Meiji (明治)

Meiji is the name of an era in Japan. Meiji is the era after Keio and before Taisho. The Meiji era is the period between January 1 of the first year of the Meiji era (or January 25, 1868 by the solar calendar) and July 30 of the 45th year of Meiji or 1912. This period coincided approximately with the reign of Emperor Meiji. Shosho (an imperial edict) was actually issued to change the era name on September 8 of the 4th year of Keio (October 23, 1868) but it was decided on January 1 of that year (January 25, 1868) be made the first year of Meiji retroactively.

Change of era name

October 23, 1868
The era name was changed due to the accession of Emperor Meiji to the throne.

The imperial edict for the change of era name, however, read, 'The fourth year of Keio shall be amended to become the first year of Meiji,' whereby, accordingly, the change of era name took effect retroactively to January 1of that year (by the lunar calendar) (or January 25, 1868 by the Gregorian calendar). Technically, the Meiji era began on January 1 of the 4th year of the Keio era.

July 30 (the day that the Gregorian calendar came into effect)
Emperor Meiji passed away and the era name was changed to Taisho with the accession of Emperor Taisho to the throne. The change of era name came into effect on the same day that Emperor Meiji died whereby it became July 30 of the first year of the Taisho era.


Meiji was named after the clause in I Ching (The Book of Changes), 'Looking to south, the saint listens to the world and, facing towards light, he governs.'

This phrase, 'Looking to south, the saint listens to the country and, facing towards light, he governs' had been considered as a prospect 10 times in total including 8 times during the Edo period in the past when era names were changed and it was finally selected during its eleventh nomination. The imperial edict prescribing the system of issei-ichigen (one reign, one era) was issued in conjunction with the new era name taking effect, meaning that no era names would change during the reign of an emperor.

It is believed that, in Kashiko Dokoro (Palace Sanctuary), Emperor Meiji drew for the new era name, one which was among some additional options that had been considered by officials such as Yoshinaga MATSUDAIRA of the Echizen clan.

Events during the Meiji era

With Emperor Meiji's accession to the throne, as part of their effort to build a national government centered around the emperor, the new government renamed Edo to Tokyo where the emperor visited to proclaim that city to be the new political center of Japan (See Tokyo Tento (transfer of the national capital to Tokyo)).

In accordance with the pro-Emperor principles, the Government rule of a state by the direct administration of the Emperor took effect but the political system underwent numerous changes before the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (the Meiji Constitution) was enacted. The one reign, one era system modeled after the Ming Dynasty of China was established. The name of the emperor was to be also the era name thereby abolishing the previous practice of changing the name of an era based on Onmyodo (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements).

The Meiji Restoration

In 1867, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA, the 15th Shogun of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) transferred power back to the Emperor. The Imperial Court, herewith, proclaimed the Restoration of Imperial Rule (Japan). After the Boshin War between the anti-Shogunate faction and the former Shogunate force, the New Meiji government came into existence. In March 1868, the emperor announced the Charter Oath of Five Articles which laid out the new political principles and, in September of the same year, the era name was changed to Meiji (while the change of era name retroactively became effective as of January 1 of that year by the lunar calendar).

To counter the military and economic pressure from Western powerful countries, the new government aspired to build a country with a centralized government where the emperor played a leading part. The new government ordered every domain to return lands and people to the emperor thereby abolishing feudal domains and establishing prefectures. The previous annual rice tax was abolished and replaced by money payment of land-tax with implementation of the land-tax reform to secure a fiscal base. With regard to the citizens, the government lifted various restrictions on freedoms that existed during the Edo period whereby the social standing system was abolished and replaced by one that made all people equal, as well as various other reforms such as freedom to travel across the country, freedom to choose occupations, freedom to have closely cut hair and freedom to carry a sword in belt.

Additionally, to break away from the fetters of powerful Western countries, the new government forged ahead to increase the wealth of the country and build up the military might that was recognized as an important political agenda of the time. In light of the above, the government put the postal service in place, constructed the railway system, developed export industries (with an example being Tomioka Seishi-jo (Tomioka Silk Mill)) (encouragement of new industry) and implemented conscription (which, since the household head was exempt from this legislation and the other sons of the family or male members of the poor peasant class were drafted into military service, caused the blood tax revolt (anti-conscription revolt)).

