Meiji (明治: Enlightened Ruling) is a particular era in Japanese history. Not a one before and after (with small exception for Showa first half) was so differently perceived and judged. For some, this is just an era when Japan wake up from a 250 year’s sleep, for some a bright past when Japan was powerful and almighty. But then for some Meiji means nothing more than 3 Ms: Modernization, Maintenance, Military. These three Ms need some more elaborated explanations. Why did I choose words like these?
Firstly, I don’t think I need to present the whole complicated linen of events and persons woven together. For those of you who want to read more detailed texts on Meiji, take a look not into the Internet, but books. Real books. They don’t bite.
William G. Beasley: The Meiji Restoration, 1972
Walter Wallace McLaren: A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 2007
Gerald A. Figal: Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan
Julia Meech-Pekarik: The World of the Meiji Print: Impressions of a New Civilization
Hilary Conroy: The Japanese Seizure of Korea, 1868-1910: A Study of Realism and Idealism in International Relations
As any nation in Asia, in that time not known or less known, Japan was forced to sign treaties that put the country into the lower position. Seeing this, Japan was determined to close the gap between herself and Western countries as soon as possible, to prove to the world that Japan is the country that no longer is left in “barbarian state”.
I’m talking about barbarian things, because it was one of the five statements in the Emperor’s Oath from 1868:
- Establishment of deliberative assemblies
- Involvement of all classes in carrying out state affairs
- The revocation of sumptuary laws and class restrictions on employment
- Replacement of “evil customs” with the “just laws of nature”
- An international search for knowledge to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.
Those “evil customs” can be translated as “barbarian” customs from the past, uncivilized.
Daimyo returned their hans to the Emperor, educational system was renewed after French and German ones.
And here is where my first M goes: Modernization.
In order to become a strong country Japan needed to modernize everything, from the manufacturing of chopsticks to the policy (it’s sad that the country failed here). Japan was completely swept by a new wave of modernization. In 20 years the country achieved what Western countries gained in 150 years (from French Revolution as a starting point).
Second M: Maintenance.
Political elites were from high ranked samurai class (from upper level daimyo) from 4 hans: Satsuma, Choushuu, Tosa, Hizen (well, with few exeptions, but they were crushed in the course of events). When bakufu ceased to exist and the Emperor took the power in his hands, the real power remained in the same class. The “new” politicians were from the same ruling social class. That is why it’s a mistake to call Meiji Revolution a “bourgeois revolution”. There was no handing over the power from one class to another. Everything remained at the same place, with the change of the names. Constitution was proclaimed in 1889. Over 20 years after the beginning of Meiji era. Ito Hirobumi, one of the head politicians of that time, was strongly opposed to constitution and giving any right to more people. Yes, he was a conservative one. Yes, he hampered minken undou growth.
NHK Special: Meiji.
NHK Special – Meiji Jidai – Introduction.wmv.torrent
NHK Special – Meiji Jidai – Part 2.wmv.torrent
NHK Special – Meiji Jidai Part 3.wmv.torrent
NHK Special – Meiji Jidai Part 4.wmv.torrent