The Transformation of Japan after the Meiji Restoration

Based on Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan (Routledge, 1989)

In the early nineteenth century, Britain had industrialized and risen to commercial dominance. A few other countries — notably Germany, France, and the United States — had the potential to industrialize, but Britain’s first-mover advantage made it difficult for them to compete under free markets. All three of these countries facilitated their industrialization by adopting interventionist policies such as protective tariffs, infrastructure development, and the strengthening of internal markets. By the late nineteenth century, they had joined Britain as economically and militarily powerful countries.

In 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, Japan showed no sign of being able to successfully compete with any of these countries. It was locked into feudalism and tyrannously ruled. Eighty percent of its people were farmers, and almost half of the remainder were warriors. Manufacturing was small-scale or artisanal, mostly oriented to satisfying the needs of wealthy or high-status persons. Only a small amount of foreign trade was allowed, and it was rigidly controlled by the government. Japan’s technology was outdated and its science was rudimentary.

And yet, in the following three or four decades, Japan utterly transformed itself. The transformation was wide-ranging, deliberate, determined, and profound. By the beginning of World War I, Japan could justly claim to be among the leading nations of the world.

Tokugawa Rule

An imperial family established itself in Japan in the seventh century BC, claiming divinity through descent from the Shinto sun goddess. It continuously reigned over Japan until the end of World War II, when Emperor Hirohito — the 124th emperor — acknowledged that he was not divine and accepted a purely symbolic role in government.

Although the imperial family reigned over Japan for twenty-six hundred years, they didn’t always govern it or control it. A string of powerful military leaders arose after 1185. They were strong enough to displace the imperial family but chose not to do so; instead, they issued their commands in the name of the emperor. The emperors acknowledged their power by naming them shogun (military deputy of the emperor). Japan was governed during these times by a bakufu, a military council chosen and led by the shogun.

For centuries a shogun’s control of Japan was limited by the presence of regional warlords who ruled their own territories. Then, late in the sixteenth century, Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, succeeded in uniting Japan under a single military regime. After the death of Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu took control, defeating his rivals in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). He became shogun in 1603, and this title was held by members of the Tokugawa family until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu

Japan was a feudal state. The Tokugawa family directly controlled about one-quarter of the land. The rest was divided into domains controlled by daimyo (lords) who had considerable authority within their own territory. The daimyo were divided into two groups: the fudai, who had proven their allegiance to the Tokugawa family before the Battle of Sekigahara, and the tozama, who had submitted later. Only the fudai were allowed to participate in Japan’s government.

The shogun kept control of the daimyo through the alternate attendance system, under which each daimyo spent alternate years in his own capital and in the shogun’s capital (Edo, now Tokyo). Each daimyo’s wife and eldest son resided continuously in Edo, as hostages ensuring the diamyo’s fidelity.

A daimyo procession entering Edo, as depicted by Yōshū Chikanobu in 1889.
A daimyo procession entering Edo, as depicted by Yōshū Chikanobu in 1889.

The shogun further tightened his control over the daimyo by restricting the production and sale of gunpowder weapons. European-style firearms had reached Japan in the 1540s and were soon produced domestically. They were used in battle in large numbers as early as 1575. However, after the Battle of Sekigahara, the bakufu saw them as a threat to the regime. Firearms were being manufactured in many of the domains, and the bakufu feared that a daimyo would stockpile them as a prelude to rebellion. In 1607 the bakufu confined all gunmakers to the town of Nagahama and ordered them not to disseminate their knowledge. They were allowed to fulfill orders for firearms only with the prior approval of the bakufu, and the bakufu didn’t often approve. Controls over the distribution of ammunition and gunpowder followed. Most of the gunmakers closed down their shops.1

Portuguese trading vessels in Japan, 16th century
Portuguese trading vessels in Japan, 16th century