Colliding with Toshimichi OKUBO, Tomomi IWAKURA and their sympathizers over Seikanron (debate on subjugation of Korea), the 5 hardliners such as Shinpei ETO, Takamori SAIGO, Taneomi SOEJIMA, Taisuke ITAGAKI and Shojiro GOTO resigned from the post of Sangi (councilor) (Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Political Upheaval of 1873)). As a result, the dictatorship of Toshimichi OKUBO became established.

In the meantime, those 5 former councilors took the following actions. Takamori SAIGO returned to his hometown Kagoshima and built Shigakko (school mainly for warriors). Itagaki, Goto, Eto, Soejima and their sympathizers presented an opinion paper on establishing democratically elected parliament that criticized Yushi Sensei (despotism by domain-dominated government) to the government starting the Movement for Liberty and People's Right of which the establishment of the National Diet was the main demand. Eto subsequently returned to his hometown Saga and rose in revolt known as the Saga War involving the malcontent local warrior class who had lost their special privileges due to the Meiji Restoration, but was subsequently repressed.

Seizing control of the government, Okubo recognized that it would be difficult to contain dissatisfaction of the discontented warrior class. On the grounds of an incident in which some Ryukyu fishermen were murdered by the local residents of Taiwan, Okubo subsequently carried out the Taiwan expedition (which resulted in the resignation of Takayoshi KIDO) and, further, set off the Ganghwa Island incident to make the Korean government sign the Japanese-Korea Treaty of Amity. Additionally, to warn and to conciliate Kido who resigned from the post of councilor, Itagaki who was leading Jiyu Minken Undo (the Movement for Liberty and People's Right) and their sympathizers, Okubo held the Osaka Conference to proclaim the imperial edict on the constitutional system of government. According to the said imperial edict, Okubo decided to organize the legislative body Genroin (the Senates) (Japan), the judicial branch Daishin-in (Predecessor of the Supreme Court of Japan) and local administrative assemblies. In the meantime, suppression of free speech came into effect with implementation of Zanboritsu (the Defamation Law) and Shinbunshi Jorei (Press Regulations).

Back home, Okubo installed the Ministry of Interior (Japan) and encouraged the new industry. Okubo, additionally implemented Chitsuroku-shobun (Abolition Measure of Hereditary Stipend) reducing special privileges (such as Chiroku (hereditary stipend) and Shotenroku (bonus)) of the warrior class who received unearned income and contributed to economic difficulties for the Meiji Government, and issued a decree banning the wearing of swords. The malcontent warrior class objected to the continued reformative measures and starting with the Saga War, the Shinpuren-no-ran War (turmoil of Shinpuren, dissatisfied warrior group), the Akizuki-no-ran War (the turmoil of Akizuki), and the Hagi-no-ran War (turmoil of dissatisfied warriors at Hagi) broke out. Takamori SAIGO ultimately raised an army (the Seinan War) following the foregoing wars but all of them were subdued by the government. After the death of Saigo, times changed from the days of overthrowing the government by force of arms to an era where government could be criticized through freedom of speech.

Due to the facts that Toshimichi OKUBO was subsequently assassinated (during the Kioizaka Incident) and Takayoshi KIDO died of illness in the midst of the Seinan War a year earlier, Hirobumi ITO and Shigenobu OKUMA became the central figures in running the Meiji Government.

Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Right)

To address the growing Movement for Liberty and People's Right, during the political coup of 1881 triggered by the incident in which the Hokkaido Development Commissioner disposed of state-owned articles, Hirobumi ITO drove out the left-wing faction under the leadership of Shigenobu OKUMA that was calling for immediate establishment of the Diet. Meanwhile, the Imperial Edict for Establishing a Diet was issued and Ito made a commitment to citizens to inaugurate the Diet. As a result, Taisuke ITAGAKI and Shigenobu OKUMA who came to be purged from the Meiji Government formed the Liberal Party and the Constitutional Progressive Party, respectively, in preparations for the coming inauguration of the Imperial Diet.

Additionally, after the downfall of Shigenobu OKUMA, it was Masayoshi MATSUKATA from the Satsuma clan who seized real power on economic policy (for details of which, Matsukata Deflation should be referenced). Peasantry suffered poverty due to the Matsukata Deflation which in conjunction with the Freedom and People's Rights Movement caused the Chichibu Incident (Radicalization of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement).

