Meiji Restoration

Widespread discontent in the imperial court over the continuing deteriorating condition of the political system in Japan and the questioning of the integrity and legitimacy of the shogunate led to an effort to bring about political change in the Japanese society. Feudal connections were weakened by economic changes and the infiltration of Westerners into Japan also played an important factor in the reasons for restoration.

While the origination of the imperial rule dates back to the fifth century, throughout most of its history the monarchial rule of Japan was nothing more than a figurehead. The real power of governing was held by small elite groups that used the symbolism of the Emperor to maintain national focus and embodiment of political authority. The ideology of the Emperor was taught in education and gave the perception that he was a god-like figure worthy of absolute sacrifice by his subjects. It was not until Emperor Meiji came to power, that Japan underwent a dramatic economic and political reform.

Emperor Meiji issued a declaration of “Chapter Oath” which offered a clear commitment to social change and political modernization. It stated that: 1. Deliberative assemblies shall be called together and solved publicly 2. Both upper and lower social orders shall have a say in affairs of the state 3. Men of all classes are able to pursue their callings 4. “Evil” customs of the past were no more and everything now fell under universal law 5. Knowledge would be sought and used to strengthen imperial rule. Under this new oath the political system underwent some trial and error phases until an effective centralized political apparatus was developed. It was this centralization of political structure that proved to become one of the most important outcomes of the Meiji reforms.

In order to achieve this new system, the old feudal system had to be dismantled. The feudal samurai, or warriors, were disbanded and employed elsewhere within society. Some adjusted and went into government office, others took up new careers, and some were unable to adjust and went into poverty. Those that went into government helped to contribute lore and legend to the system that had a major impact on political culture for decades. For those samurai that did not take office, the government began a program to help facilitate them into areas such as industry, agriculture, and commercial activities. With the samurai and growing merchant class now the manpower of the new system, the country was propelled forward both economically and politically.

One more significant step during this reform was the introduction of the universal male conscription. While in the past, there was a separation of military and common people, under the new reform the masses would become the foundation of the military system. No longer would there be a distinction between the warrior class, who had weapons, and the commoners, which were not allowed to own weapons.

Source:
Hayes, Louis D. Introduction to Japanese Politics. 5th ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2009. Print.

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