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The Meiji Restoration Regime in Japan


The Meiji restoration brought about the contemporary development being witnessed in Japan today. It began when Emperor Mutsuhito who was barely 16 years opted for the term Meiji as the name which will identify his rule. This only happened after the decline of Tokugawa Shogunate. Thereafter, Japan witnessed a massive transformation to an industrial status contrary to the feudal system which used to exist before. The Meiji restoration also saw the establishment of a parliamentary system of governance. Additionally, military expeditions which were dispatched overseas led to the emergence of Japan as one of the super powers of the world (Chang 26).

The political alliance which flourished between Satsuma and Choshu was the main impetus to the onset of the Meiji regime. In fact, the two alliance groups were the sole masterminds behind the overthrowing of Tokugawa Shogunate.

The first challenge which characterized the Meiji regime was the imposition of national cohesion. In any case, the civil war which broke out between opposing forces and the Tokugawa group which were already divided came at a time when Meiji regime was up in arms to restore peace and stability (McCormack & Yoshio 74). One main political desire of the Meiji regime was to introduce a just system of governance which would usher in a new era of socio-economic and political progress in Japan. This paper explores some of the intrigues of Meiji restoration and how this government gave birth to the modern industrialized Japan.

Shogunate Decline

The need to open up Japan’s borders to international commerce was first demanded by Commodore Matthew C. Perry. This was way back in 1853. He wanted Japan to take part in international trade especially with United States which was already a super power. It was almost impossible for Shogunate to reject this demand because he realized he would not be able to resist the dissident forces. As a result, he entered into a trade agreement with the United States by signing a pact in 1854. Although the treaty did not specifically gave provisions for carrying out trade, Hakodate and Shimoda ports were opened so that ships from international destinations cold dock for supplies or maintenance purposes. This just opened up a path way for signing treaties with the United States and other powers from the west for purposes of carrying out trade. He did not do this at will but was more or less compelled by his opponent. Unfortunately, all the treaties signed were not in favor of Shogunate. It ended up weakening his position which was already unstable by all standards.

After the opening up of the Japanese ports, a lot of sentiments which were against the foreign influence engulfed the nation. There was growing conflict between the feudal government and the western forces which had already established themselves in most ports. It was increasingly becoming difficult for Shogun each passing day. The Samurais who had become rebellious resorted to violent behavior by attacking foreigners who were situated at the Japanese ports. In fact, the Shogun was acting on strict orders from the Emperor and could not retract his steps in spite of the calls by western authorities for peaceful co-existence. Later on, another treaty was signed between the Emperor and Sir Harry Parkes who was by that time a minister in the British government. The treaty opened up the Osaka port. Again, he could not resist to sign this treaty due to the overwhelming force which was apparent from the foreign powers. Eventually, the Shogunate government grew too feeble and failed to sustain itself leading to an easy ouster from power by the Meiji government.

Political transformations

The establishment of a government which would adhere to the ideal principles of a constitution was the first promise which was made by the new Meiji regime. After the declaration of the Japanese constitution in 1889, there were several provisions which were enshrined in the constitution that guaranteed people certain rights and freedoms (Najita 167). For instance, the constitution allowed people to freely participate in political activities. A national assembly was promptly formed within a span of one year which was immediately followed by a constitutional government. it was widely understood by the technocrats of the old administration that it was only through a constitutional government that Japan would be in a position to amass wealth and other resources and compete favorably with the powers from the west. Hence, the Meiji regime committed itself deeply towards the realization of a powerful government which would be able to operate on a common platform with western powers (Jones 159).

In order to achieve this, the fundamental principles of the European constitutions were heavily borrowed and entrenched in the Meiji constitutional document. Hirobumi brought in a lot of influence to the 1889 constitution. He had widely understood the dynamics of the European constitutions having sojourned and studied in Germany.

The emperor was granted a special executive authority by the constitution. For instance, he was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, an element which is a characteristic of most European constitutions. He also had the power to declare war whenever he deemed necessary. He could equally make peace. In other words, the emperor had total sovereignty of the country as provided for in the constitution. Whenever, there was need to carry out elections, the emperor could also dissolve the lower parliamentary house. The position assumed by the emperor was far much beyond ruling the country, he instead reigned.

Although there were a myriad of challenges which were experienced with the new constitution and system of governance, there was a lot of determination which emerged from the genro. The constitution had to work no matter what because the sense of national pride was highly needed at this time in order to win the approval of the international community. Besides, the new system under Meiji regime desperately needed to maintain peace and stability which was considered to be major ingredient for economic growth.

Although Japan under the Meiji government prioritized peace and stability in its endeavors, its war with China became inevitable at some point (Sino-Japanese War). It was fought for a period of close to 12 months between 1894 and 1895 with Japan emerging as the winner. Consequently, Korea and the Peninsula at Liaodong came under the control of Japan. After China was defeated, it decided to pass over Taiwan to be under the control of Japan (Najita 64). This event also brought in the western participation by taking sides in the outcomes of the war. This came as a lesson to the Meiji government that it still had a long way to gather the same power as that of the western authorities. Hence, the regime launched a massive expansion of its military expedition overseas as a bid to strengthen itself in case of any eventualities in future.

