Meiji Restoration

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Meiji Restoration

The Meiji Revolution in Japan toppled the Tokugawa shogunate, "restored" imperial rule, and transformed the country from a feudal into a modern state. The opening of Japan's ports to Western colonial fleets, lead by Matthew Calbraith Perry and others from 1853 onwards, exposed the weakness of the Tokugawa shoguns, and triggered nationalist conflicts, under the slogan sonno joi ("revere the emperor, expel the barbarians").

In 1867 pro-imperial (emperor) daimyo suggested that shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu should step down and acknowledge imperial authority. Tokugawa Yoshinobu agreed in principle in November 1867, but mistrustful radicals seized the imperial palace in Kyoto on January 3, 1868, and proclaimed a restoration under the young Emperor Meiji. Tokugawa Yoshinobu's forces were thrown back from Kyoto, and an "imperial army" secured peaceful surrender of the shogunal capital, Edo. Most daimyo stayed neutral, and the civil war ended in 1869. Tokugawa Yoshinobu retired and left government to the restoration leaders. Confiscated Tokugawa estates comprising some 25 per cent of Japan's arable land were put under the restoration leaders control. In 1869 the emperor moved to Edo, renamed Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"), the new imperial capital.

Mass education and military drafts were introduced. In addition, the emperor put curbs on Buddhism because the regime were believers in Shinto ideology. Western experts were imported to create new railways, armies, fleets, and industries, building on pre-Restoration efforts. Samurai discontented with the end of their privileges of wearing swords and the taxing of the commoners rebelled and was suppressed. The Bank of Japan was established, money policies were reformed, and civic unrest firmly suppressed. An authoritarian constitution, drafted by Ito Hirobumi and others, was created in 1889. Through the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, Meiji Japan grew to be on the same level with the Western powers.

Despite an astonishingly fast and successful modernization, the ambiguous government structure, military orientation, and nationalist ideology left by the Meiji Restoration led Japan to the disastrous imperialist adventures of the 1930s and 1940s.


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Meiji Restoration

What was the Meiji Restoration?



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