The Meiji Era (1868-1912)


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Born Mutsuhito in 1852, at the beginning of a time of enormous transition in Japan, the young man pictured right ascended the throne in 1867, and was "restored" to power in the so-called Meiji Restoration, 1868. He reigned as the Meiji (Enlightened Rule) Emperor, or Emperor Meiji, until his death in 1912. He was the 122nd of the imperial line to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne ("Meiji Emperor"). The Japan of his birth was scarcely recognizable as the same place at the time of his death: from an isolated, pre-industrial, feudal country under the Tokugawa bakufu, Japan was, by 1912, a great power ("Emperor Meiji").


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Emperor >

Some historians term the Meiji Restoration a "bloodless" coup that launched the miraclous modernization of Japan.
The story is more complicated than that as the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshibnobu, fought
the reforming daimyo and samurai to maintain the bakufu. When the young emperor threw his support
behind the reformers, notably the Shimazu daimyo of Satsuma, civil war, known in Japan as
the Boshin War, erupted in 1868. Saigo Takamori was one of the Satsuma samurai who
opposed the bakufu and advocated for the resignation of Yoshinobu.
When victory was achieved, Saigo called for clemency for the bakufu defenders.

The Meiji Restoration proved to be both defensive (against the West) and offensive (transformation and preservation of the "land of the gods.") In the decade following the Treaty of Kanagawa (1854) and the Restoration (1868,) the Shogunate or bakufu leaders tried to preserve the status quo, while reforming daimyo from the outlying provinces of Satsuma and Chosu saw the handwriting on the wall and led the way towards the abolition of the obsolete, i.e. elements of weakness. They worked to eliminate bakufu feudalism and to focus Japanese patriotism and loyalty on their divine emperor, the young Mutsuhito, Emperor Meiji. A major player was the Satsuma samurai, Saigo Takamori. Loyal to his emperor, he served in the first government, virtually ruling the nation during the Iwakura Mission of the early 1870s. When the other oligarchs resisted his insistence that Japan go to war in Korea in 1873, he resigned his offices and retreated to Kagoshima/Satsuma. The consequences of his estrangement from the corridors of power would lead to the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, of which more later.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saigo_Takamori >

Another of the Meiji reformers who became one of the powerful oligarchs was Iwakura Tomomi. In the early days of foreign encroachments, he urged the bakufu to resist the "unequal treaties." Disappointed with the dithering of the Komei Emperor's last shoguns, Iwakura made contact with dissident samurai, such as Saigo Takamori, and helped the rebels to force the resignation of the shogun and "restore" imperial authority in 1868. Some historians credit Iwakura with authoring the Five Article or Charter Oath that set the tone for the Meiji era. He served in the original Meiji government, but Iwakura is most famous for his diplomatic mission to the West (1871-1873,) where he went to view first-hand the industry and technology that gave the Western nations their power. The Iwakura Mission marked the victory of the reformers and the beginning of Japan's "miracle." Iwakura was impressed with the thriving economies and military might that he witnessed and appreciated, more fully than Saigo, that Japan in 1873 was not prepared to fight a war, even one in Korea. He called for, instead, more emphasis on domestic reforms, especially in the economy and infrastructure. He played a major role in impementing reform until his death in 1883. Iwakura is the center figure in traditional dress.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iwakura_Mission >

Another of the reformers-cum-oligarchs, Yamagata Aritomo "is considered one of the architects of the military and political foundations of early modern Japan," as well as a kind of "father of Japanese militarism" ("Yamagata Aritomo"). Of samurai background, Yamagata benefited from the military and political centralization taking place in Chosu in the 1850s. Even before the Iwakura Mission, Yamagata went to Europe (1869) with a particular eye to examining its latest military technology and tactics. Prussia/Germany impressed him mightily, with its authoritarian political system and powerful junker-dominated military machine. It was Yamagata who convinced the other oligarchs, though not Saigo, to enact conscription in 1873, and it was Yamagata's modernized imperial army that defeated Saigo and the Satsuma rebels in 1877-1878. That said, he revered Saigo as a comrade and hero. Yamagata continued to hold high office--Lord Chancellor in 1883, Prime Minister in 1889--representing a conservative point of view and always advocating for the military. It is probably accurate to say that he was the most influential person in the government, especially after the assassination of Prince Ito Hirobumi in 1909, until his own death in 1922. After the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912, Yamagata remained a powerful force for another decade under Emperor Taisho ("Yamagata Aritomo").