With the subsequent abolishment of the Dajokan (Great Council of State) system in 1885, the cabinet system was implemented and Hirobumi ITO was installed as the founding Prime Minister of Japan.

Constitution of the Empire of Japan

Background of establishment of the constitution
Hirobumi ITO, working with Kowashi INOUE, Miyoji ITO, Kentaro KANEKO, Roesler and the other concerned parties, began preparations to establish the constitution and installed Sumitsu-in (Privy Council) (Japan). During times of the cabinet of Kiyotaka KURODA, the Constitution of the Empire of Japan modeling after the Prussian constitution which stresses royal prerogative was established in a manner that Emperor Meiji bestowed it on his subjects (a constitution enacted by the emperor).

This constitution was highly acclaimed at the time and, within the country, the People's Rights sector raved of 'a constitution that exceeded one's expectations in its excellence' (as per Sanae TAKADA). While there were some reservations regarding its actual operational abilities, the constitution was highly acclaimed by intellectuals in U. S. and European countries (with a specific example being Erwin von Bälz) in terms of its contents.

Contents of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan
Pursuant to Article 3 of this Constitution, it prescribed that the Emperor was sacred and inviolable and pursuant to Article 4 of same, it defined the Emperor as the head of the state having complete control of sovereignty.
With regard to Sanken (organization of three branches), contents are as follows:
First of all, with regard to legislation, pursuant to Article 5, it stipulated that the Emperor exercised the legislative power with the consent of the Imperial Diet. The Emperor's job duties, however, were generally limited to give Imperial sanction to laws which required the countersignature of the Minister of State. In other words, unless countersigned by the Minister of State, the law was invalid and, further, while it was formally possible for the emperor to refuse to give sanction, it was practically impossible for him to do so. It can be said that the British monarch is in a similar situation in this behalf. Additionally, the Imperial Diet consisted of 2 houses including the House of Representatives composed of the Members of the Diet who carried election and the House of Peers (Japan) comprised of the peerages. In second place, with regard to administration, pursuant to Article 55, unlike the subsequent Constitution of Japan which is defined as collective responsibility, it prescribed that the respective Ministers of State would give their advice to the Emperor and be responsible for it. In the third place, with respect to the judicatory power, pursuant to Article 57, it was stipulated to be exercised by the Courts of Law according to law, in the name of the Emperor.

There are 2 major problems with this constitution that include the following:
First, there was a prescript in Section 11 that the Emperor had supreme command over the Army and Navy. The foregoing prescript precluded the Cabinet and the Imperial Diet from involving directly with the military (which, later on, caused a political dispute over interference of the supreme command). Second, it stipulated the rights of Japanese subjects that, pursuant to Article 21, they had the liberty within the limits of the law (but restrictive measures such as the Maintenance of Public Order Law subsequently came into effect to quality the rights of the subjects).

Additionally, showing 'political stance of the government which aspired to take equitable measures being uninfluenced by and detached from movements of political parties,' Prime Minister Kiyotaka KURODA came into collision with the Diet.

Afterwards, in conjunction with proclamation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan in 1889, the Election Law of the Member of the House of Representatives was issued thereby implementing a limited election allowing male subjects who paid 15 yen or more directly in general tax and who were over 25 of age (that accounted for approximately 1.1% of the total population of Japan at the time) to vote and, on November 25, 1890, the inaugural Imperial Diet (the first parliamentary session) convened.

The Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War

Successfully reforming itself to a modern nation without becoming a colony of another country, in 1894, Japan accomplished a treaty revision with England which started the process of terminating an unequal treaty that had existed since the end of the Edo period. It was after the annexation of Korea that the treaty between Japan and England was terminated.

History of the negotiation details of treaty revision

The Iwakura Mission was dispatched (1876 - 1878) : Negotiations for treaty revision failed.

Negotiations conducted by Gaimukyo (Chief of Foreign Ministry) Munenori TERASHIMA (1876 - 1878): While the United States agreed to the recovery of the tax revenue source, England and Germany opposed the same and the negotiation was aborted.

Negotiations conducted by Foreign Minister Kaoru INOUE (1882 - 1888): Measures to Europeanize such as construction of Rokumeikan Hall and installment of judges from foreign countries at the court were proposed but due to objections raised by Gustave Emile BOISSONADE, Tateki TANI and the nationalist group in addition to the unfortunate handling of the Normanton Incident, Inoue resigned. Negotiations conducted by Foreign Minister Shigenobu OKUMA (1888 - 1889): The planned recruitment of judges from foreign countries to the post at Daishin-in (Predecessor of the Supreme Court of Japan) was leaked to the London Times.

