Ideologies, and Christianity during the Meiji Era

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Topics: Japan treaded through a compendium of contemporary world thought which fashioned the Meiji Era's modernity.

Ideologies, and Christianity during the Meiji Era

Some notes on events leading to a political change.

By Michael Johnathan McDonald

I argue that the Japanese were disciplined into a dialectic with a historiography for not pursuing an ideology between 1886―1887; because they were too busy caring out necessary functions to avert a foreign takeover. Carol Gluck argues that ideology comes after the settling period of the Meiji Restoration, but ideas began early on, and put into practice in the later period of the Meiji era. The theme of ideology was promoted by the elite commoners and rulers, but the people looked to practicality and initiated their own nationalistic renovations. People did the commonsensical things, like forming clubs, curriculum, and groups on their own time, without the central rule telling them so. Nationalism can only come about by identifying a viable other, and this is true for all peoples in all countries. The Meiji, like any other modern state, experimented with social, economical and governmental theories. Periods in the Meiji saw furious changes from what discourses entered the realm from the outside.

“Since the original education act of 1872, administrative and curricular change had been dizzying. An administrative structure was first established in 1872 on a highly centralized French model. It then moved in the space of one year (1879) to an American-style local control, returned to national intervention in 1880 (though without national subsides), changed slightly in 1885, and subsequently in 1886, to a hybrid European statist system  which featured German influence. The elementary curriculum had meanwhile shifted from Anglo-American egalitarian emphasis on the individual intellect, with textbooks literally translated from Wilson’s Readers or Wayland’s “wisdom,” to a mixture of Confucian and European elitism and moral emphasis that used texts ranging from the most ancient Analects to the latest Herbartian example.”1 By 1890s, Both British and French legal battles of ideas erupted into an arguments pitted against indigenous customs. “European models threatened to overwhelm “our distinctive ways and customs,” which, such commentators always lamented, had yet to be determined. Moreover, few suggested that they had been determined when, in 1898, a civil code, now based thoroughly on German models, was finally put into effect. Since the 1870s, the army had also moved from a French model to a Prussian system with major industrial changes occurring against in 1886-1889, the draft alone underwent a handful of revisions between 1873 and 1889. In 1889 it was suggested that Chinese naval superiority was do to the Ch’ing having “single- mindedly” molded its navy on England, which Japan had no “ stick-to-itiveness.” 2 Patriotism and the Use of Foreigners. The Shrine Bureau, a part of the Home Ministry bureaucrats between 1904―1921 promoted the ideological function of the shrines in unifying sentiment of the people in the spirit of “reverence for the gods and respect for the ancestors” (Keishin sūso). 3

Civil Morality: The Shrine Bureau evolved into a central player in the ideology constructs of Meiji Japan. It worked in behalf of Shintō  and Buddhist proponents who saw Christianity as a non-nationalistic conscript. Rescript, in Japanese meaning, meant nationalism, and nowhere to be found in the teachings of Christ were concepts of ‘us against them.’ Instead, a mere universal love, implying a tolerance for outsiders indicated less than a practical usage for this religion. Instead of disregarding it, for its already momentous inclusion into Japanese social strata during the 1870s and 1880s, the problematic of overthrowing something so complexed and integrated within the family unit, and constructed homu, forced the Shintō ists to succumb to a resolution that contrasts can coexist together and function positively. The Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars diverted attention away from the religious arguments of Christianity’s positives and negatives verses the so-called traditions of Shintō , and adopted Buddhism, that these issues took a back seat to all public and immediate discourse. In effect, later on after World War I, Shintō  benefited from all the previous wars of Japan after the restoration, and Shintō  proponents placed themselves into key social functionaries such as cemetery and ceremonial companies. These projects helped keep Shintō  in the public’s eye and promote it as the model of tradition.

Christianity had deeper ideological consequences for Japanese social constructionists. It came from beyond, and therefore, it needed to be contained, or at least managed. When the Buddhist attacked Christianity, they stressed that Buddhist countries didn’t colonize the way Christian countries did, and therefore they were dangerous. They of course attributed this new militarism to Christianity, and not the west or technological world paradigm shifts. Wartime created what Christianity could not do, but was wished upon by the ideologues, and that was patriotism, a national spirit, a unification of all religious parties. The Meiji didn’t want to perforate any religion. The elite who gathered the necessities of modernity on foreign soil saw first hand the successful relationship between Christian family settings and objects of progress needed to solidify the rise of civilization, or the abolition of feudalism.  Fickleness can be seen in the Meiji as well as part of the vacillation of choice of the type of European model.“Since the original education act of 1872, administrative and curricular change had been dizzying. An administrative structure was first established in 1872 on a highly centralized French model. It then moved in the space of one year (1879) to an American-style local control, returned to national intervention in 1880 (though without national subsides), changed slightly in 1885, and subsequently in 1886, to a hybrid European statist system  which featured German influence. The elementary curriculum had meanwhile shifted from Anglo-American egalitarian emphasis on the individual intellect, with textbooks literally translated from Wilson’s Readers or Wayland’s “wisdom,” to a mixture of Confucian and European elitism and moral emphasis that used texts ranging from the most ancient Analects to the latest Herbartian example.”4 By 1890s, Both British and French legal battles of ideas erupted into an argument pitted against indigenous customs. “European models threatened to overwhelm “our distinctive ways and customs,” which, such commentators always lamented, had yet to be determined. Moreover, few suggested that they had been determined when, in 1898, a civil code, now based thoroughly on German models, was finally put into effect. Since the 1870s, the army had also moved from a French model to a Prussian system with major industrial changes occurring against in 1886-1889, the draft alone underwent a handful of revisions between 1873 and 1889. In 1889 it was suggested that Chinese naval superiority was do to the Ch’ing having “single- mindedly” molded its navy on England, which Japan had no “ stick-to-itiveness.” 5 In this scenario of vacillation, the people took control by way of inclusion into a new Japanese political system of freedom (Japanese liberal and Conservative movements are discussed in other parts of Japan on