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamagata_Aritomo >

Ito Hirobumi, a major figure in the Restoration and the Meiji era, came from Chosu, and, like Saigo and Yamagata, bitterly opposed the lackluster bakufu in its declining years. His journey to Edo in the 1850s allowed him to see with his own eyes the naval prowess of Britain and the US. Even before the Meiji Restoration, and risking his life, Ito and a group of friends traveled secretly to Nagasaki, took ship on a British merchant vessel, and set off for London via Shanghai. He remained abroad but returned to Japan in time to join Iwakura on his mission in 1871. Ito and Iwakura opposed Saigo's efforts to lead Japan into war in Korea in 1873. Historians generally credit Ito, who became Prince Ito, with directing the drafting and promulgating the Constitution of 1889 (Gordon 92). Like Yamagata, he was an influential oligarch (part of the genro or "old men" who advised Emperor Meiji,) though he often opposed the more militaristic and militant Yamagata in political debate. Diplomatically, it was Prince Ito who oversaw the negotiations to end the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 with the Treaty of Shimenoseki and the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1902. As noted in your handouts, Japan established a protectorate over Japan in 1907, and Prince Ito served there as Resident General ("Ito Hurobumi," Wikipedia.) A disaffected Korean nationalist assassinated him in 1909, leaving the center of the political stage to his arch-rival Yamagata.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ito_Hurobumi >

The transformation of Japan from medieval and feudal to modern and industrial, though rapid, was stained with Japanese blood, the first evidence of which came with the Boshin War, 1868-1869. The Restoration stripped samurai of their stipends, forbad them to wear their swords in public, cut off their signature topknots, and created a new, mass army based on conscription. Saigo Takamori, who had stood so close to Emperor Meiji in the early days, was one of the disaffected. His policy to invade Korea was rebuffed by Ito and Iwakura, and Saigo resigned in disgust, returning to Kagoshima Prefecture (formerly Satsuma domain.) There he founded a military academy stressing the ancient arts of bushido, in combination with modern warfare, and willy-nilly, found himself at the center of a rebellion, which he had perhaps not wanted. As many as 25,000 samurai rallied against the policies of the oligarchs.



image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration>

In 1877, the Satsuma samurai, led by Saigo Takamori (Katsumoto in The Last Samurai) met the imperial army of Yamagata Aritomo, Saigo's former friend. At Shiroyama, General Yamagata offered to accept Saigo's surrender, but the latter rebuffed the attempt to dissolve the rebel army. There is no evidence that Captain Nathan Algren (the Tom Cruise character of The Last Samurai) existed. The Satsuma rebellion did not have foreign advisors, military, photographic, or otherwise.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saigo_Takamori >

As is clear from this illustration from a French article in Le Monde Illustré in 1877, Saigo combined traditional and modern military methodology. Saigo is the seated figure in the center of the illustration.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satsuma_Rebellion >

The saga of the Satsuma Rebellion and mythology surrounding Saigo Takamori struck a responsive chord in Meiji Japan and after. Japanese woodblock prints spread the story of his heroism and popularized him and the Battle of Shiroyama, September, 1877. In this contemporary, woodblock print, look for Saigo seated in the far, upper right directing his samurai in battle. Visit the link below for a larger, clearer version.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saigo_Takamori >

The movie, The Last Samurai, aroused quite a bit of interest in Japan, not because
of Tom Cruise, but because of Japanese interest in their own "story," romanticized
by Hollywood or not. Visit the site
< http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/ > type
the last samurai into the search box and a series of reviews will appear, including
clips from the film. A particularly interesting article can be found at

< http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=6157 > --both of these sites (alas) have flown away

