The Political Reform of Japan

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Introduction

A historic process in the political structure of Japan was the Japanese political reform of 1868. The revolution initiated many political reforms that changed the fiscal, political, and social facets of Japan. The Meiji Restoration, a political rebellion that led to the downfall of the Tokugawa, a military regime that had dominated the nation for decades, brought in Japan's reforms. Today, the nation is celebrating the independence that stemmed from the changes above. In 1868, the reconstruction process involved a coup d'état, especially in the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto. The protesters declared the dismissal of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who was not, by end of 1867, was not close to power and declared the young emperor to rule Japan. The Japanese reforms were marred with violence and the quest to achieve new political system. The influential people in the restoration process were mostly young radicals of Samurai origin from feudal domains, a group that had been historically aggressive to the Tokugawa authority, mostly Choshu, in the far west of Satsuma and Honshu in the southern part of the Kyushu. The rebels were motivated by the domestic problems and the threat of foreign encroachment. The influence of Western powers began in the mid-1850s after close to two centuries of near isolation, and also by the fear that Japan could be directed towards the same imperialist's pressures that occurred in the neighboring country of China (Allinson and Anievas 472). Through adopting the policy of "Strengthen the army, Enrich the country," the Japanese nationals sought to establish a state that is capable of withstanding the powers from Western powers. Due to the revolutions and rebellions that characterized the reforms, the political changes were therefore repressive and reactionary.

In the traditional era of Japan, there was lack of political organization. The political groups were led by the tyrants who had great authority over many people; it is such powers that delayed the political reforms for close to 700 years. It is the rise of industrialization that put pressure on the reformists to change the political culture in the country. The Japan’s political reforms were indeed repressive and reactionary; many antagonisms were faced by the government from the rebels, each group wanting to maintain the status quo that had long been established by Tokugawa shogunate government. The state of Japan, towards the mid 19th century, was extremely feudalistic with the Confucian hierarchical social organization. The merchants were the main forces controlling the economic, social, and political structure. In the years 1639 to 1858, Japan was in isolation from the other parts of the world. The international trade was prohibited from other parts of the global market except from the two Dutch companies. In the year 1858, the Commodore Perry enforced the Shogun government to adopt the trade activities, the Commodore Perry's main idea was to force the government to stop preventing trading activities from the rest of the world. The Shogun lost their relevancy as a result of the inability to enforce the government to establish the new trade policies. Some of the Japan’s nationalists felt that the Shogun had betrayed the nation by allowing the rest of the world to trade in Japan, there are even some rebel groups that started to carry out assassinations to the foreigners, the foreign powers responded by carrying out attacks on different Japanese strongholds of Shi-Shi. In the end, the nationalists came to an agreement that the Shogun had to be eradicated for they committed treason. The deposition involved strengthening the Emperor to become the head of state, the rebellious leaders restored Emperor Meiji in order to replace the prominence, but at the same time, the newly established leadership ruled as Emperors. The Meiji leaders engaged in economic development in order to strengthen the economy of Japan; but due to different circumstances, they had very few policy choices. The first crisis to be solved was establishing the budget of the national government. In the year 1871, the national government assumed the debts of the state. Additionally, the national government assumed the responsibility for the funds paid to the Samurai. The Samurai tyrants later became landless and they also lost poor due to the land reforms and the confiscation of their source of their livelihood by the newly established Emperor (McLaren 97).

Even though the revolution was referred to as the restoration of the Emperor, it was basically the overthrow of the Samurai rule that was in power for seven hundred years. The overthrowing of the old rule came as a result of the pressure to deliberate people from the traditional system of governments that were mainly controlled by the tyrants. The Samurai accepted the reforms in return for the stipend. The average magnitude of the Samurai stipend was big and required almost one-third of the national government revenue. Under the above burden, the national government replaced fixed interest bonds with stipends. Later on, there was the excessive conception of money, prices were inflated and in the end, there was a decline in the value of the Samurai's bonds. The inflation brought a lot of benefits to farmers whose land taxes were fixed at monetary levels. The land owners gained a lot of profits at the expense of Samurai as well as the city dwellers. The rebellions created by the Samurai in Satsuma facilitated the conception of money to finance the repression of the rebellious activities, which in the end, led to the decline in the real income among the Samurai and inflation.