The theme of ideology was promoted by the elite commoners and rulers, but the people looked to practicality and initiated their own nationalistic renovations. People did the commonsensical things, like forming clubs, curriculum projects, and forming study groups on their own time, without the central rule telling them so. Nationalism can only come about by identifying a viable other, and this is true for all peoples in all countries. The Meiji, like any other modern state, experimented with social, economical and governmental theories. Periods in the Meiji saw furious changes from what discourses entered the realm from the outside. “This ideology use of foreigners had two aspects. Not only was the foreign used to define the native, but once defined, the native was used to nationalize the foreigner. The Christians served as a mean to enshrine the civil morality expressed the Rescript, which then became the test of Christian loyalty. Thus Christians were permitted to continue being Christians, provided they were also willing to take the oath as Japanese”. 6  

The Christian model of the home (Discussed in another page on MR) contained the valued extension of private space and family time as a new model for the Japanese to undertake to form this new experiment of democracy-like nationhood. As discussed, more books and magazines, at least double to the American output, had discussed the widely promoted Christian home ethics, and morality.  Articles in women’s magazines and national periodicals focused on all aspects from living space, table etiquette, family time, importance of privacy and architecture according to the needs of a Christian home. Christianity’s success contributed to the ideology of Japans understanding toward modernity. However, the deconstruction of this made up invention of Christian historiography came tumbling down with intellects arguing some of the factors pointed above, and the other was a strong argument of private individuals verses the collective communities. “In Tokyo, intellectuals and legal scholars theorized about the “deterioration of the family system,” quoting form the Confucian “Great Learning” and John Ruskin, for they feared that a deteriorated family would mean rampant individualism.” 7 The Japanese understood by western books socialism meant the end of democratizing, and this, of course, vied as the enemy of progress; but Japans’ past exhibited a socialized construct in feudalistic ―Tokugawan ideology, complicating historiography,  of communal togetherness working for the state’s success in stability. There were many commonalities of socialistic law within the Tokugawa era. Villages were taught to act in communal spirits, the Daimyo were taught to work together serve their lords, the samurai, and the samurai were told to work in communal spirit to appease and pleasure the Bakufu and the Bakufu were taught to communally stabilize and entertain the Tokugawa leader ( See Tokugawa era to get a grasp of the feel of these laws in affect and see how they relate to socialistic emblems of the 19th century). The Japanese fought tooth-and-nail to keep democracy on the push. However, the ideology of blending Christianity and democracy failed to foment in all parties encumbered in political issues.

“The Meiji emperor, whom Shintō  scholars described as a manifest deity (arahitogami), the living representative of a divine imperial line, did not appear to his subjects in so distinct a theological definition. The emperor was known both to be “sacred and inviolable” (shinsei ni shite okasu bekarazu), in the formidable words of  the Constitution, and also to be an awesome personage before whose photograph one bowed one’s head in reverence. But the emperor was not formally worshipped in Shintō  shrines, since legally he could only be enshrined after his death. He was first enshrined in fact at Meiji shrine in 1920. During his lifetime there were instances, however, in which the emperor was worshipped as a living god (ikigami) – that is, a god-like man, or a man worshipped as a god – in the folk tradition.”  In most cases this took place at private shrines constructed by imperially minded members of the elite to commemorate sites the emperor had visited in his early travels. The emperor’s appearance as an object of reverence in folk tradition and popular religion thus strengthened sentiment toward the rule, but it did so at first outside the ranks of shrine Shintō  and with different religious meanings than that put forward by the official Shintō  establishment. Recognizing this, the Shintō ists persisted in the quest to promote their version of emperor worship and institutionalize Shintō . As the ideological environment changed in their favor in the 1930s, they were more successful. 8

The figure of Christ verses the Emperor plays a key role in fomenting trust of a people. Christ was an object of foreign transportation, and the emperor entailed lineage of permanency in Japanese’s antiquity. As the emperor a figure head of Japanese-y-ness, when the foreign wars forced a nationalism to take place, nationalism suppressed Christianity by way of ideological historicism. In this way the 1930s saw a reemergence of the prominence of Shintō  adherence, and a backward trend toward the inroads that Christianity played on the ideology of the 1870s and 1880s in Japan. “And finally, after almost seventy years, a separate office of Shintō  (Jingi-in) was re-established in the government in November 1940, giving State Shintō  an institutional center that lasted until the Occupation authorities abolished it five years later.” 9 Shintō  was seen by foreigners in Japan as not conducive to positive projects. Capitalism and individualism were key facets to the United States version of Democracy. The problem arises when the Japanese use the English, French, Prussian and Netherland diversified models, a mixture of moral, social and political constructs ―  all complicated by fickleness, and used United States Christianity as the family backbone to modernizing the homu system.  A problem arises because Christianity in England was not the Christianity in America, and Prussian Christianity was not attuned to England or America. How can one utilize so various ideologues and come to a consensus. This is what in fact happened to Japan. Disillusioned by nationalism verses individualism verses communality verses militarism verses domestic harmony all bundled into a construction of confusion. And how does one or a group or individual combat chaos? They go back to what is comfortable and known – that was Shintō .

1 Gluck, Carol. Japan’s Modern Myths : Ideology in the Late Meiji Period (Princeton: Princeton University, 1985), 19.

2 Ibid, 19,20.

3  Ibid, 141.

4 Ibid, 19.

5 Ibid, 19,20.

6  Ibid, 135.

7 Ibid, 13.

8  Ibid, 142, 143.

9 Ibid, 143.

Understanding Christianity in the Early 20th century Work Place

(shortened from a larger work of mine) 