Okuma subsequently was attacked by Tsuneki KURUSHIMA of Genyosha and resigned from the post of Foreign Minister.

Negotiations conducted by Foreign Minister Shuzo AOKI (1889 - 1891): England agreed with recovery of jurisdiction but the negotiations were aborted due to the Otsu Incident.

The Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation (1894): Foreign Minister Munemitsu MUTSU obtained an agreement from England to abolish exterritoriality (whereby consular jurisdiction was repealed).

The Japan-US commerce and navigation treaty (1911): Foreign Minister Jutaro KOMURA obtained an agreement by the U. S. to the Japanese tariff autonomy.

The Sino-Japanese War

The subsequent Imo Incident in 1882 and the Gapsin Coup in 1884 triggered hostility over Korea between Japan and China and, touched off by the subsequent Donghak Peasant Revolution, began the Sino-Japanese War in 1894.
China had stronger national power in all aspects including wealth, warships, arms and the number of soldiers but Japan with higher morale and better training won thereby obtaining the agreement of China on the following conditions by signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki:
Acknowledgement of Korea's independence
Territorial cessions of Liaodong Peninsula, Taiwan and the Penghu islands
Payment of war reparations in the amount of 200 million teal (or 310 million yen)
Opening of 4 ports including Chongqing City, Shashi District, Suzhou City and Hangzhou City.

As a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China's sovereignty over Korea was renounced whereby the traditional tributary system which was the international order in East Asia came to an end (and the Yi Dynasty Korea attained independence as the Korean Empire). Due to the Triple Intervention of Russia, France and Germany, however, Liaodong Peninsula was returned to China (in exchange for 30 million teal in compensation paid to Japan) that consequently was perceived as an insult and fueled retaliatory sentiment among Japanese people (as in a proverb it was struggling against difficulties for the sake of vengeance).

As a result of this war, Japan joined the ranks of powerful countries gaining recognition from powerful Western nations. In the meantime, the defeat of China, dubbed 'the sleeping lion,' resulted in the acceleration of activities by various powerful countries which aimed to colonize the Chinese continent. Additionally, the result of the Sino-Japanese War also had an economic impact with the war reparations serving as the source to implement the gold standard system and provided funds for building (and establishing) the Yahata Iron Factory.

The Russo-Japanese War

After the Sino-Japanese War ended, the Russian Empire put pressure on China making Lushun in Liaodong Peninsula and Dalian City leased territory of Russia. Russia, in addition, constructed the Trans-Siberian Railway and its branch line Chinese Eastern Railway to advance their agenda to move southward. After the Boxer Uprising, in particular, Russia maintained stationary troops in Manchuria to secure their rights and interests in that region. To slow the Russian movement, Japan and England signed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. This alliance attracted considerable attention worldwide because England, the greatest empire on earth at the time and had previously adhered to the principle of 'Splendid Isolation,' entered into an alliance for the very first time and also because the other party in question was Japan, an emerging country in Asia. In Europe, there was a caricature depicting England using Japan, an upstart of the Far East as its pawn to pick up a hot chestnut in fire (meaning China). Later on, the Russo-Japanese War broke out over the rights and interests concerning Manchuria and Korean Peninsula.

Coming ashore in Liaodong Peninsula, the Japanese army succeeded by a narrow margin to force the Russian army using overwhelming superiority to back off during the siege of Lushun and the Battle of Mukden. In the meantime, the Japanese Navy ultimately destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Battle of Tsushima.

Russia still sustained the army but, due to the fact that much of the sea power had been lost and a revolutionary movement was developing within the country, it leaned towards making peace with Japan. As Japan was not yet economically developed enough to adequately sustain a long drawn-out war, Foreign Minister Jutaro KOBAYASHI began negotiations for the peace treaty under the mediation of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
The conditions stipulated in the Treaty of Portsmouth which ended the Russo-Japanese War were as follows:

Russia was to recognize that Japan had priority with regard to political, military, and economic matters in Korea.

Japan was leased Lushun and Dalian City within the territory of China and the Russian rail system in the area south of Changchun including the relative rights thereof.

