The Meiji Restoration

The Meiji Restoration marked a turning point in Japanese history: when the Shoguns decided to end their dividedness and form coherent policies on how to interact with the Westerners.  Some of them, those who maintained close ties with the emperor, decided to use the emperor's clout to unify the samurai and the country and to enforce a series of reforms in his name.   They decided that to learn from the West was necessary in order to eventually expel the West from Japan.  They also knew that to do so meant they had to convince many samurai who were fiercely anti-Western, and the task would best be carried out in the name of the emperor than any shogun or other samurai.  The Meiji Restoration was the final overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and the restoration of the young Meiji Emperor to his proper central place in Japanese politics, although behind the scenes many pro-emperor samurai were actively devising national policies.

1. Problems from within: The Tokugawa feudal structure and its problems.

2.Problems from without: Russia, Britain, and the U.S.

All three tried to expand into Japan.

3. Development of Japanese nationalism: the idea of the kokutai (national essence):

The idea of national essence (or national soul) was borrowed from Germany in its conservative reaction against the French Revolution (1789-94) and consequent rise of Napoleon (1799-1814).

4. Japanese reactions to the Western presence

Some samurai expressed they wanted simple and direct expulsion of foreigners; some others decided there was much they could learn from the foreigners, and they were in a better position to expel the foreigners after learning the foreigners' "strong points." Their slogan was "Eastern Ethics, Western Science."

The Satsuma and Choshu samuraiís slogan: "uphold the emperor as leader and expel the foreigners."

The difference between the Satsuma and Choshu samuraiís intentions (some degree of Westernization to strengthen Japan) and their slogan to appeal to the Nativist tendencies of the samurai in general.

The Satsuma, Choshu, and Tosa samurai fighting the shogun did not fundamentally disagree with learning some aspect of the West, but they hoped for greater national strength and not bowing to the Western countries.

5. The structure of the Meiji government:

6. Meiji society:

7. The Meiji Constitution:

The Meiji Constitution of 1889 to a great extent reflected the political changes of Japan.  It, however, marked the difference between Japan's constitutional monarchy and the English constitutional monarchy in the amount of power given to the emperor (see the constitution on Emperor and on the two houses; compare the emperor's power with that of our president).  To avoid future military manipulation of politics, it also made the military answer exclusively to the  emperor, which was going to cause grave consequences in the future.  Much of the time, however, real decision making was done by the Privy Council (see chapt.4 of the constitution), which consisted of the old statesmen: those who assisted the emperor in the Meiji Restoration.

To a great extent, the Meiji Constitution was a conservative document that gave the people a certain amount of rights, but gave the emperor predominant power over the two houses.