The shogun also isolated Japan from foreign influence. The Portuguese and Spanish had traded with Japan in the early sixteenth century, but this trade was problematic for several reasons. First, Christian priests and missionaries followed the traders into Japan. The bakufu believed that Christianity would destabilize the country, and they could suppress it only by barring the Portuguese and Spanish from Japan. Second, daimyo who facilitated European trade might well grow rich from its profits, and these profits could underwrite rebellion. And if rebellion did occur, the European traders were likely to ally themselves with these same daimyo. Preventing the daimyo from engaging in foreign trade was a way of limiting their power. Third, uncontrolled trade would allow firearms to enter the country, undermining the bakufu’s efforts to eradicate them. For all of these reasons, the Portuguese and the Spanish were banned from Japanese territory in the 1630s. Japan’s only European contact was with the Dutch, who were willing to separate trade and religion, and the Dutch were permitted to trade only from a single island in Nagasaki harbour. The Seclusion Edict of 1636 imposed complementary restrictions on the Japanese themselves. Japanese ships were forbidden to sail to foreign countries. Japanese persons were forbidden to travel to foreign countries, and were punished with death if they did so.

Japan had a rigid hereditary caste system. The highest caste was the samurai, the warriors, who ruled the country. The next caste was the peasantry, who constituted about 80 percent of the population. Below them were the artisans, and below them were the merchants and traders. There was also a class of outcasts who performed unclean work such as the slaughter of animals. The separation of warriors from farmers had occurred in the 1580s: Hideyoshi had ordered the warriors into the cities and given them stipends with which to support themselves. The warriors, having no independent livelihood and no territorial base, had little choice but to be loyal. The farmers lived in numerous small villages, and primarily engaged in wet rice agriculture. A part of each village’s rice harvest was taken away to support the local daimyo and to pay the warriors’ stipends. It is estimated that villages had to give up a third or more of their total rice harvest; that they could do so without starving suggests that their agricultural practices were very efficient.

The movement of the high-status samurai into the towns and cities was the primary driver of urban growth.

Towns in the pre-Tokugawa years had, except for Kyoto the imperial capital, been fairly small scale. Patterns of late sixteenth-century warfare encouraged the building of huge castles as daimyo bases. The move of bushi [warriors] away from the land into the ‘castle town’ of each domain meant substantial concentrations of population…By the early nineteenth century there were dozens of towns with a population of over 10,000, many of which had originated as castle towns. By far the biggest of these was Edo, the seat of the ruling Tokugawa bakufu. Edo mushroomed from the late sixteenth century and had an estimated population of around one million by the mid-eighteenth century, probably making it the largest city in the world at the time. Apart from its strategic position as the seat of Tokugawa government, Edo achieved added importance from the system of alternate attendance…The disproportionate population of samurai attracted vast numbers of retailers, craftsmen and servants to service the large and wealthy consumer market.2

Trade and finance was another driver of urban growth. The tax levied on the villages was paid in rice, which was then sold to traders so that the daimyo and the samurai could paid in the cash. The traders resold the rice to consumers in urban marketplaces. Much of this intermediation took place in Osaka, bringing about its rapid growth.

The low standing of merchants and traders in the social hierarchy reflected a Confucian ethic that deprecated commercial activity. The same ethic stabilized the hierarchy through its emphasis on order and duty. Nevertheless, by the early nineteenth century, the hierarchy was breaking down.