Japan received the southern part of Sakhalin starting at a latitude of 50 degrees north and the belonging islands. Recognition of Japan's fishing rights in the Okhotsk Sea and the Bering Sea.

Due to the fact, however, that no monetary indemnity was received, the anger of Japanese people exploded causing the Hibiya riots. Additionally, Toshihiko SAKAI and Sen KATAYAMA started an anti-war movement and Akiko YOSANO and Kanzo UCHIMURA from the Christian viewpoint spoke of pacifism.

Japan's winning the Russo-Japanese War was significant in the course of world history because it was a victory of a small colored country over a big white country as well as a triumph of a constitutional monarchy over a country under an absolutistic ruler.
(There was a historical precedence where the Ethiopian Empire was victorious over the Kingdom of Italy in the First Italy–Ethiopian War but it was made possible by a full-scale military support of England and France.)

(It can be said that, consequently, Japan's winning the Russo-Japanese War was the first victory by independent military forces of a colored country over a white country in modern times.)

The annexation of Korea

Hirobumi ITO was appointed as the first Resident-General of Korea but resigned later on. Kantototokufu (Japan's Guandong Governor-General Office) and South Manchuria Railways Company (Mantetsu) were installed for the southern Liaodong Peninsula (Guandong) and the Chinese Eastern Railway in south of Changchun, respectively, that Japan had received under the conditions stipulated by the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905. Later, in July, the second administration of the Katsura Cabinet approved the annexation of Korea and when Ito arrived in Harbin on October 26 during his visit to Manchuria for a talk with the Russian Empire, he was assassinated by Ahn Jung-geun who was an activist for the independence of the Korean Empire. On August 22, 1910, annexing the Korean Empire by signing the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty, Japan hereby became the country under imperialism rising to join the ranks of powerful countries. Japan's victory over the major power Russia made an impact abroad but there was an opinion that its objective to develop itself to become a modern nation comparable to Western powerful countries after the earth-shattering visit by Kurofune during the Kaei era (1848-1854) was at least accomplished.

Later, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles signed to conclude the peace process after the World War I, the League of Nations was founded with Japan participating as a permanent member whereby it became one of the powerful countries in the world in mere fifty years or thereabouts since the Meiji Restoration.


The Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism

The Boshin War ended and lands and people were returned to the emperor

Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures), the Japan-Qing Treaty of Friendship and the New Currency Act became effective

The Gregorian calendar was adopted (on November 9 in accordance with the imperial edict on calendar change).
(The day following December 2 by the previous lunar calendar became January 1.)

The Conscription Ordinance was issued, the land-tax reform became effective and Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Coups of 1873) (resulting in resignation of various people such as Takamori SAIGO and Taisuke ITAGAKI from their public posts) took place.

An opinion paper on establishing democratically elected parliament was presented and the troops were dispatched to Taiwan.

Treaty of Saint Petersburg

Japanese-Korea Treaty of Amity (Treaty of Ganghwa)

The Seinan War (1878)

The three new bills related to the local government system became effective and the Kioizaka Incident occurred

Okinawa Prefecture was established (the Ryukyu Annexation in history of Okinawa)

The Alliance for Elected Legislature was formed

In 1881, a political turmoil broke out and the imperial edict to establish the Imperial Diet was issued. After the downfall of Shigenobu OKUMA, the Matsukata deflation (also known as the Matsukata finance, a financial measure to induce deflation to eliminate inflation generated by raising funds for war cost of the Seinan War) by Okura-kyo (Minister of the Treasury) Masayoshi MATSUKATA was adopted.

The Fukushima Incident

The Chichibu Incident and the Gapsin Coup

The Treaty of Tianjin was signed and cabinet government was inaugurated

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan was promulgated

The first general election of the members of the House of Representatives was held and the inaugural Imperial Diet convened.

The Otsu Incident

The Donghak Peasant Revolution erupted, the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation was signed and the Sino-Japanese War broke out (- 1895)

The Treaty of Shimonoseki

The Boxer Uprising (the Righteous Harmony Society Movement)

The Ashio Copper Mine Mineral Pollution Incident occurred and the operation of the state-owned Yahata Iron Factory commenced.

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed

The Russo-Japanese War (- 1905)

The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed

The Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was signed and the High Treason Incident occurred

[Original Japanese]