It is a fact that the Meiji Restoration managed to accomplish a great many revolutionary changes, but without a revolutionary level of violence. How did this happen? To understand this, one must know what the Meiji Restoration was and when it took place. It was through the years from 1867 to 1868 that the Tokugawa Era under the great Tokugawa Liasu came to an end with the Meiji restoration, in which the Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Tokyo where the new Imperial Capital was established.
However, at the same time, the actual political power was effectively transferred from Tokugawa to a group of small time noblemen, and Japan was forced to enter into treaties with Westerners, in much the same way as any other subjugated Asian nation. (Meiji Period 2002) In short, it can be stated that this period in the history of Japan has been termed a ‘renewal’, in which Japan’s political and social structure became unalterably changed, and because of which Japan launched into its industrialization period. Intended as a strong measure to consolidate power against the shogunate, the samurai and the daimyo, all remnants of the Edo government, Tokugawa lands were seized and placed under the ‘imperial control.’ (Meiji Restoration 2008)
The Samurai had to be destroyed, and most Samurai, although they resented the change bitterly, had to comply. With the Meiji restoration came electricity and wheels in the form of the first ‘rickshaw’ ever. Trains followed soon, as did several other reforms and changes, the most important of which was a semblance of democracy. Education became more important than before, and the nation started progressing in leaps and bounds. People now felt that they too had a say in how the country was to be run, and everywhere, everyone appeared to be satisfied with the advances that their country was making in all fields. (The Meiji Restoration (n.d)
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The issue here is this, how much influence did western powers have over the Meiji restoration in Japan? Were the radical ideas more in keeping in accordance with the local tenor, or were they drastically different? Why then did the shogunate fall quickly, without really offering any resistance? One of the most important things to remember when studying Japanese history is the fact that one must never consider the class struggles that are generally applied for revolutions of all kinds; instead, one must note that the interests of merchants and the ruling classes became so closely inter connected that anything that hurt one would automatically hurt the other.
For example, all big merchants depended upon the interest from loans given to the samurai to survive, and the samurai were customers of the chonin, who felt that their own prosperity was closely tied up with the warrior classes, and this meant that they would not think of attacking the existing feudal system, even if it was unfair to them.
As the Meiji restoration progressed, the samurai and the aristocrats stood together, thereby showing the world that the revolution in itself was not at all about a rising class that managed to destroy feudalism, nor was it a democratic revolt that offered greater power to representatives of the working classes of Japan. Researchers state confidently that the Meiji restoration would never have been possible but for interference that Japan received from Western powers, including British, American, French, German and Dutch. It is said that some small bits of advice were also obtained from the workers who had been engaged by the Japanese government in various positions such as pilots, engineers, financial advisers, and university and school teachers, among others.
Historians believe that it was the presence of Westerners in Japan that undermined the Shogunate, and that this was one of the reasons why it fell so quickly without resistance. One must remember that the rapid economic growth in Japan during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had made sure that the country was in a position of being readily transformed into a new social order, and by this time, the ‘absurd’ policies of Tokugawa had become completely foolish and outdated, given the social and political conditions in the country at the time.
Nationalism and patriotism and national consciousness had also pervaded the people of Japan, and with the arrival of the Perry expedition, at which point of time the arrival of foreigners was considered an attack on the basic traditional values of Japan, the collapse became imminent, and one can understand that Western powers had intentionally or unintentionally applied pressure on Japan and had paved the way for the reforms about to take place, and for the fall of the Shogunate to happen.
At the same time, one must also remember that even without Western influence from the United States, Great Britain and Russia among others, the radical reforms of the Meiji restoration would have been inevitable, and although several of the ideas were indeed shaped by Western influences, local flavors too played a very important role in the Meiji restoration and in the fall of the Shogunate.
Therefore, it must be stated that the Meiji restoration is in actuality the result of two important factors: the decay within Japan of her present feudal society, and the pressure applied by Western powers to bring an end to Tokugawa’s outdated regime. (Chung, TK 2007)
Meiji Period (1868-1912) “History” Japanguide.com (2002) Retrieved on February 25, 2008 from <http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2130.html>
“The Meiji Restoration” History Text (n.d) Retrieved on February 25, 2008 from <http://cla.calpoly.edu/~mriedlsp/History315/MeijiText.html>
“Meiji Restoration” Wikipedia (2008) Retrieved on February 25, 2008 from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration>
Chung, TK “The Meiji Restoration, Background” The corner of the world (2007) Retrieved on February 25, 2008 from <http://www.thecorner.org/hist/japan/meiji1.htm>
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