The Meiji Restoration



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The Meiji Restoration

Since 1603 the Shogun had ruled Japan. This was known as the Tokugawa Shogunate, named after it’s founder Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Shogun, Daimyo and Samurai had the most power, the nobles and emperor had little real power. Throughout the Shogun period in Japan, they practiced isolationism, this means that they did not deal with other nations, and kept to themselves.

In 1853, steam warships arrived in Edo (Tokyo). They were part of the American Navy led by Commodore Matthew Perry. The people of Japan had never seen such ships - - they had not taken part at all in the Industrial Revolution because of their isolationist ways. Perry demanded that Japan trade with the United States. He offered the Japanese and unfair trade deal, and the Japanese at first said that they would not accept. Perry warned the Japanese that there were many more ships like the ones he had brought, and it would be unwise to resist the United States. The Japanese agreed and soon other nations were forcing Japan to trade in unfair contracts as well.

In 1868, the young Meiji Emperor moved to Tokyo and ended the now weak Shogunate. He was restored to power. His new message to the people of Japan was this: The only way to get rid of these unfair foreigners is to modernize economically and militarily.

He rapidly made changes to Japan. He ended the old social structures. The group that was hurt the worst were the Samurai, they now had no power and the emperor considered them useless. Also, all daimyo and nobles lost their land and it was given to the people.

The government was made into a constitutional democracy like England. The education system was modeled after the Germans. The Navy was modeled after the United States.

By the 1890’s, just twenty years after he began, the emperor had completely modernized. Not only had they become the most powerful country in Asia, but in the world. Between 1890 and 1912 they defeated the Chinese, Russians and Koreans and took their land and resources.

The Japanese were now the ones making unfair deals with the Europeans because of how powerful their navy was in the Pacific. They were a true world power.

Never before or since has a nation modernized so quickly as the Japanese throughout the Meiji Restoration. In just 20 years they went from a weak poor nation to a world power.

1.) What was the main cause of the Meiji Restoration?


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  1. Name what you think is the most important change the emperor made in modernizing Japan. Explain why?

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3.) What do you know about Japan’s culture that would have allowed them to do this so quickly? Explain.



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