The Meji Restoration (1868 – 1912)

During the reign of the Meji emperor, Japan entered a state of rapid industrialization and sweeping social and economic change. Before the restoration began the nation was weak and behind technologically, primarily being a agricultural country. In addition, their foreign trade was greatly limited by several treaties signed with foreign nations. In a relatively short period of time Japan was able to correct all these issues as well as gain equality on the world stage. In truth, many of these changes were made in order to gain the respect of the Western powers.

In this time the political and social structure of the nation underwent a massive transformation.  Though the emperor still ruled, they did not rule directly, serving more as a figurehead of sorts, taking advice from a separate group. Another one of the major changes made involved the feudal lords and samurai losing their privileges when all classes were declared equal. The end of feudalism allowed the citizens of Japan to move about freely, now possessing the freedom to work what jobs they wanted where they wanted. The government also established a national education system, which nearly everyone attended. This end of feudalism also saw the birth of a new elected bicameral legislature now known as the National Diet. During this time a constitution was enacted, which restricted voting rights to only the wealthiest of the population. To further gain the recognition of the West, Japan remodeled its legal system, now controlled by legal codes and not the whims of public officials.

Like the changes in the government, the economy of Japan also went through its own changes, mainly through the introduction of industrialization. The government began funding the construction of several railways, shipping yards, etc. Among these was the construction of a number of consumer industries such as sugar and glass production. However due to the large cost the government sold many of these industries to private investors, encouraging others to invest into the nation’s economy. Some of these investors then went on to create large corporations which held control over Japan’s industrial sectors.

This period of time also saw Japan enter into fierce wars with its neighbor. First, Japan was able to win a war against China, gaining control over Korea. Then, when Russia threatened Japan’s rule over the area, they declared war and were able to win a costly victory of the Eastern European nation, officially gaining control over Manchuria and establishing colonial rule in Korea.

Though Japan was able to restructure itself to win the recognition of the Western powers, its show of strength caused those same powers to look at this rising Asian nation with worry. In this span of time Japan was able to establish itself as a dominant force in Asia that may even be able to rival that of the Western nations.