THE MEIJI RESTORATION

THE MEIJI RESTORATION

The Meiji restoration refers to the re-emergence
of an emperor in Japan. This change in power came after the fall of the

Tokugawa Shogunate, which was caused by the uprising of a group of Samurai
who were pro-modernization in Japan. This group, known as the Ďoligarchyí,
had seen the modern Ďblack shipsí of Commander Perry, who came from America
seeking trade relations with Japan. The oligarchy became convinced that
they would have to let the West infiltrate their society in order to avoid
the fate China had seen under the hands of imperialism. The oligarchy saw
the need for Japan to learn from the West and gain enough knowledge to
be able to remain independent. They overthrew the Shogun and elected a
new emperor, an emperor for all of Japan. ĎMeijií, meaning "enlightened
ruler", was the sixteen-year-old boy they chose for this position. He was
small, young and naïve, the perfect puppet for the oligarchy to exercise
their power through. He ruled for forty-four years but Meiji was merely
a symbol of power for a new, united Japan, rather than an actual head of
state.

The Meiji restoration effected Japan profoundly.

Every facet of Japanese life was altered in some way, from economics to
education. Japan was now united under one rule, the population, however,
was divided. The majority of the people understood Japanís need to modernize
but there were also groups of nationalists, working underground, against
the Westerners. The Samurai too, were disgruntled with the breaking down
of the class system. They had been in a position of power for so long that
they were not prepared to become a working part of society. Samuraiís had
been given everything all their lives on a silver platter, now, they were
forced to work for their own food, money etc. Many Samurai committed suicide
because they could not cope with these new pressures that they faced. This
abolition of feudalism resulted in a controlled taxation system. Farmers
were taxed three per cent of theirs lands value, regardless of the income
earned from it, which ensured a steady income for the government even whilst
the price of rice was fluctuating.

This new taxation system and control over

Japanís income was essential for Japan to achieve one of its main goals
Ė modern armed forces. In 1878 General Yamagata returned from Europe, where
he had been sent to study their armies, and reorganized Japanís army in
the image of the Germans. Otto Von Bismarck, the German Chancellor
became Japanís mentor because of his brutal yet powerful leadership skills.

The sons of the village people were forced to join the army when the Samurais
lost their exclusive right to bear arms, anyone could now use a weapon.

The boys were trained as officers, infantry, artillery and engineers. Japan
began to export silk and made a large profit doing so. This money was spent
buying and building warships and factories. A saying emerged from Japan,

"Rich nation, strong military." This showed Japanís determination to be
a powerful country, both economically and militarily.

Japanís society was also changed because
of its advances in industry and technology. Japan realized that to be any
sort of formidable power they needed to have western firepower. Guns and
other similar items went into production. In the late nineteenth century

Japan began to develop other manufacturing industries. Wool and cotton
mills were opened by the government and were run by Westernized model factories.

Soon many more industries began to develop as the raw materials needed
were imported into Japan. The government, which had setup and financed
these factories, sold them off the private companies, which developed into
financial empires known as Zaibatsu. The most famous of these Zaibatsu
was Mitsubishi. The Zaibatsu formed an alliance with the government and
were often quite influential on government policies.

Japan was given a model train by some Westerners,
fifty years later (1872) Japan a locomotive system of itís own. This is
definitive of the rate at which Japan modernized. It took Japan just forty
years to develop into an independent, self sufficient, part of world-wide
economic trade, whilst it had taken the USA over one hundred and fifty
years. Along with this new railway line Japan setup other forms of communication
systems. A modern postal system came into operation in 1868 and was followed
by a telegraph system in 1871.

Education in Japan also changed drastically.

The first and foremost difference was that schools became compulsory for
children- through to University students. The government had realized that
for Japan to be a powerful country in the future itís