“The Popular movement among workers in the late 1910s and early 1920s to elect their own factory foremen was partly aimed at ridding themselves of such superiors and partly at opening the way for the advancement of talented workers. Nor was the rank of foreman thought to represent a necessary ceiling on such advancements.” 37 Brotherhoods formed in working communities to help promote solutions to everyday working conditions. Some worked on ideas of the status system, according to a democratic voting process. “ The engineers in 1899 spoke of their struggle for improved treatment as a “just war” (meibun tadashiki gisen) being fought with “sincerity” (seii) to reform the industrial world (jitsugyōkai) and benefit the nation. Nisho and his fellow workers who formed the Osaka Doshikai ( Brotherhood) in 1916, in part to open the way for the promotion of workers to higher positions, announced that their ultimate objective was to contribute to a rich nation and strong army (fukoku kyōhei). The Yawata paper repeatedly argued that only if industry tapped the talents and energies of workers could Japan withstand foreign competition: In present worldwide industrial competition, it is completely to misunderstand the times to give confidence only to people with academic credentials and to withhold it from those with seasoned practical skills. Industry cannot develop with such attitudes [mjm- attitude was a term that took the place of liberal ideology in the second tiered Conservative termed as of an attitude, and was vehemently regarded against a concept describe as an ideology]. Rather it must be made to stand on the principles of equality [of opportunity] regardless of educational degrees…We must thus open the way for the promotion of men in accordance with their skill.” 38 Smith argues that the workers “ did not see clearly where they were going, especially in the early years, but Iso (1865-1949, a Unitarian, socialist, and academic, defined the goal with surprising clarity. In a 1913 essay he attributed worker dissatisfaction to the nature of authority relations, which replicated lord-vassal relations and were based on the survival of “feudal” attitudes in Japanese society. In companies and factories the superior treated subordinates with arrogance and contempt, those subordinates in turn tyrannized their subordinates, and the man without subordinates took out his frustration and anger on his wife and children. Since everyone bowed before superiors and abused inferiors shamelessly, low moral and productivity were general. The remedy, Abe argued, was to transform what he called the present “person-based” (taijin kankei) into “enterprise-based “ (taijigyō kankei) authority. Then no one would any longer be subordinate to a superior as a person, but only through that person to the enterprise, to which superior and subordinate would be subject. In that sense, all employees would be equal and would work not to serve a superior but to advance the company and, though the company, to serve the nation and the emperor. Even the employer would have no purely personal authority; his authority, if any, would devise solely from his executive position in the enterprise. Thus, if the worker did his work for the company “loyalty,” he would owe no debt of gratitude to the employer and would have no reason to bow down before him.” 39 The problem here is “if” and that is a question that contains a variable. No one can force someone to work, and this is the concept of power relations, in that the authority becomes an inanimate function of loyalty, a non-human without emotional attachments. A person wanting to do “wrong” will more likely do wrong to someone that is unreal. I can only look at this concept, because it was in place in American history. The corporation enterprise where employees, although paid differently, were governed by a set of inanimate disciplines and therefore, a  self consciousness ruled the individual, and type of system set up in the ancient times in the east. The problem of no superiors is regulated to self disciplining, but when problems happen, then the solution guiders take care to create a temporal authority to discipline the wrong-doers, according to a set of superior ranks not espoused, but kept behind the scenes. The notion of not bowing one’s head is a positive in this argument, and abuse is relevant to the discussion. So instead of returning to ranking system, the socialists, academics investigated the concepts of ideology, or a set of these ancient disciplines in self-governing. Ironically, they turned to Christianity where Jesus is the superior and the subject is always the inferior. However, with Jesus being invisible, they saw this as a concept where the enterprise and Jesus were one ideology. The notion that an inanimate reality of authority, the “ enterprise-based” relations created their own self governance , the person-based” relations , spurred on the socialists, albeit, confusedly.

Smith argues that “ The essence of Abe’s enterprise-based authority was the idea of a basic human equality independent of all status relations, a community or enterprise loyalty unmediated by personal ties. As will be seen, workers affirmed this equality and , indirectly, its relation to loyalty in the 1910s by insisting on recognition by the employer of their jinkaku – a Christian concept that entered the language about the turn of the century. Jinkaku signified the potential of all biologically normal human beings for autonomous moral development based on the reflection of divine intelligence in consciousness and memory, qualities that distinguished mankind form all other things in nature. Although all human beings were held to possess this potential, not all realized it fully or in the same degree. Its development, which came through  self-consciousness (jikaku) and was, significantly, called self-realization (jiko jitsugen), could be impaired, distorted, or reversed by dissipation, the denial of education, or dehumanizing conditions of life and work. Since man realized himself only in society, and since he could contribute to society only by self-realization, to hamper the development of another person’s jinkaku was both antisocial and an act of individual cruelty. Smith then argues that “as indicated by their widespread adoption of the term in the 1910s, despite an almost total lack of interest in Christianity, workers were quick to understand the egalitarian implications of jinkaku. 40 The words hinko and hinsei, which until then had been accepted as expressing the supposed moral culture of status, emphasized overt behavior and might be translated roughly as “refinement” or “breeding.” These were qualities in which workers were painfully lacking, as they themselves recognized, and most early worker organizations, as noted earlier, were dedicated to improving the behavior of workers in order to raise their status – clearly a long term ambition. Now, however, Jinkaku defined morality as an inner quality, something close to conscience and independent of social position. For the first time it became plausible for workers to claim moral equality with their status betters and to suggest that if the performance of some workers fell short of the desired standards, it was not their fault but the fault of those who refused to recognize their humanity. 41

