Civilization and Enlightenment of Japan (文明開化)

The civilization and enlightenment occurred during the transitional phase of Japan in Meiji period, seeing drastic changes in various systems, organizations and cultural customs of Japan as the results of the Westernization. While modernization = Westernization was the fundamental issue throughout Meiji period, the term Civilization and Enlightenment is generally applied to the conditions seen in early Meiji period, when the social conditions and customs of people dramatically changed from the former feudalistic society.


The civilization and enlightenment is the phenomenon of absorption and intake of Western civilization flew into Japan in parallel with the renovation of political system, during the time when the strongly feudalistic Japanese culture that had been unbrokenly continued throughout the Edo period was coming to the limits due to the isolationism and the like. The term "文明開化" (civilization and enlightenment) was used by Yukichi FUKUZAWA for the first time in his essay published in 1875, "Bunmeiron no gairyaku" (An Outline of a Theory of Civilization) as the translation of the word, civilization. There were wide variety of ways how the movement took shapes within Japanese society, from the simple imitation of Western culture and customs, to the absorption of those elements as the model cases for fusing with traditional Japanese culture, or rearranging the traditional Japanese culture into Western styles; the movement became an enthusiastic trend during this transitional phase, received by wide variety of people among different social levels.

There was a well-known phrase describing the period, saying that "Zangiri atama wo tataite mireba, Bunmei Kaika no otogasuru," ("Knocking on the short-cut hair by removing a topknot, we can hear the sound of civilization") which became the origin of the movement to produce a new style in Kabuki theatrical play called "Zangiri-mono." In "Agra Nabe" (which means, sitting cross-legged around hot pot, eat food and talk frankly) written by Robun KANAGAKI, he said, "you are a dinosaur not eating beef hot pot!" which satirically describe the changing cultural habit of Japanese people even among the general public.

The new Meiji government promoted the policies of industrial development, wealth and military strength of Japan, leaving Asia and entering Europe, while the government also promoted the adaptation of Western culture and customs, such as Western-style architecture, (=>Western style building and pseudo Western style architecture) short-cut hair removing the topknot of a man, Western style clothing, and Western style food and cooking. However, studies also suggest that such Westernization and the actual adaptation of those styles and customs was limited to the people living in the urban areas or among those educated classes. In rural conditions of local towns and villages, the transition of the lifestyle was much more gradual and slow as the tradition and customs of the late Edo period lasted far longer; people in some area used paper-shaded lamp using rapeseed oil until the beginning of Showa period, and the benefit of those new Western systems such as a new postal service and telegraph communication were not effectively introduced and utilized until much later years. Yet still, the Prefectural offices in local regions led the exclusion of a traditional culture and customs upon the policy of the new Meiji government, therefore there are many traditions and customs curtailed and vanished under the civilization process.

The rapid and drastic Westernization was promoted also because of the notion of impending crisis, by seeing the act of the Great Powers of the West exploiting Asian countries to acquire a vast wealth through the management of colonized countries. As the principal part of the wealth and the military strength policy, the introduction and adaptation of Western-style military technologies and skills was strongly promoted; even the food service provided in the military (military ration) was Westernized in order to strengthen the physical power and stamina of soldiers. The early stage of Japanese military was formed by the group of young people composed of the second or third sons collected from rural and agricultural regions; they had grown up by eating traditional Japanese food with rice-centered diet, thus some could not easily accept such Western style dishes so different from their eating habit. In Navy, various cares were taken for the food service by inventing and arranging the Western dishes for the taste of Japanese people; for example, curry dish was provided with Japanese rice; an eclectic dish such as the meat and potato pot dish in soy sauce taste was invented. This curried rice was introduced to public as "Navy curry," and the meat and potato pot dish was also widely accepted by people outside of Navy. Later in Showa period, those dishes became widely popular as family dishes.

Evidences of Civilization and Enlightenment

Public transportation and tele-communication
Railroad system
In 1872, the train line between Shinbashi Station (later it became Shinbashi Historic Station, and later in 1986, it was discontinued from the actual usage) and Yokohama Station (later it was renamed to Sakuragi-cho Station) was established and and the operation of steam locomotives started.
Compared to the steamboat on the ocean, the steam locomotive was called "Oka Joki." (literally mean, the "steam locomotive on the ground")

A horse-drawn stagecoach on a railway
In 1882, the Japan's first horse-drawn stagecoach on a railway, Tokyo Stagecoach Railway, was established. The service was later developed to be operated by electric trains, becoming the origin of Tokyo Electric Railway.

Public postal service
In 1871, a modern public postal service was established to connect between Tokyo and Osaka, and the service area was expanded throughout Japan in 1872.

Architecture and urban design
Western-style architecture
Tsukiji Hotel, Ginza brick-faced building city
Brick based buildings
Gas light
Pseudo Western-style architecture

Government operated and managed factories
Tomioka Silk Mill (operation started in 1872)
For other government operated and managed factories, refer to the section of the Government-operated Model Factory.

Clothing and fashion culture
In 1872, a government order to cut and remove topknots (a Japanese tradition for men) was issued.

Knocking on my head with a short-cut hair (after removing the topknot) we can hear the sound of civilization; knocking on your head with a long and knotted hair, (traditional hair style for young samurai) we would hear the sound of Imperial rules coming back; knocking on the head with a half-shaved hair style, (traditional and common samurai hair style) we would hear the sound of temporizing with old customs.'
Order of abandoning swords for the former samurai class
The military costume
Western-style tailoring

Food culture
Meat diet (Sukiyaki, beef hot pot)
"Agra Nabe" written by Robun KANAGAKI
Drinking milk of cows (=>milk bottle)
"Meat diet" written by Yukichi FUKUZAWA
Production of sweet adzuki-bean roll started from this period.
New Education Act was enacted.
A schoolchild's satchel (randoseru, originated ransel in Dutch)
Dispatch of international students

"Meiroku Zasshi" journal
Books for enlightenment
"Seiyou jijo" (affairs in the Western countries), "Gakumon no susume" (an encouragement of learning)
Translated books
"Self-Help" by Samuel Smiles translated and published in 1871 as "Saigoku Risshi-hen."

Theatrical art
The movement of the theatrical play reformation

Introduction of Gregorian Calendar (Solar Calendar)
The calendar was officially enacted in public from January 1, 1873. Tenpo Calendar (Lunisolar Calendar) was utilized in public until December 2, 1872, and after the establishment of Solar Calendar, this Tempo Calendar became the unofficial, old (lunar) calendar.

[Original Japanese]