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/japan/charter_oath_1868.pdf>
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