This socialist outlook could and did lead to benevolence, but it also lead to the same problems of excuses and laziness in production. As seen in the later half of the Communist State of the U.S.S.R., Russian workers often declared “ what the hell” and left their jobs in shambles to continue to complain of undesirable working conditions. As a result the entire population stagnated and declined into mass introduction. All the social intellects of Russia, although extremely sharp and penetrating, could not solve the issue of individual righteousness. In Japan jinkaku played an important liberal theme and appearing in 1914 people wrote on the subject, often calling “society as rubbish [ the government]. 42 “A stanza of the Yawata union song struck a similar cord: “in this world of selfishness/ Only the worker stands on righteousness.” Since this was a common theme of socialism, in which the government cracked down, noticing the implications of backwardness to their goal of modernization, the people had to struggle to understand that this type of lifestyle of individual worker rights meant the wrong way. However, the liberalism of the self, and the notion of bettering oneself was a positive move and was also incorporated into the notion of Jinkaku. “ Since the workers were morally equal or, as the song suggests, superior to their status betters, benefits enjoyed exclusively by the latter were morally unjustified. They were in fact brutal public denials of worker Jinkaku. Under the regime of this kind, which denied their essential humanity, workers could not be expected to work with a will, a sentiment they asserted in letters such as this one: “Japanese industry cannot possibly develop if worker jinkaku is not respected…Engineers, factory managers, and capitalists treat us as things and machines. Who with spirit will remain a factory worker under these conditions? I hear the criticism that Japanese workers are technically inferior and do not work hard, but that is because the treatment given them is such as to retain only inferior workers.” 43 In the letter what should be shown by Smith, if it existed, in which I have no doubt, is that mobility of bettering one’s economic circumstance by hard work creates a respectful citizen, these were concepts of capitalism. However, from the standpoint of the letter, the person seems with no hope but to understand that justice means not being told to work hard, in which they call it abuse. The fact of the matter was that all societies in the industrial revolution, a model they must pass in order to technologize and advance in civilization’s progress, went through this stage. This view point was common to all socialists, that disregarded or didn’t approve of progressive self betterment. Capitalism gives this opportunity, but is often a hard rout and a risky business. The idea of the worker in this case is to have complete conformability of its person, and have a ideology of equality while nature demonstrates daily inequality. Smith is only looking at this frame of the picture, and not considering the possibilities of the individual’s right to establish themselves as betters than their neighbors. This was the prime problem in socialism in Russia. No matter how hard another person worked from his or hers neighbor, they were treated as equals both economically and personally. Therefore, the natural hard worker, he or she claimed “ what the hell.” What the hell showed was a the spirit of the hard worker was squelched by the lesser hard worker. So the argument here in these words Smith is investigating, is that people are not born with the same ability, and so the ones that are not able as the others force by violence, their last resort which happened in all socialist movements, against the more able. The terminology becomes tricky in that he calls them betters, and doesn’t describe why or how they became better. We only know each one described is a superior in some type of social or economical rank. Although they didn’t use that word anymore in the Meiji, as it donated the concept of the old Samurai system. Therefore, a half realization exists within the argument itself and exists as biased. Why should the better give up their hard work and their better position to the lesser? Why could not there be rules for non-abuse?

Well the unionists called for kenri, or rights, but the Socialist workers called for Jinkaku.  Jingaku was against capitalism, but the Unions looked for worker’s rights. The Jinkaku looked to overhaul the economic system of status and authority. “The Yawata workers’ paper, comparing what existed and what might be, expressed the same judgment. It hampers the development of industry [mjm- capitalism] to treat clerk-technicians as lords and actual producers  [gengyōin] as vassals. If Japan is to win the world industrial war, workers must make capitalists and managers realize this. If we succeed, then an era of cooperation will come about that will increase the benefits of industry and strengthen the peace and prosperity of the country [ mjm- that is called ideological hope].” 44The self discipline that I discussed above. Cartoons appeared making negative displays, and sometime or often, wrong images of capitalists. Capitalism is the master and chela or disciple economic program, and is considered adjudicated with the older ranking system of the Tokugawa ( see Tokugawa and how capitalism rose by itself in the countryside). Now, in Jonkaku, the inanimate enterprise, corporation or business was to have no leaders but in theory. Only a leader, ironically, would show up to re create order when the workers met chaos.

On the positive side, Socialism has good intentions. That is capitalism does have its negative connotations, its sides, and its problems. It is inherently unjust in a perspective of commonality. But form a personal standpoint, people always believe they are, or at least hope, better than the next person. In societies that practice political correctness we do not see this outwardly in the media or professionalism, but we see it at a minute local scale, where the guard of the individual is down because it had reached its comfort zone, wherever they feel that is at, according to each. On page 269, Smith says that “ First, the dramatic growth of the labor movement from 1917 to the mid-1920s was not, as is widely held, based on the growth of a consciousness of rights among workers. It is true of course that national union leaders and local union activists used rights language freely. But the ease with which Yawata union paper could invoke employer’s benevolence and workers’ rights on the same issue should make for caution in translating rights language too literally into general worker consciousness.” 45 Here Smith makes sense in that he says although they used “the words rights in context that suggests a broad overlap of meaning with such concepts as status, power, and interest; consciously or not, union leaders appropriated status issues in the name of rights. They demanded the end of favoritism within the hierarchical pay system by not the system itself. They emphasized company social benefits (bonuses, separation pay, housing, and so on) – issues tending to separate workers at one factory from those at others- at the expense of wage issues tending to unite them. They rarely mentioned, and never to my knowledge tried to give effect to, the notion of equal pay for equal work. I suggest that up to the mid-1920s the labor movement was based primarily on worker status ideology. The concept of rights was relatively new to workers. Their notions of status had been shaped by thirty years of local efforts to improve conditions in the workplace and were deeply rooted in history of the struggles of village and towns for hierarchical justice form regional lords during the Tokugawa period.” 46 Here, a redemption of his argument is seen. He clearly states that what Karl Marx would take as a reprimand to his socialist theories. What we see here is that the Japanese, like all the rest of the industrial players had new things placed upon them and many tried to cope and understand what this all meant. Some took the emotional rout and called for full equality with people who worked harder than they did or could. The argument for equal pay for equal work is a capitalist staple of its economic system. This is clearly not what was at stake in the understanding of the labor movement. Many socialist just saw the government as a machine that didn’t care for them. That is a wrong notion, because they did in fact work to strengthen Japan’s treaties against the foreigners and the only way to do this was to industrialize and they needed people to do those jobs, and these jobs were often dangerous. That is why Karl Marx hated Capitalism because people were exploited, meaning they were worked hard and many got endured and some died. In contrast, in Russia many didn’t work hard and therefore didn’t die, until no food was available because people had individual guarantees not to be harassed if they didn’t work, in which happened as a result.

1 Smith, Thomas C.  Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization, 1750-1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), shortened, edited version of larger work.

37 Ibid, 258.

38 Ibid, 259 .

39 Ibid, 260 .

40 Ibid, 260,261 .

41 Ibid, 262.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid, 262,263 .

44 Ibid, 263 .

45 Ibid, 269.

46 Ibid.

How did the Tokugawa end, and why?

