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Discussion: The Meiji Restoration 

Discussion: The Meiji Restoration

Discussion: The Meiji Restoration

NOW FOR AN ORIGINAL PAPER ASSIGNMENT:Discussion: The Meiji Restoration 

Historical Background

Japan’s feudal era lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. At that time, under the guise of recapturing ancient glories, Japan crowned a new emperor, of the Meiji dynasty, and embarked on the path to modernization. Meiji Japan remained oligarchic, paying lip service to democracy. A group of elder statesmen, or genro, dominated the government, and the emperor, worshiped as a flesh-and-blood deity, personified national unity. He probably also played an important role in decision making on crucial issues.*

Domestically, Japan made great progress during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A modernizing elite promoted, protected, and subsidized a Western-style economic development program. Despite periodic opposition from rural landowners, the government force-fed the economy with infusions of capital designed to promote heavy industry. Only basic or strategic industries were state owned. Within a few decades, the leaders of the Meiji Restoration, according to one authority, “abolished feudal institutions, legalized private property in land, started a Western-style legal system, established compulsory education, organized modern departments of central and local government, and removed the legal barriers between social classes.”*

After World War I, Japan entered a new phase of political development. Nationalism, taught in the schools, became a kind of religion. Governments blossomed and withered in a rapid and bewildering succession. All attempts at instituting democratic reforms were submerged in the tidal wave of militarism that swept over Japan in the 1930s. Alleging that ineffectual politicians infatuated with democracy had kept Japan down, ultranationalists looked to a strong military for leadership. Japan had never truly embraced Western concepts of constitutionalism and liberal democracy. Sovereignty, according to popular belief, issued from the emperor-deity, not from the people. Thus, prior to 1945, Japan had dallied with democracy in form but not in substance.

The 1947 Constitution

The 1947 Japanese constitution, imposed by the victors after World War II, sought to remake Japan’s political system. Henceforth, sovereignty would reside in the Japanese people, not in the emperor. U.S. influence on the new Japanese constitution is readily apparent in its preamble: