Meiji period

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As the Meiji period , Meiji era or Meiji period ( Japanese 明治 時代 Meiji jidai ) the period of the reign of the Tennōs Mutsuhito (Meiji-tennō) is defined in Japanese history . It covers the period from January 25, 1868 until the emperor's death on July 30, 1912. Mutsuhito chose the motto of his ruling as the title: Meiji ( 明治 , ligature : , German: "enlightened rule"). Beginning with the Meiji Restoration , the feudal state of Japan became a modern imperial great power . The development that Japan went through in the Meiji period is therefore fundamental to the country's significance in the world today.

Political and Military Development

The first major political event that occurred during the reign of Mutsuhito was the so-called Meiji Restoration . The power of the Tennō was restored by the rebellion of the daimyō of the Han (fiefs) Satsuma , Tosa and Chōshū and the last Tokugawa - Shōgun was finally ousted in the course of the subsequent Boshin War . When the new power of the Tennō office was assured, Mutsuhito began with further reforms, which he had announced in his five articles and which were based in large part on ideas that had been developed , among others, by the scholar Yoshida Shōin . Initially, the previously pursued xenophobic course under the motto Sonnō jōi was tacitly abandoned and this was replaced by the slogan "rich country, strong army" ( 富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei ). Japan's path to becoming a major military power was thus laid down in the early stages of the Meiji period.

In order to secure the newly established imperial rule permanently, all feudal elements of the state administration were abolished ( abolition of the Han ). The daimyo had to return their Han to the Tenno and received generous financial compensation for it. The land has now been divided into prefectures. The Tennō moved his residence from Kyoto to Edo , which was renamed Tokyo in July 1868 . The traditional Japanese class order was abolished and replaced by a new, very European one. However, the nobility was not abolished, but was given titles that were based on the European ones. From the samurai of the former fiefs Satsuma and Chōshū, who were the main forces behind the Meiji Restoration, the so-called Meiji oligarchy emerged, which had a decisive influence on the political path of Japan during the period up to 1912.

Diplomatic missions

In order to give Japan the opportunity to quickly establish political and economic ties with European countries, targeted diplomatic missions began to be sent. The most important of these diplomatic journeys is the mission named after its director Iwakura Tomomi , which lasted from 1871 to 1873 and led to the establishment of extensive economic contacts with European countries and the USA . The newly unified Japanese Empire after the Boshin War had its first appearance at a world exhibition in Vienna in 1873 . The first banknotes of the newly introduced currency yen were printed in Frankfurt am Main . In addition to these official missions, a large number of Japanese students were sent to European universities to acquire sound technical knowledge. Finally, by 1899, over 3000 European experts ( o-yatoi gaikokujin ) had been brought into the country to pass on their technical and military knowledge.

Compulsory schooling

Another very important innovation was the introduction of compulsory schooling, which was enforced by 1910 despite strong resistance from the poor rural population, who were often unable to raise school fees. Compulsory schooling was also the main means of assimilating the populations of newly colonized areas in Taiwan , the Ryūkyū Islands and Hokkaidō, the Ainu population.

Reform of the military system and beginning expansion of Japan

Japanese officers shortly before the start of the Meiji period around 1866

The reform of the military system , which was tackled after Tennō Mutsuhito came to power, was an essential step in the implementation of the slogan Fukoku kyōhei ( 富国強兵 'rich country, strong army' ). The clashes of the Satsuma-Han with the Europeans from 1863 to 1865 had shown that the Japanese military in its traditional form was clearly inferior. Here, too, an incredibly rapid advance was achieved by copying and adapting to Western achievements. In order to modernize the Japanese armed forces, the former samurai and commander in chief of the new Japanese army Yamagata Aritomo traveled to Europe in 1869 and studied the western military there. Upon his return, he immediately began reforming the Japanese military. This finally culminated in the introduction of general conscription at the beginning of 1873. There was considerable resistance to this reform. On the one hand, the samurai in particular were against this innovation, as it made their social class functionless. On the other hand, the peasants were also against conscription, as bad rumors about the fate of the draftees made the rounds. The samurai, unwilling to accept this change, gathered around Saigō Takamori and rebelled. Known as the Satsuma Rebellion , this uprising was put down by the imperial forces led by Ōkubo Toshimichi and Yamagata Aritomo. The defeat of the samurai sealed the final disappearance of this warrior class from Japanese society.

The military strength gained through the reforms was quickly used to expand the Japanese spheres of influence in East Asia. Japanese troops landed on the Chinese island of Taiwan (Formosa) as early as May 25, 1874 . In February 1876, with the Japan-Korean Friendship Treaty, Japan forced Korea to open the ports of Incheon , Wŏnsan and Busan . Japan's military rise eventually culminated in victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1905), which resulted in Japan annexing Taiwan, the Ryūkyū Islands , southern Sakhalin, and Korea to its territory could. Towards the end of the Meiji period, Japan had become an imperialist great power, competing with America and the European colonial powers for sales markets and spheres of influence. The " unequal treaties " imposed on Japan in 1855 or the extraterritoriality of the treaty ports could be repealed in 1894/1911.

The democracy movement of Japan

Japan went from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy during the 1870s and 1880s , the constitution of which was passed on February 11, 1889 and which was in effect until 1946.