Some significant Meiji Themes


  • 1830s, beginning of coastal control- threats of revision of trade, casting of new cannonry.



  • Sea Worthy Ship building (Big ship ban lifted) begins.

  • 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry arrives with four black ships a little south of Nagasaki.

  • 1855 namazu-e, and the apocalyptic symbols.


  • 1861, The Dutch school merged w. provincial school. Rangaku (Dutch learning, practicality)  

  • 1862, The Namamugi Incident, aka the Richardson Affair

  • 1866, Bushi, Yonaoshi daimyo jin World Renewal and Divine Rectifier protests partly against Kai Koku.

  • 1866, formation of the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance between Saigō Takamori, the leader of the Satsuma domain, and Kido Takayoshi, the leader of the Chōshū domain, marks the beginning of major resistance against Bakufu and formulations of the later coup d’etat.

  • 1866, kyakusho ikki peak year.

  • 1867, Tokugawa Yoshinobu in power

  • 1868, Jan 3 taisei hōkan. coup d’etat devised by Tosa han.

  • 1868, Charter Oath (proclaimed April)


  • European philosophy and art.

  • 1871, Abolition of the hereditary social system of Tokugawa Japan.

  • 1783, ‘Red’ Army threat, Russia false attack alert of Japan.

  • 1873-1881, Land tax reform

  • 1873, Conscription.

  • 1873, Christianity was allowed into the Country legally (Seen as a model to western success)


  • 1881, Political Crisis, Okuma Shigenobu goes strait to emperor –pushed Constitution.

  • 1881, jiyū to , Itagaki Taisuke, first national party.

  • 1889, Meiji Constitution promulgated


  • 1890, Bicameral Diet opened


  • 1890s parties in the Diet challenge rule of Oligarchs, criticized "clique" or han'batsu government.

  • 1902, Anglo-Japanese Alliance

1894-95, Sino-Japanese War & the Treaty of Shimonoseki

  • 1905, Eulsa Treaty



Charter Oath (proclaimed April 1868)



Saigō Takamori (西郷 隆盛, Saigō Takamori? 23 January 1827/28 24 September 1877), the George Washington of Japan or the Robert E. Lee of Japan, considered the one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, lived during the late Edo Period and early Meiji Era. He was againt opening up to the west, was pro-Korean invasion,



  • Emperor moved from old Kyoto to Tokyo, so a fusion of emperor and leaders can mingle.

  • Choshū, Satsuma, han batsu , people said were in power too long.



Who are we going to redefine as a national state a model of the west?


  • New political coalition, placed in prominence , the emperor, a figurehead.


Saigō Takamori

Itagaki Taisuke

Okuma Shigenobu

Nakae Chōmin

Ueki Emori

Kono Hironaka

Itō Hirobumi

Kido Kōin

Yamagata Aritono   ( Prussian Military, conscription 1873)

Matsukata Masayoshi

Problems of maintaining the Tokugawa government.

  1. Sakoku "closed country” denoting “country in chains" or "lock up of country" was the foreign relations policy of Japan, whereby nobody, whether foreign or Japanese, could enter or leave the country on penalty of death. The policy was enacted by the shogunate under Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1641 and remained in effect until 1853 when kaikoku, "open country" to the western world was allowed in the mid-19th century. 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived and forced the Japanese to a treaty upsetting their seclusion.  During these periods’ only one Portuguese ship and coastal trade with Korea, China and Japanese islands were licensed or sometimes illegal.
  2. Ironies: Diamyo of Tosa, a former Tozama domain, came from a small family before the Tokugawa era, came into prominence by being moved out of a smaller domain after the reorganization of the Tokugawa government into a larger domain.
  3. Terminology: Late Tokugawa Shogunate period is called the Bakumatsu period and consists of the time between 1853 and 1867 during which Japan ended its isolationist foreign policy of sakoku and took steps to modernized the shogunate from a feudal perspective to a more modern one, unknown but investigating at that time, finally to the year of 1867 in which Tokugawa Toshinobu realizing the best for Japan was the new policy of taisei hokan, return to the imperial rule.
  4. Only Rangaku, Dutch studies, translated western texts into Chinese language mainly on science and medicine were allowed to be studied under only a few individuals or groups and under the watchful eyes of the Shogunate.
  5. By-Employment, the rise of the gomin, and peasant merchants, Chonin, displace the controllers of wealth in the cities.
  6. Notable population displacement observed in census of people moving from the main cities, otherwise called castle-towns, to the suburbs and countryside.
  7. Sankin Kotai, the main Tokugawa financial and loyal structure lost its preeminence in the ideology of the ruling system.
  8. Sankin Kotai, from the onset, was the main economic factor that provided the cities with wealth, and left the countryside to be the producers of that wealth.
  9. The first 100 years were an economic boom with the construction of Japan due to building projects, such as castle-towns, and depleting the biomass, then restricting commerce with laws to protect the biomass. A stasis was seen half-way through and then in the late stages things went downhill, continuing these occurring shifts noted here on this page and mainly of demographic economic shift to the countryside outside of the tenryo.

So why didn’t they chance or adapt to the changes? Surely they saw them?”

  1. Yes, the Bakufu were intelligent rulers, and they saw the need to reconfigure the tax system, but complications of an overhaul opposed the main ideology of the Tokugawan system.
  2. The ideology the Tokugawa set up forbid them, without experiencing mass rioting and revolts, pertaining to the ideology of jinsei, on a continuous basis, to reorganize their government tax-based system. However, the story remains debated because they could have made an attempt which was not done to see if the threats were real enough. For one thing, we will never know how it would have turned out if the reassessment of the entire system was attempted and particularly made with an aggressive attempt to readjust the entire tax system.
  3. Problem, Shogunate only tax the bakufuhan (tenryō) lands, and not the wealthy merchants or the private lands, as a comprehensive tax strategy as a general theme and reality.
  4. Result: loss of maintenance income, a repositioning of samurai employment preference, and dwindling central financial stability.

What happen when things go worse?

  1. The Meiji Restoration 1866-1869

Events that lead up to the coup d’etat.