Military Expansion

One of the main structural changes in the Meiji regime took place in the military. To begin with, the military wing was structured in a way that it would be compatible with the operational patterns of the western forces. In order to improve its efficiency and capability, international advisers were hired to provide expert advice on matters of defense (Jones 30). Both the navy and the army soon grew into viable and vibrant institutions under the Meiji regime. Additionally, other resources which were equally demanded led to the development of other organs. For instance, education was made universally compulsory. The military was further expanded when the government decided to secure more investment in the privately owned industries. As a result, Mitsui and Mitsubishi companies were formed that grew by leaps and bound and are still in operation to date.

Generally, the military transformed itself in three main phases. The initial phase mainly involved operations within the military which were meant for experimental purposes to see if certain initiatives would work. This phase ran for close to two decades from, 1853 to 1870. A single organizational unit of the army which was not decentralized was then created by the Meiji regime and it marked the second phase of the military expansion and development. It lasted for eight years, from 18790 to 18798 (Najita 89). The interaction of the military wing and the social environment was given much attention in the last phase which took a period of two years immediately after the end of the second phase. This phase was meant to enhance the military operation by thoroughly understanding and appreciating the dynamics of the human environment around them (Huffman 65). This phase also ensured that the resources which the military needed were supplied at the right time. A consensus was later reached by both the military and the Meiji regime by 1880s that it was necessary to critically define its autonomy just like the western powers by ascertaining that the Asian continent had its own privileges and rights which could not be tampered with by any other authority especially from overseas.


Economic growth and development was equally one of the concerns of the Meiji restoration. The industrial growth witnessed in Japan soon after Meiji regime took over was not a mere contribution of the public sector but also the privately owned entities. The growth of the Japanese economy had been characterized by the state of close and harmonious interaction between the public and private sectors.

In order to precipitate industrial growth in Japan, the Meiji regime began by embarking on infrastructural development in the first 15years of its operation (Beasleyn 92). It mainly focused on the industrial and social infrastructures which were deemed necessary for economic growth. The department of public works undertook several projects in the construction of transport networks such as railways and shipping ports. Besides, infrastructural developments on communication in addition to lighthouses were set up. Moreover, western technology and expert knowledge were imported from the developed western economies which facilitated the establishment of contemporary industrial plants. Private entrepreneurs did not exist conspicuously. Hence, the Meiji regime invested directly to revamp the status of the Japanese economy. Both the traditional and modern industries were given serious attention and this led to the growth of Japan economy by double digits. Although the traditional agricultural sector was the giant source of revenue for the Japanese population, it only dominated for a period of two decades before it could be overtaken by the newly established industries. Raw silk and tea constituted some of the agricultural products which were heavily exported abroad (Huffman 144).


The contemporary Japanese society enjoys the fruits of Meiji restoration which touched the education sector. The Meiji government allocated so much resources in the education of its people because it realized that the acquisition of the relevant knowledge and skills was necessary if any significant growth in all sectors of the economy was to be realized. Furthermore, the Meiji constitutional government laid so much importance to attaining national unity and this could best be achieved through education. Indeed, the economic triumph of Japan under the Meiji regime was mainly as a consequence of investment made in educating the people and not from western technology or financial capital resources it was endowed with (Chang 143).

By 1871, the Meiji regime had incepted a system of universal and compulsory education for all and whose curriculum mainly focused on scientific principles and applications. A lot of emphasis was put on the discovery and utilization of unique talents especially from the male gender.


The Samurais who belonged to the upper class as well as the daimyo had lost their power and influence by the start of the second decade of the new government. The urban based who were approaching the upper class were now the new ruling class. Most of the bureaucrats and managers in industries belonged to this category. Also included in the ruling class were the architects, doctors, military officers among other professionals. As can be observed, the new ruling class was mainly composed of elites who had been fetched from colleges and universities (Beasley 47). Furthermore, the ruling class structure had several similarities to those in the western world. The minority elite class which assumed the leadership of Japan under the Meiji regime led to the prevalence of a society and economy which was mainly peasantry in nature.


In summing up this paper, it can be observed that the Meiji Era was solely responsible for the total face-lifting of Japan as it is known today. All the domains of the Japanese society namely social, economic and political were greatly influenced and transformed by the Meiji Regime. For instance, the formation of a constitutional government ushered in new democratic ideals and practices which set forth a platform for socio-economic growth in Japan.

Works Cited

Beasley, W.G. “The Meiji Restoration”. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972.

Chang, Richard T. “Historians and Meiji Statesmen”. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1970.

Huffman, James L. “Creating a Public: People and Press in Meiji Japan”. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Jones, Hazel J. “Live Machines: Hired Foreigners and Meiji Japan”. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.

McCormack, Gavan and Yoshio Sugimoto, eds. “The Japanese Trajectory: Modernization and Beyond”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Najita, Tetsuo. “Conflict in Modern Japan: the Neglected Tradition”. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Umegaki, Michio. “After the Restoration”. New York: New York University Press, 1988.

Wakefield, Harold. “New Path for Japan”. London: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Westney, D. Eleanor. “Imitation and Innovation: The Transfer of Western Organization Pattern to Meiji Japan”. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

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