Wealth, influence and occupation became decreasingly commensurate with formal status. Wealthy merchants purchased samurai rank and landholdings. Impoverished samurai engaged in farming and other occupations to supplement their inadequate stipends. Peasants abandoned the land and fled illegally to towns, while prosperous artisans engaged in commercial activities.3

Warrior indebtedness to the merchant class became endemic until, by the late Tokugawa period, the ruling stratum was in thrall to those it purported most to despise.4

The samurai response to the potential threat posed by the merchants was a reassertion of their lowly political and social position. Moreover, the dependence of their prosperity on the status quo discouraged merchants from attempting to end their exclusion from overt political power and social pre-eminence. Merchants sought outlets for their wealth and desire for influence within the system. They found ways of evading the restrictive sumptuary laws. They fostered the development of a new, urban, cultural tradition. They evolved their own codes of conduct and social morality, in part modelled on those of the warrior class. So while merchant prosperity was the reverse side of warrior impoverishment, the vested interests of merchants…meant that they had more to fear from change than from continuation of the system.5

By the mid-nineteenth century, Japan’s rigid social structure was largely a richly detailed facade.

The Meiji Restoration

The expansion of industry in Western Europe and America triggered a search for new export markets. There were Western attempts to end Japan’s isolation and open it to trade as early as the 1790s, but these initiatives were rebuffed by the bakufu. Finally, in 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan with four well-armed warships. He delivered an American ultimatum dealing with the provisioning of American ships, the repatriation of shipwrecked sailors, and formal diplomatic relations.

The Tokugawa bakufu had always been required to implement national policy using only revenue raised on Tokugawa lands. This constraint had been tolerable when Japan had not needed to compete with wealthy nations. Now, however, the bakufu found itself financially and militarily unable to resist the American foray. Japan made a treaty with the United States in 1854, and shortly thereafter made similar treaties with Britain and Russia. It was immediately pressed to go further, to fully open itself to trade with the West. In 1858 Japan signed commercial treaties (known collectively as the Ansei Treaties) with the United States, Great Britain, Russia, France, and the Netherlands. These treaties stipulated that foreign diplomats would be placed in Edo, that more Japanese ports would be opened to trade, that the Japanese government would not interfere with trade, and that Japan’s import tariffs would not exceed 5%. They also stipulated that foreign traders would reside in their own settlements, where they would be governed by the laws of their own country and not those of Japan. The treaties were not reciprocal; most importantly, Japanese persons in the West were to be governed by the laws of their country of residence.

Japan had come out of its first encounter with the West in fairly good condition. It had not been colonized, as so many other countries had been, and it had escaped the kind of destructive invasion that China had endured during the Opium Wars. Its sovereignty was acknowledged by Western countries. But for many of the samurai, the relevant comparison was not the worst that may befall, but what had once been. The reaction of the daimyo to the initial treaties ranged from calculated acquiescence to adamant rejection. However, there was near unanimity that the Ansei Treaties were a national humiliation. These treaties forced the Japanese to acknowledge their own military inferiority, and the unequal terms of the treaties proclaimed the West’s belief that Japan’s governmental and legal institutions were inadequate and untrustworthy.

The emperor declared himself to be opposed to the Ansei Treaties. The bakufu’s opponents praised the emperor’s unbroken lineage and the purity of Japanese tradition, and aligned themselves with him. Rebellion broke out. The bakufu was neither militarily strong enough nor politically astute enough to restore its hold on power. In 1867, after nearly a decade of unrest and intermittent warfare, the shogun gave up his office and announced the restoration of imperial rule. His opponents declared that these concessions were insufficient: the Tokugawa, controlling about one-quarter of the land, would have too much influence on Japan’s politics. In 1868 the military forces of two powerful tozama domains, Satsuma and Chōshū, captured the Tokugawa palace, confiscated Tokugawa lands, and announced an imperial government structure that excluded the Tokugawa family. Imperial forces captured Edo in the same year.

The new national government acknowledged that it acted under the authority of the recently crowned emperor, Meiji, and the events surrounding its creation are therefore known as the Meiji Restoration. Emperor Meiji reigned until his death in 1912.

Emperor Meiji in 1873
Emperor Meiji in 1873

During the years of Meiji’s reign, Japan underwent a deliberate, determined, and comprehensive transformation.