  1. June 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry, arrived at Japan with four heavily armed warships into Sagami Bay, to the Port of Uraga, just south of the shogun's capital at Edo. He ordered the bakufu representatives that met him to give certain territorial rights to U.S. shipping and policies of extrality.  The Shogun had died and they asked him for a moratorium on a decision while they attended to burial ceremonies. He said I’ll be back in one year.
  2. 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, behest Perry’s return, which granted coaling right for U.S. ships and allowed for a U.S. Consul in Shimoda. Trading rights left for Townsend Harris.
  3. 1855 Great Earthquake, namazu-e, and the apocalyptic symbols of catfish appear in graffiti in the cities.
  5. 1868, the Unequal Treaties: The Treaty of Amity and Commerce unfairly negotiated between Townsend Harris of the United States and Japan was concluded July 29, 1858.

·        The most important points were:

·        Exchange of diplomatic agents;

·        Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama’s opening to foreign trade as ports;

·        ability of United States citizens to live and trade in those ports, and,

·        A system of extraterritoriality that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law system.

·        fixed low import-export duties, subject to international control.

·        Consequences: silver was used to replace gold until the Japanese quickly caught on to its world’s worth.

  1. The agreement served as a model for similar treaties signed by Japan with other foreign countries in the ensuing weeks.
  2. General panic at forced opening of country by the foreigners.
  3. 1860s Public pilgrimages to sacred places such as the Grand Shrine of Ise were periodic features of Japan, but in the 1860s there was an intensity of which took notice of authorities.
  4. Bakufu forced to spend heavily on cannonry production and coastal defenses which depleted the treasury.
  5. Sankin Kotai system collapsing, frantically readjusted, and finally the samurai left the cities to return home to their respected domains to work on reform. They only had stipends, unlike the European counterparts, the aristocrats, that had land vested interests. They had more reason to have dissatisfaction and wanting reform. The cities empty and the Bakufu succumbed to bankruptcy, but still manage to hold on with financial moves.
  6. The Namamugi Incident 1862  also known sometimes as the Richardson Affair created a response, in short detail, a bombardment striking fear into the Japanese that left repercussions to quickly change coerce. This event played a significant role in the understanding the government system needed to change.
  7. 1866 Bushi World Renewal and Divine Rectifier protests exploded toward the end of the Tokugawa period after the country became Kaikoku, “open country” policy. These are not jinsei endemic revolts, but were pandemic in nature. These revolts were not against the Shogunate but against wealthy peasants and debt collectors.
  8. 1866, The formation of the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance between Saigō Takamori, the George Washington-like of Japan, and Satsuma domain leader, and Kido Takayoshi, Chōshū domain leader, marks the beginning of the Meiji restoration. These two leaders supported the idea of restoring the emperor and were brought together by Sakamoto Ryoma for the purpose of challenging the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate. Saigō Takamori supported closed country, a Korean invasion, and samurai continued dominance. Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance did not seek to liberalize the country, but to preserve the old ways. However, their involvement inadvertently ended the Bakumatsu era. 
  9. 1866 uprising in Shindatsu against wealthy peasants. Contemporary accounts have all different perspectives. One perspective, the Silk taxes recently imposed lead to increase in rice taxes, that lead to reforms, then recomplaints, to failed petitions, to headmen and various leaders mobilizing peasants from every part of Shindatsu, march on Koori, and demand cheap rice and cancellation of the silk taxes. (Valastos. ‘Peasant Revolts’)
  10. 1867, The Sankin Kotai was tinkered with, but to no avail, and by ‘the beginning of 1867 Tokugawa Toshinobu finally assumed the mantle of shogun and set about to cooperate with ambitious middle officials to maintain the bakufu’s supremacy, even acknowledging daimyo claims to feudal autonomy. The apex of this policy was reached in the fall of 1867, when the Bakufu announced the new policy of taisei hokan, which would formally return governing power to the imperial court.’ (Wilson, George M., Patriots and Redeemers in Japan ,56)
  1. 1867, October 14, 1867, in the Grand Hall of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Tokugawa Toshinobu realizing the best for Japan was the new policy of taisei hokan, a return to imperial rule. He steps down.
  2. Village headmen and gōshi (low-ranking warriors who lived in the country), whose dissatisfactions he describes in some detail, were extremely important in the Tosa loyalist movement; that were to be found “in generous proportion” in the Restoration armies of Tosa in 1867 (Smith, Thomas C.  Native Sources of Japanese Industrialization. 150)
  3. ee ja nai ka begins before le coup d’etat.
  4. 1868, Jan 3 taisei hōkan. coup d’etat devised by Tosa han.  (used western colander)
  5. Janurary 3, 1868 ( western calendar time, not the Japanese calendar), Tokugawa bakufu ended. The meeting took place at 5:00 p.m. at the imperial palace. The regular guards were approached by the shift-group, who were not the designated troop. Those forces were not allowed at the position. At the meeting, an adherence to the Bakufu lessened, and instead members connected with the opposition arose to success of the argument. At one point, after no consensus, a Japanese polite way of politicking, a physical challenged was call for the right of way. Yodo and Tomomi were there.
  6. Yamanouchi Yodo, never opposed the Tokugawa, but he usurped political power in Tosa Province, formerly located in Shikoku.
  7. The Meiji Restoration 1866–1869 was not a product of class struggle, although its social consequences were revolutionary; it was a coup d’etat, a type of an equal powered and opposing group of people or forces taking controls of the government, without much or any bloodshed as major revolutions realize.
  8. 1868 Yonaoshi Uprisings in Aizu; largest grievance, frustration; second but not lesser entailed inflation, shortages of food, and disruption of trade. Some grievances consisted of frustration of the wealthy peasantry and headman’s offices. How do we know it was frustration? The uprisings were widely dispersed geographically and separated by long intervals. This also suggested that there was little or no prior consultation between the leaders of local actions. Rather, in each department the peasants decided when to act and what action to take. Why no quick response by Meiji police force? Meiji officials and troops stationed in Aizu did not immediately intervene to suppress the movement. Some of the uprisings took place far from government troops. (Valastos. ‘Peasant Revolts’)
  9. General pandemic revolts consisted of a need for physical survival and for social reform.
  10. “In Japan in the 1860s the intensity of conflict among peasants had particular implications for political change. The Meiji Restoration differed from the great revolutions of the modern era—France, Russia, China—in that the destruction of feudalism and subsequent modernization was not accompanied by social revolution, but by a shift of power within elite political classes. Peasant revolts in France, Russia, and China, according to Theda Skocpol, "destroyed the old agrarian class relations and undermined the political and military supports for liberalism and counterrevolution. They opened the way for marginal political elites, perhaps supported by urban popular movements, to consolidate the Revolutions on the basis of centralized and mass-incorporating state organizations."[22] But peasant uprisings in Japan did not have the power to destroy dominant class relations, for poor peasants attacked wealthy peasants whose power was entirely local. Though widespread and individually ferocious, the uprisings did not shake the social foundations of the ancient regime. The aim of small peasants was the preservation of their present status as small proprietors; if anything, they assumed the seigneurial class to be sympathetic to their needs. Thus, despite extensive destruction of property, the revolts by small peasant farmers did not create conditions which favored the emergence of socially and politically marginal groups who, if able to seize power, might have carried out a social revolution.” (Stephen Vlastos, "Peasant Protests and Uprisings in Tokugawa Japan" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 167.)