Japan first demonstrated its military, technological, and industrial might in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and more dramatically in stunning victories over Russia--on land and sea--in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905.) You already know how Russia and Japan jockeyed for dominance in Manchuria, and how Russia resented Japanese hegemony in Korea. In 1902, according to "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" mantra, Japan and Britain signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Tsar Nicholas II's French alliance and personal friendship with Kaiser Wilhelm II strengthened his spine, and he refused to evacuate Manchuria after the Boxer Uprising. Russia wanted the Liaodong Peninsula, where railroad and other concessions had been secured from China in 1898, and a warm water port to augment its "window on the East," Vladivostok. Negotiations in St. Petersburg with Japan were acrimonious; each side determined to halt the enhancement of the other's presence in Manchuria and/or Liaodong. On February 6, 1904, Japan "severed diplomatic relations," declared war on February 8, having already "attacked the Russian Far East Fleet at Port Arthur" three hours previously ("Russo-Japanese War"). The Japanese navy, as is evident from the graphic, was as fully modernized as the army!


image source < http://www.russojapanesewar.com/personalities.html >

Admiral Togo, the "Nelson of the East" and beneficiary of the Satsuma modernization efforts, was "Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy" ("Togo Heihachiro"). Like other young men of the Meiji era, Togo studied abroad, spending a number of years learning about naval construction and strategy in London, Plymouth, Cambridge, Portsmouth, and Greenwich. He also experienced and suffered from the racism that colored European relationships and views of Asians as his British classmates referred to him as "Johnny Chinaman" ("Togo Heihachiro"). In May, 1905, he administered a humiliating blow the Russian naval and territorial ambitions in Asia at the Battle of Tsushima Strait.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togo_Heihachiro >

The Russo-Japanese War, from the Russian point of view, would be humorous were it not so tragic. The surprise attack on Port Arthur disastrously weakened Russia's Pacific fleet. The seige of Port Arthur ended with the capitulation of that city in January, 1905, and the Battle of Mukden brought further casualties. Meanwhile, the Russian Imperial fleet set sail from Kronstadt in July, 1904, to meet its Japanese nemesis at the Battle of Tsushima Strait in May, 1905. It was a catastrophe for Russia: Only three of the vessels in Russia's forty-five ship fleet made it to Vladivostok. As students of Russian History will recall, the disasters of the Russo-Japanese War triggered uprisings in St. Petersburg and Odessa (Potemkin mutiny,) and the "dress rehearsal" revolution of 1905. Historians think that Japanese victories also whetted that country's appetite for conquest and expansion.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_or_Tsushima >

 

Like his almost exact contemporary, Queen Victoria, Emperor Meiji (1867-1912) gave his name not only to his reign but to an era. Emperor Meiji fulfilled his duty and produced fifteen royal children with his five official ladies-in-waiting. Crown Prince Yoshihito, who would succeed his father as Emperor Taisho in 1912, was born in 1879. In 1867, most Europeans would have predicted that Emperor Meiji would preside over a declining state, like the Empress Dowager in Qing China. Defined as a god in the 1889 constitution, he exercised little real authority, which rested in the hands of the old men (genro,) the political-military-economic oligarchs throughout his reign.


image source < http://www.ccckatsumi.com/ccckatsumi/essay/chapter-1/meijiera (incomplete)

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

background image source < www.standingwave.org/ >

"Battle of Tsushima." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tsushima >

"Emperor Meiji." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Emperor >

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

"Iwakura Mission." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iwakura_Mission >

"Ito Hirobumi." NNDB: tracking the entire world. Solyent Communications. Online available.
< http://www.nndb.com/people/516000097225/ >

"Ito Hirobumi." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ito_Hirobumi >

McLaughlin, Steve. The Russo-Japanese War Research Society. Online available.
< http://www.russojapanesewar.com/mclaughlin.html >

"Meiji Era." Online available.
< http://www.ccckatsumi.com/ccckatsumi/essay/chapter-1/meijiera--incomplete)

"Meiji Restoration." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration >

"Russo-Japanese War." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russo-Japanese_War >

"Saigo Takamori." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saigo_Takamori >

"Satsuma Rebellion." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satsuma_Rebellion >

"Tojo Heihachiro." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tojo_Heihachiro >

"Tomomi Iwakura" [sic] answers.com. Online available.
< http://www.answers.com/topic/iwakura-tomomi >

"Yamagata Aritomo." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamagata_Aritomo >