Many factors herald the establishment of the modern Japan and although these factors faced strong resistant from different political groups, the newly established government introduced strong policies that would ensure rapid political changes for the benefit of the country. The patriotic Samurai, a reform oriented political group collaborated with the anti-shogunate nobles in transforming the nation after seven hundred years. The impulsion for the coup was feared by many Japanese nationals because they believed that the traditional feudal leaders were well equipped to subvert the threats of foreign dominance. Immediately after seizing power, the newly established Emperor Meiji together with the ministers relocated the royal court to Tokyo from Kyoto, destroyed feudalism, and ratified widespread reforms through imitating Western models. The new Japanese government engaged the country into a rapid militarization and industrialization, thereby building Japan into one of the major world power by the beginning of 20th century (Jennings 47). During the political reforms, there was resistance from the traditional powers that believed in status quo. The newly established government established strong army and policies to help in countering the traditional powers from interfering with the imminent changes that the country was yet to experience.

The Japanese political reforms of 1868 were characterized by the opposition from different groups of people. The early reforms of the new government of Japan were stipulated in the Charter Oath, formulated in April 1868. Most of the reforms were carried out when the country was still unsettled, for instance, the relocation of the imperial capital from Kyoto to Shogunal was done without the consultations and negotiation from different officials. The government was operating authoritatively to ensure that they achieve the reform agenda in the fastest time possible. Although there were still undying minds that resisted the move by the government to relocate the capital, the government was reluctant to engage them in the relocation agenda. The new government was operating strictly under their own policies without considering the consequences of their actions. The revolution is often characterized by the authoritative rule to ensure faster transformation processes. The authoritative dismantling of the feudal regime was a repressive and a reactionary process that ended the rebellions between different communities. In the year 1871, the domains was eliminated and replaced y the prefecture systems are still present today. The forceful dismantling of the traditional army was perceived as an authoritative approach established by the new government; and although it was opposed by many traditional feudal, a new national army was formed which was later strengthened through the formulation of the universal conscription laws. The economic changes were opposed too, by the traditional merchants who extremely benefited from the traditional businesses like agricultural productions and tax collection. The new government despotically introduced policies to amalgamate tax and monetary systems; the agricultural tax reform was established in 1873 which acted as the primary source of revenue. Another reform was the introduction of the universal education which concentrated on the Western system of education. Again, many people opposed the idea since the country was completely in bad terms with the west.

The revolutionary transformation brought about by the restoration leaders, who operated in the name of emperors, experienced the increasing opposition from different groups from the 1870s. Dissatisfied samurai took part in many rebellions against the government in order to preserve the status quo that had long existed in most part of the ancient Japan. The most famous rebellions were organized by the former transformation hero, Saigo Takamori from Satsuma. The above insurgencies were repressed by the newly established army. The New government was determined to set new order in the economic, social and political system of Japan. The army operated under the strict conditions set by the government. Additionally, peasants who were dissatisfied with the new government policies including the agrarian policies took part in several rebellions that reached the peak by the beginning of the 1880s. Before the formulation of the constitutional government, the government was operating with no laws, a situation that greatly affected many people. The authoritative government implemented different policies that were not favorable to many individuals. Responding to the pressures from the rebellious groups, the government, in 1881, promised to avail the new constitution by the beginning of 1890. In the year 1885, there was a formation of the cabinet system as one arm of the government and in 1886; the formulation of the Constitution began, and finally, in 1889, the Meiji Constitution was revealed from the Emperor to the people of Japan. There was the establishment of bicameral parliament known as the Diet. The leaders were to elected through the limited voting franchise. The first Diet took effect in the year 1890.

The Meiji period was characterized by the social and economic transformation which brought a lot of benefits to the entire population. At the initial stages of the economic development, the economy highly depended on agriculture despite the rise of industrialization. Industrialization acted as the primary option for the new government, a scenario that directed the development of various industries from transportation, communication, and various strategic developments. In 1872, the first railroad was constructed and towards the end of 1890, the country had close to 2000 kilometers of the railway line (Robertson 189). In 1880, the telegraph lines were constructed to link major cities in Japan. Even with these great economic developments, there were still some groups of people who ready to carry on with economic sabotage in order to protect their traditional economic interest. The private sectors, including all private firms, were supported by the government financially through the European styles of banking in 1882. The efforts of industrial modernization needed Western technology and science, and under the idea of “Civilization and Enlightenment”, the adoption of Western culture from the initial intellectual processes took effect, the new cultures included the style of dressings and architectural science, which spread widely to different parts of the country.