After the coup d’etat.

  1. Oligarchs to implement autocratic demographic changes.
  2. First agenda of the Oligarchs, how to sustain power?
  3. Consolidation of power perceive moves to unify and/or suppress opposing forces.  
  4. ee ja nai ka ("Ain't it great!") movements, mainly defined as carnival protests, but developed  as well into parades and celebrations, June 1867 to May 1868 ‘End of Edo and Beginning of Meiji’ demonstrations of massive exuberating. Ofudafuri, mysterious airborne paper messages, and ofuda, lucky charms inspired the cities, towns, and villages late in the year 1867.
  5. Period of ideology defined loosely and understood now as a period of  ‘experimentation,’ and not looking for perfection. But for answers and projects and systems that work to bring about Fukoku-kyōhei “Enrich the country and strengthen the military.” Ideology period will end in the 1930s, when the right-wing takes over Japanese governance.
  6. 1871, The Search for the right political, social and economical solutions to Japan. Originating from the Iwakura Mission to Europe, the phrase not only demonstrated national objectives, kaikoku, but also revealed awareness of the predatory nature of international politics at the time initiated in 1871 by the oligarchs of the Meiji era.
  1. 1873 Samurai taxed on a rolling basis
  1. 1783, Reform the military, a national wide conscription of males.
  1. Peasants receive the ability for the first time in centuries to carry firearms and other military weaponry.
  1. Some say this caused so riots.
  2. 1874 Samurai to decide on option to covert stipends to government bonds.
  3. Shogunate going bankrupt.
  4. 1876 Commutation.
  5. Samurai leave Edo, to return to their homes, the domains, to look for work and decide what the future shall entail.
  6. The Meiji Restoration 1866-1869
  7. A chain of events that led to enormous changes to Japan's political and social future.
  8. The restoration was a combined response to the opening of Japan by the arrival of the Black Ships of Commodore Matthew Perry and the bankruptcy of the bakufu.
  1. between Saigō Takamori, the leader of the Satsuma domain
  2. Kido Takayoshi, the leader of the Chōshū domain.
  1. January 1868, the Boshin War (War of the Year of the Dragon) started with the Battle of Toba Fushimi in which an army led by forces from Chōshū and Satsuma defeated the ex-shogun's army and forced the Emperor to strip Yoshinobu of all power. Some shogunate forces escaped to Hokkaidō, where they attempted to set up the breakaway Republic of Ezo, but this came to an early end in May 1869 with the siege of Hakodate, Hokkaidō. The defeat of the armies of the former shogun (led by Hijikata Toshizo) marked the end of the Meiji Restoration; all defiance to the emperor and his rule ended.

The Meiji Era:

  1. political power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogun to an oligarchy consisting of winner os the battles against the ex-shogunate consisting of  men from the Satsuma Province (Okubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori), and the Chōshū province (Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo, and Kido Koin.)
  1. The old system replicated where the emperor was alike a figure head only passing his opinion by way of political swaying of the powerful oligarchs.
  1. Oligarchs of the Meiji
  2. These were the leaders in the Meiji Restoration when the Japanese emperors retook power from the Tokugawa shoguns. Some of them went on to become Prime Minister of Japan.

Okubo Toshimichi() (1830-1878)

Kido Takayoshi (1833-1877)  (Chōshū domain)

Saigō Takamori (1827-1877)

Iwakura Tomomi(1825-1883)

Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) (Chōshū domain)

Kuroda Kiyotaka (1840-1900)

Matsukata Masayoshi (1835-1924)

Oyama Iwao (1842-1916)

Saigō Tsugumichi (1843-1902)

Yamagata Aritomo(1838-1922) (Chōshū domain)

Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915)

Saionji Kinmochi (1849-1940)

What did they do?

They introduced measures to consolidate their power against the remnants of the Edo period government, the shogunate, daimyo and the samurai class.

The Treaty of Amity and Commerce ( Nichibei Shūkō Tsūshō Jōyaku?) between the United States and Japan was concluded July 29, 1858. It followed the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, which granted coaling right for U.S. ships and allowed for a U.S. Consul in Shimoda. Although Commodore Matthew Perry secured fuel for U.S. ships and protection, he left the important matter of trading rights to Townsend Harris, another U.S. envoy who negotiated with the Tokugawa Shogunate; the treaty is therefore often referred to as the Harris Treaty. It took two years to break down Japanese resistance, but with the threat of looming British demands for similar privileges, the Tokugawa government eventually capitulated.

