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Meiji period 1868-1900

The Meiji period (1868-1912), also known as the Meiji Restoration in Japanese history, was a period of significant political, economic, and social change. Beginning with the coup d'état ousting Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun, from the ancient imperial seat in Kyoto on Jan 3, 1868. The rebels proclaimed Mutsuhito, the young Meiji emperor, as ruler of Japan, thus ending the Tokugawa shogunate (military government) and the Edo (Tokugawa) period (1603–1867).

The Meiji Restoration marked an era of subsequent political and social upheaval and brought about the country's modernization and Westernization. 

Reform and rebellion

The restoration leaders were mainly young samurai from feudal domains (hans) historically hostile to Tokugawa authority, notably Chōshū in far western Honshu and Satsuma in southern Kyushu. Those men were motivated by growing domestic problems and the threat of foreign encroachment. The latter concern originated in the efforts by Western powers to "open" Japan, beginning in the 1850s after more than two centuries of near isolation, and the fear that Japan could be subjected to the same imperialist pressures that they observed happening in nearby China. They believed that the West depended on constitutionalism for national unity, industrialization for material strength, and a well-trained military for national security. Adopting the slogan "Enrich the country, strengthen the army" ("Fukoku kyōhei"), they sought to create a nation-state capable of standing equal among Western powers. Knowledge was to be sought in the West, the goodwill of which was essential for revising the unequal treaties that had been enacted and granted foreign countries judicial and economic privileges in Japan through extraterritoriality.

Western Influence

The early goals of the new government were expressed in the Charter Oath (April 1868), which committed the government to establish "deliberative assemblies" and "public discussion," to a worldwide search for knowledge, to the abrogation of past customs, and the pursuit by all Japanese of their callings. The first action, taken in 1868 while the country was still unsettled, was to relocate the imperial capital from Kyōto to the shogunal capital of Edo, which was renamed Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"). After the end of the fighting, the old feudal regime was dismantled. The administrative reorganization had been largely accomplished by 1871 when all feudal class privileges were canceled, and all old domains were officially abolished and replaced by a prefecture system that has remained in place to the present day. 

In 1871, a national army was formed, further strengthened two years later by a universal conscription law. In addition, the new government carried out policies to unify the monetary and tax systems, with the agricultural tax reform of 1873 providing its primary source of revenue. Another reform was in the area of education. Japan's first Ministry of Education was established in 1871 to develop a national education system; it led to the promulgation of the Gakusei, or Education System Order, in 1872 and to the introduction of universal education in the country, which initially emphasized Western learning. The revolutionary changes carried out by restoration leaders, who acted in the emperor's name, faced increasing opposition by the mid-1870s. Disgruntled samurai participated in several rebellions against the government, the most famous being led by the former restoration hero Saigō Takamori of Satsuma. Those uprisings were repressed only with great difficulty by the newly formed army. Peasants, distrustful of the new regime and dissatisfied with its agricultural policies, also participated in revolts that peaked in the 1880s.

Meiji era
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