The revolutionary changes in a country mean sacrifices among the people; it also requires the adoption of new styles of life which many people do not resonate with. In Japan many traditional merchants were resistant to the adoption of Western culture; on the other hand, the new government felt that it was necessary to embrace westernization in order to achieve the industrialization which was to push the country to the international platforms in terms of business, education, socialization, and political system. As a result of strict government policies, wholesale westernization was achieved in the year 1880s and consequently, the renewed admiration of traditional Japanese values materialized. The development of the modern education system was influenced by practice and Western theory; it stressed the traditional values of samurai culture and social harmony. The above principles were codified in the year 1890 after the enactment of the education system. The influence of the Western education system was first observed in literature and art in a different learning institution. Consequently, a more selective amalgamation of Japanese and Western culture was established. At the beginning of 20th century, the Japan’s reforms through Meiji Restoration had been largely achieved. By the 20th century, Japan was on the way to becoming an industrialized state (Drea 35). In 1894 different treaties that gave the foreign powers privileges over the economic issues were revised; in 1902, there was formation of Anglo-Japanese Alliance which led Japan to victory in two wars, the Chinese and Russian war, a situation that enabled Japan to earn the respect of the world, thereby appearing for the first time among the world powers.

Historians Interpretation of the Japan’s Reforms

Interpretation by Andrew Gordon

According to Andrew Gordon, the Japan’s reforms brought many changes in the Japanese society, and therefore, it can be perceived as a revolution (Gordon 20). The above historian stipulates that the transformation in Japan was seemed to be profound; there was no part of the nation that was left behind amidst the resistances that were experienced from different rebellious groups. In most cases, the revolution usually influences all the sectors of the country from politics, the economy as well as the social organization, a scenario that was greatly portrayed by the Meiji Restoration that characterized the Japan's reforms. The Meiji Restoration, therefore, introduced the modern system of social organization and the adoption of the Western education system. According to Andrew Gordon, the revolution usually involves the military reformation, a scenario that was evident in the Meiji Restoration in Japan (Jansen and Rozman 124). In the year 1873, the newly established Japanese government instituted the national conscription, declaring that every male citizen would serve in the army for a period of four years upon turning 21 years old, and then three more years in the military reserves. The government also introduced the policy of gun ownership where the male citizens trained as military personnel were allowed to possess firearms in order to defend the country from the rebellious groups who were against the economic reforms. The above privileges were extended to every male in the country. Additionally, the Samurai rebels were not allowed to on any form of weapon for they were threats to the changes brought about by the newly established government. The disarmament of the Samurai rebels led to the series of riots that affected the growing social order. One of the rebellions was led by the Saigō Takamori rebel group that eventually led to the revolutionary civil war. The above rebellion was slowly put down by the newly established Imperial Japanese Army that had modern training from the Western forces and weapons. The Tokyo police also took part in the eradication of this war. The eradication of war sent a strong message to the Samurai rebels that their time was indeed over and they had to accept the new reforms in order to ensure equal development in the entire country. Later, there were fewer uprising established by the traditional Samurai leaders and in the end, they had no option but to join the newly established society. The ideals of the Samurai Military remain till the beginning of the 20th century and it was usually applied as propaganda in the subsequent state wars. The revolutionary changes according to Andrew Gordon are a rebellious process where people have to endure the pains and bloodshed. In most cases, it involves the loss of life and destruction of social order which leads to the establishment of the new economic, political and social systems.

Interpretation by W.G. Beasley

The historian W.G. Beasley argues that the Japans reforms was not a revolution but a restoration that only influenced few sectors of the economy, he argues that the transformation could not be compared to the revolutions that took place in France and Russia i.e. the French revolution and the Russian revolution. He argues that the revolution did not constitute the classical forms. Before the Japanese reforms, the country isolated themselves from the world's religious and economic influence, the system corrupted the traditional economic sectors and the social system; this, therefore, meant that the reforms could not be achieved uniformly due to different uprisings from several parts of the country. According to W. G. Beasley, revolution is a uniform process that requires conviction from the entire population. Before the introduction of reforms, the previous government had ruled for over seven hundred years, this, therefore, meant that the population was satisfied with the government policies (Beasley 6).

