Meiji period

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In Japanese history , the reign of Tennō Mutsuhito (Meiji-tennō) is defined as the Meiji period , Meiji era or Meiji period (明治 時代 Meiji jidai ) . It lasted from January 25, 1868 until the Emperor's death on July 30, 1912. Mutsuhito chose Meiji (明治, ligature : , English: "enlightened rule") as the governing motto. Beginning with the Meiji Restoration , the feudal state of Japan became a modern imperial superpower . The development that Japan underwent in the Meiji period is therefore fundamental to the country's importance in the world today.

Political and military development

The first major political event to fall under Mutsuhito's reign is the Meiji Restoration . The power of the tennō was restored by the rebellion of the daimyō of the han (fiefdoms) Satsuma , Tosa and Chōshū , and the last Tokugawa shogun was finally deposed in the course of the subsequent Boshin War . Once the new powers of the tennō office were secured, Mutsuhito began further reforms, which he had announced in his five articles and which were based in large part on ideas developed by the scholar Yoshida Shōin , among others . First, the previously pursued xenophobic course was tacitly abandoned under the motto Sonnō jōi and replaced by the slogan "rich country, strong army" (富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei ). This marked Japan's path to becoming a major military power in the early stages of the Meiji period.

In order to secure the newly created imperial rule permanently, all feudalistic elements of the provincial administration were abolished ( abolition of the Han ). The daimyo were forced to return their han to the tennō and received generous financial compensation for doing so. The country was now divided into prefectures. The tennō moved his residence from Kyoto to Edo , which was renamed Tokyo as early as July 1868 . The traditional Japanese estate system was abolished and replaced by a new, very European one. However, the nobility was not abolished, but received titles that were based on European ones. From the samurai of the former Satsuma and Chōshū fiefs, who were the mainstays of the Meiji Restoration, the so-called Meiji oligarchy emerged, which had a decisive influence on Japan's political path up to 1912.

Diplomatic missions

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

compulsory education

Another very important innovation was the introduction of compulsory schooling, which prevailed until 1910 despite strong resistance from the poorer rural population, who were often unable to pay the school fees. Compulsory education was also the primary means of assimilating the populations of newly colonized areas in Taiwan , the Ryūkyū Islands , and Hokkaidō to the Ainu population.

Reform of the military system and beginning expansion of Japan

Japanese officers just before the beginning 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 confrontations between the Satsuma-Han and the Europeans in 1863-1865 had shown that the Japanese military in its traditional form was clearly inferior. Again, incredibly fast progress was made by copying and adapting to Western achievements. In order to modernize the Japanese armed forces, the former samurai and supreme commander of the new Japanese army , Yamagata Aritomo , traveled to Europe in 1869 and studied western military science 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, since it made their social status meaningless. On the other hand, the peasants were also against conscription, as bad rumors about the fate of the conscripts made the rounds. The samurai, unwilling to accept this change, rallied around Saigō Takamori and rebelled. Known as the Satsuma Rebellion , this rebellion was crushed 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 Japan's spheres of influence in East Asia. As early as May 25, 1874, Japanese troops landed on the Chinese island of Taiwan (Formosa). In February 1876, Japan forced Korea to open the ports of Incheon , Wonsan , and Busan with the Japan-Korean Treaty of Friendship . The military rise of Japan eventually culminated in victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1895) and Russo-Japanese War (1905), which led to Japan annexing the island of Taiwan, the Ryukyu Islands , southern Sakhalin , and Korea could. Towards the end of the Meiji period, Japan had become an imperialist superpower that competed with America and the European colonial powers for sales markets and spheres of influence. The " Unequal Treaties " imposed on Japan in 1855 and the extraterritoriality of the treaty ports were lifted in 1894/1911.

The Democracy Movement in Japan

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

Emergence of Japanese people's parties

From 1874, the conflict over the participation of the Japanese people in the government of the country was fought 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, which mainly belonged to the Meiji oligarchy find goods. The first of these political currents was led by Tosa native Itagaki Taisuke , who had resigned from his post on the Governing Council in 1873 because of the Korea affair . Unlike Saigō Takamori, however, he preferred peaceful means to assert his interests. Itagaki co-authored the Tosa Manifesto in 1874, which criticized the unrestricted rule of the Meiji oligarchy. After organizing 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 advocated 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 which called for a constitutional monarchy modeled on Great Britain.

Conservative reaction and passage of the constitution

The conservative Meiji oligarchs, whose most important representatives were Itō Hirobumi from Chōshū, Yamagata Aritomo and Iwakura Tomomi, reacted after initially rejecting the democratic movement completely 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 it was the pressure of the population and the resulting democratic parties that forced the Tennō to have a constitution drawn up, the conservative Meiji oligarchs largely determined its design. This was also promoted by the increasing disunity of the Japanese democracy movement. A constitution was created that was very much based on the model of the Prussian authoritarian state and secured great power for the Tennō. Concessions to the Democrats included the creation of the Japanese Parliament ( Reichstag ), composed of the House of Lords and House of Commons, analogous to the British Parliament. However, since the upper house was composed mainly of the nobles of the Meiji oligarchy and the tennō was able to veto any decision of the parliament, the Democrats' influence in the government was still small. The Meiji oligarchs were able to further consolidate their status with the title genrō . Nevertheless, the democratic movement is a milestone in the history of Japan, as the bourgeoisie took care of the country's development for the first time.

Further political development up to the end of the Meiji period

In the years following the passage of the Constitution, the Meiji oligarchy continued to exercise power in Japan. This becomes clear when you look at the people who held the office of Prime Minister of Japan up to the end of the Meiji period: Itō Hirobumi served four terms himself. Despite this, political problems were solved during this period through the search for compromises, and the democratic movements gained strength. The Meiji oligarchs, too, increasingly began to view 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 by a strong army " (富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei ) and "Promotion of new industry" (殖産興業 shokusan kōgyō ) by the Meiji government, the economy was organized in a European style.

natural disasters

Conversion to the Gregorian calendar

In Japanese historiography, it is customary to give dates relative to the years of rule of the Tennō ruling at the time. The table below provides an aid in converting Meiji years to standard Gregorian calendar years .

Until 1872, the Chinese lunisolar calendar was used, which counts the days and months differently from the Gregorian calendar. The following table therefore gives the western date for the period 1868 to 1872 for the beginning of each Japanese lunar month (月).閏x月denotes leap months. Lunar months with fewer 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 beginning and end of the year and the division and counting of the days and months follow the Gregorian calendar; Calendar years are thus interchangeable in dates from 1873 without date conversion.

Meiji year 6 10 15 20 25 30 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. Gondrome, Bindlach 1990, ISBN 3-8112-0731-8 .
  • Christiane Seguy: Histoire de la presse japonaise. The development of the press in the Meiji era and its role in the modernization of Japan. 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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