Divisions of former Domains in prominence

From Satsuma:

Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878)

Saigo Takamori (1828-1877)

Matsukata Masayoshi ((1837-1924)


From Choshu:


Kido Koin (1833-1877)

Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909)

Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915)

Yamagata Aritomo (1833-1871)


From Tosa:

Itagaki Taisuke (1837-1919)

Goto Shojiro (1837-1897)

Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867)


From Hizen:

Eto Shimpei (1834-1874)

Okuma Shigenobu (1838-1922)


Itagaki Taisuke and Goto Shojiro were the leading activists. Ueki Emori and Nakae Chomin were the people who provided the theoretical underpinnings for the movement. The latter two were both Tosa men who embraced the Natural Rights theory and positivism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and J.S. Mill. 1

One of the things the Popular Rights Movement began to do was criticize they government was constituted by calling it hanbatsu or government by "clique" (batsu) based on certain han (4): Sat-Cho-To-Hi.

As we know, the first generation of leaders, Okubo, Saigo, Kido were all dead by 1878. They were succeeded by the likes of Ito Hirobumi, Yamagata Aritomo and Matsukata Masayoshi. Yamagata gravitated to Army and police powers while Ito seemed to handle the civilian bureaucracy and politics. Itagaki and Goto from Tosa had left the government in 1873 over the Korean issue and started to form political organizations in Tosa which became the springboard for the whole PRM. Okuma Shigenobu from Hizen was a bit of an outsider, but he was a Councillor and actually served as Finance Minister. He was succeeded by Matsukata Masayoshi from Satsuma. The Popular Rights Movement, or Jiyuminken undo, therefore, helped create a context for and helped to precipitate the Political Crisis of 1881

In which the Jiyū to or Liberal Party, the Tosa-based party formed by Itagaki Taisuke was formed while Okuma, the Finance Minister who favored or more liberal form of parliamentary government, created the Kaishinto or Progressive party. The crisis occurred when Ito asked all the Councillors to submit their opinion on the idea of a constitution and representative government. Most did so and agreed that having a constitution and an assembly was a decent idea, but it should come about gradually because the people were not ready. Okuma rocked the boat by handing in his opinion last, calling fro an immediate constitution, legislative assembly, and a cabinet system based on the British model of a "responsible" cabinet, i.e., it would fall when given a vote of no-confidence by the legislature. This, by everyone else's standard, was radical. Okuma was fired and replaced by Matsukata.

Ito announced a constitution would be drafted and granted within the decade, which it was. But the system it created bore little resemblance to the British model, favoring instead the Prussian example which severely curtailed the power of the people and their representatives in favor of the executive and the monarch.

This crisis, then, ushered in an

Era of Conflict: Parties v. Oligarchy

1890s saw parties in the Diet challenging rule by Oligarchs, criticized "clique" or han'batsu government

1894-5 Sino Japanese War imposed unity on diet for sake of country-at-war

1895-1905 = Era of party-oligarch compromises; both sides make compromises

Ito forms own party, the Seiyukai 1900; party heads tend to alternate as PM

Hara Kei recruited to lead the Seiyukai party; Hara's "Positive Policy"2

1 Loftus, Ronald P., The Popular Rights Movement (Salem Oregon: Willamette University,1999) [ available online, 2006]

2 Ibid.


Hokkaido Incident

British invest the most money in building projects, about 14,000,000 yen to build up Hokkaido. The man in charge, Kuroda Kiyotake (1840-1906), from Satsuma, a buddy of the oligarchs, known for his drunken rages, had been accused of murdering his wife in a late 1870s drunken rage. He was then shipped to Hokkaido where he heads up the project and works out a deal to sell the buildings finished and the project to Osaka businessmen, in which the newspapers, many that sprout up at this time, alert the public, to which they do not approve the rip-off, price of 30,000,000 yen. This, in 1881, causes an outrage, a huge scandal erupts and people say we cannot let this go on anymore, we need representation.

About this time, Taisuke, is formulating the new liberal party jiyū to, the first national Political party. Okuma Shigenobu is still in government, and speaking on matters of the prefectures having a governor and an assembly, but now people want a national assembly, made up of people. If people run the prefectures, this is because they want to represent people’s interest. Now the popular rights movements come.

· People force government to move from oligarch to Constitutional national assembly.

Okuma actions.

Okuma goes to a private meeting with the emperor, and it upsets everyone in government. What is he doing? Other leaders (oligarchs) stunned. He calls for a constitution, and the next day the papers were all over discussing in print a construction of a constitution, which meant the people must step up and demand inclusion for their representative rights. Okuma was antagonistic toward the Samurai. He believed big business corporations and businessmen geared toward these careers should run Japan. This tells us he thinks the average Samurai doesn’t have appropriate business savvy. The Emperor issues a prescript, citing we must have a constitution. People will began to study around the world in search of combing the best of all governmental institutional thoughts and ideas to combine them into a Japanese constitution.

Ito Hirobumi to study western constitutions, to U.S. , to Europe, England, France. Meanwhile parties were fermenting opposition to government and saying they shouldn’t write the constitution, we need, the people, to have representation.

Two parties agree to popular sovereignty.


Two party:

  • Kaishinto, English liberalism, bi-cameral legislator

  • Jiyū to or Liberal Party, French model, pro-samurai, suggesting they become the leaders.

Samurai Problems

One half of the population of Samurai in 1862 just got up and left Edo and went to their homes in search of reform. Genealogy of political parties came from the antagonism of government restricting the roles of the samurai, so the political party system born of a self-help project.

Samurais after the restoration get pensions, not very much, and they dwindle over time, until a phase would occur, so what to do with all the Samurai. Some said, sent them to Korea, and lets colonize the peninsula. Other said, that would be too expensive. So what to do?

Tax Reform : Matsukata Masayoshi (1837-1924)

Matsukata 1880s role as finance leader sought draconian measure to help out the landless peasantry, control inflation, and establish a sound basis for Meiji economics. In his early years, he study western science, mathematics and surveying, played the part of liaison between Kyoto and the domain government in Kagoshima to Okubo Toshimichi and Saigō Takamori. He had many wives, and mistresses, in which the emperor once came over his estate and commented. Matsukata became Home Minister in 1880. In the following year, when Okuma Shigenobu ( see above)  was expelled in a political upheaval, he became Finance Minister.

Takashi Fujitani, “Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan” ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

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