Further historian interpretations stipulate that the Japanese reforms were actually a revolutionary process that brought changes in economic growth. The Japanese historians, on the other hand, relate the transformation process in the Japan to the French revolution because it brought similar changes experienced in France, i.e., economic, social, and political changes. The state of Japan, towards the mid-19th century, was extremely feudalistic with the Confucian hierarchical social organization. The merchants were the main forces controlling the economic, social, and political structure. In the years 1639 to 1858, Japan was in isolation from the other parts of the world.

Interpretation by Edward J. Drea                                                                    

With description of the Japanese troops development, Drea, in his book “Japan’s Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945” (2016) analyzes the rise and fall of several political powers following the traditional or ancient regimes that characterized Japan. The book elaborates various aspects of resistance that characterized the struggle to achieve the social, economic and political civilization.

Conclusion

The Japanese reform was repressive and reactionary due to the number of uprisings experienced from different rebellious groups that were put up to maintain the status quo. The traditional merchants were also reluctant to embrace change because they feared to lose their traditional venture. The authoritative dismantling of the feudal regime was a repressive and a reactionary process that ended the rebellions between different communities. The new regime wanted to ensure a stable country where economic growth can take effect immediately. The Japan’s political reforms were indeed repressive and reactionary; many antagonisms were faced by the government from the rebels, each group wanting to maintain the status quo that had long been established by Tokugawa shogunate government. The Japan’s restoration created many changes from the economic, social, and political sector; therefore, it was revolution similar to the ones that took place in Russia and Japan. The transformation in Japan was seemed to be profound; there was no part of the nation that was left behind amidst the resistances that were experienced from different rebellious groups. In many countries, the revolution often sway all the sectors of the state from politics, the economy as well as the social organization, a scenario that was greatly portrayed by the Meiji Restoration that characterized the Japan’s reforms. The Meiji Restoration, therefore, introduced the modern system of social organization and the adoption of the Western education system. The patriotic Samurai, a reform oriented political group collaborated with the anti-shogunate nobles in transforming the nation after seven hundred years. Despite the great changes to the Japan’s social structure, the attempt to establish a strong united nation defined the national identity, the newly elected government created a dominant national dialect known as “the standard language”, the policy that replaced regional and local dialects based on the samurai classes of Tokyo. The dialect in the end became the social norm in the field of media, education, business and government. The resultant modernization of the present Japan as well as the Meiji Restoration also affected the Japanese national identity in relation to its neighbors as Japan was the only Asian country to become modernized following the European model.

Works Cited

Allinson, Jamie C., and Alexander Anievas. “The uneven and combined development of the Meiji Restoration: A passive revolutionary road to capitalist modernity.” Capital & Class, vol. 34, no. 3, 2010, pp. 469-490.

Beasley, William G. Japanese Imperialism, 1894-1945. Clarendon Press, 1991, https://www.questia.com/read/97615657/japanese-imperialism-1894-1945. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.

Drea, Edward J. Japan's Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945. University Press of Kansas, 2016.

Gordon, Andrew. “Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905.” The Asia-Pacific Journal, vol. 12, issue 29, no. 3, 2014, http://apjjf.org/2014/12/29/Andrew-Gordon/4150/article.html. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.

Jansen, Marius B., and Gilbert Rozman (Eds.). Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji. Princeton University Press, 2014, https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/1269340. Accessed 12 Sep. 2017.

Jennings, John M. The Opium Empire: Japanese Imperialism and Drug Trafficking in Asia, 1895-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.

McLaren, Walter Wallace. Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era, 1867-1912. Routledge, 2013.

Robertson, Roland. “Japan and the USA: the interpenetration of national identities and the debate about orientalism.” In Nicolas Abercrombie, Stephen Hill, and Bryan S. Turner (eds.) Dominant Ideologies, Unwin Hyman, 1990, pp. 189-193.

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