Formation of Japanese people's parties

From 1874, the conflict over participation of the Japanese people in the government of the country between the " movement for freedom and civil rights " ( 自由民 権 運動 jiyū minken undō ) and the supporters of an authoritarian state based on the Prussian model, mainly in the Meiji oligarchy find goods. The first of these political currents was led by Itagaki Taisuke from Tosa, who had resigned from his post on the government council in 1873 because of the Korea affair . In contrast to Saigō Takamori, however, he preferred peaceful means to assert his interests. Itagaki and others wrote the Tosa Manifesto in 1874, which criticized the unrestricted rule of the Meiji oligarchy. After he had organized his followers in the nationwide movement Aikokusha ( 愛国 社 'Society of Patriots' ) in 1875 , he founded the Japanese party Jiyūtō ( 自由 党 'Liberal Party' ) in 1881 , which campaigned for a form of government based on the French model. This was followed by the emergence of the Rikken Kaishintō party ( 立憲 改進 党 'Constitutional Progressive Party' ), whose most important politician was Ōkuma Shigenobu and who called for a constitutional monarchy modeled on Great Britain.

Conservative reaction and adoption of the constitution

The conservative Meiji oligarchs, whose most important representatives were Itō Hirobumi, who came from Chōshū, as well as Yamagata Aritomo and Iwakura Tomomi, reacted after initially completely rejecting the democratic movement by founding the Rikken Teiseito (Party of Imperial Rule) in 1882; However, Yamagata Aritomo was not a party member throughout his life. The Meiji oligarchy was supported by the Tennō Mutsuhito. Although the pressure from the population and the resulting democratic parties had forced the Tennō to have a constitution drawn up, the conservative Meiji oligarchs largely determined its design. This was also promoted by the increasing division of the Japanese democracy movement. A constitution was created that was based very much on the model of the Prussian authoritarian state and ensured the Tennō a great deal of power. Concessions to the Democrats were the creation of the Japanese parliament ( Reichstag ), which, like the British parliament, was composed of the upper house and lower house. However, since the House of Lords was mainly composed of the nobles of the Meiji oligarchy and the Tennō was able to veto any resolution of parliament, the influence of the Democrats on the government was still small. The Meiji oligarchs were also able to consolidate their status through the title genrō . Nevertheless, the democratic movement is a milestone in the history of Japan as the middle class first cared about the development of the country.

Further political development until the end of the Meiji period

In the years following the adoption of the constitution, the Meiji oligarchy continued to exercise power in Japan. This can already be seen if one looks at the persons who held the office of Japanese Prime Minister up to the end of the Meiji period: Itō Hirobumi himself had four terms in office. Nonetheless, during this period, political problems were resolved by finding compromises, and democratic movements grew in strength. The Meiji oligarchs also increasingly began to see political parties as a means of asserting their interests.

Industrial revolution in Japan

The Industrial Revolution swept through Japan during the Meiji period. Under the motto “ A rich country through a strong army ” ( 富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei ) and “Promotion of new industries” ( 殖 産 興業 shokusan kōgyō ) by the Meiji government, the economy was organized in the European style.

Conversion to the Gregorian calendar

In Japanese historiography, it is customary to give the times relative to the years of rule of the Tennō, who was ruling at that time. The following table is an aid to converting Meiji years to the usual Gregorian calendar years .

The Chinese lunisolar calendar , which has a different day and month count than the Gregorian calendar, was used until 1872 . The following table therefore shows the western date for the beginning of every Japanese lunar month ( ) for the period 1868 to 1872. 閏 x 月 denotes leap months. Lunar months with less than 30 days are shown in brown.

Meiji 1 1 2 3 4 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Greg. Cal. 1868 /1/25 2/23 3/24 4/23 5/22 6/20 7/20 8/18 9/16 10/16 11/14 12/14 1869/1/13
Meiji 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Greg. Cal. 1869 /2/11 3/13 4/12 5/12 6/10 7/9 8/8 9/6 10/5 11/4 12/3 1870/1/2
Meiji 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 10 11 12
Greg. Cal. 1870 /2/1 3/2 4/1 5/1 5/30 6/29 7/28 8/27 9/25 10/25 11/23 12/22 1871/1/21
Meiji 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Greg. Cal. 1871 /2/19 3/21 4/20 5/19 6/18 7/18 8/16 9/15 10/14 11/13 12/12 1872/1/10
Meiji 5 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Greg. Cal. 1872 /2/9 3/9 4/8 5/7 6/6 7/6 8/4 9/3 10/3 11/1 12/1 12/30

From Meiji 6 (1873), the counting of days and months is identical to the Gregorian calendar.

Meiji year 6th 10 15th 20th 25th 30th 35 40 41 42 43 44 45
Gregorian calendar 1873 1877 1882 1887 1892 1897 1902 1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912

Meiji 45 ended on July 30, 1912.


  • Otto Ladstätter, Sepp Linhart : China and Japan. The cultures of East Asia. Gondrom, Bindlach 1990, ISBN 3-8112-0731-8 .
  • Christiane Séguy: Histoire de la presse japonaise. The développement de la presse à l'époque Meiji et son rôle dans la modernization du Japon. Publ. Orientalistes en France, Cergy 1993, ISBN 2-7169-0297-6 .
  • Marius B. Jansen, John Whitney Hall, Madoka Kanai, Denis Twitchett (Eds.): The Cambridge History of Japan. Volume 5. The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, Oxford 1989, ISBN 0-521-22356-3 .

Web links

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