Japan’s new leaders embarked on a programme of radical reform aimed at transforming Japan into a modern industrialized nation capable of dealing on equal terms with the nations of the West, and throwing off ‘unequal’ treaties viewed as a national insult.6

By the end of the Meiji period control was focused in a highly centralized state whose functions were carried out through Western style political, administrative and judicial institutions operating in the name of the emperor. Western style armed forces upheld the position of the Japanese state at home and abroad. Western style financial institutions, infrastructure, and factory-based industry were promoted to provide the requisite economic foundations for international strength. A highly efficient education system served the aims of the state. Japan had already been victorious in two major wars, against China in 1894-5 and Russia in 1904-5; she was a world power and possessor of colonies.7

Government

At the accession of the new government, Japan was a heavily fractured society. Political power was concentrated among the samurai, with the rest of society essentially powerless; and for all individuals, the domain mattered much more than the nation. The first acts of the new government were aimed at establishing a new national identity among the Japanese. Taking back control of the domains was an early step. The Tokugawa domains had been confiscated, but many other domains remained in the control of their daimyo. These domains were targeted in 1869, when the government invited the daimyo to “return lands and government to the emperor.” Each daimyo recognized imperial control of his domain, and was appointed governor of the domain in return. In 1871 the domains were reorganized into prefectures whose governors won appointment by merit. Many of the samurai were made redundant by this reorganization. They were further undermined by the restructuring of the army. The soldiers in the new army were conscripts drawn from all segments of society: the samurai no longer had a monopoly on violence. The government continued to pay the samurai’s stipends until 1876, when it converted them into one-time payments. The caste system was officially abolished in 1872.

A new structure for the government was adopted only after extensive deliberations. European governments were studied to discover which institutions appeared to work best, and legal scholars were consulted. The style of government that was eventually chosen contained European elements but was nonetheless thoroughly Japanese.

Changes in political institutions culminated in cabinet government from 1885, the promulgation of a constitution in February 1889 and the opening of an elected assembly in 1890. The haphazard bureaucracy of the early Meiji years was reorganized into a formal bureaucratic hierarchy, its entry governed by examination. Radical reform of the legal system brought about the implementation of new civil and criminal codes modelled on European lines and Western-style judicial procedures.8

The existence of an elected assembly did not imply democratic government. Most of the power was held by a relatively small group of men, drawn largely from the samurai class.

The elites given powers under the emperor included a two-chamber diet with elected and appointed members, the Privy Council, the cabinet, the armed forces and the imperial bureaucracy. These bodies operated to a considerable extent independently of each other. The powers allotted to each were secured by certain safeguards, and constitutional government did not mean the existence of parliamentary democracy, cabinets responsible to the diet, or a titular head of state. The cabinet and the armed forces were responsible to the emperor and to him alone. Cabinets were ‘transcendental’ and non-party, appointed by the emperor not necessarily from the majority party in the diet. Important government decisions had in turn to be ratified by the non-elective Privy Council. The leaders of the armed forces had direct access to the emperor and complete autonomy from the cabinet regarding defence matters.9

The Economy

Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had no modern factories and little machinery or non-human power.10 Most peasants provided their own food, clothing, and tools, so manufacturing tended to be on a small scale, catering to the desires of the samurai and merchant classes. The most important manufactured goods were silk and cotton textiles.

Japan’s textile industries were devastated by the opening of trade with the West: their textiles could not compete with machine-made textiles. A hefty import tariff could have helped these industries, but this option was prohibited by the Ansei Treaties.

The Japanese did not immediately recognize how far their technology lagged behind that of the West. The extent of the technology gap was documented by the Iwakura mission, which spent two years (1871-3) in Europe and the United States. The mission’s primary purpose was to discuss the renegotiation of the unequal treaties. These discussions did not go far, because significant changes to Japan’s government and legal system had not yet been made. The mission’s secondary purpose was to study foreign technology. The information that the mission brought home was shocking to the government, and provided the catalyst for a wide-ranging restructuring of the economy.

The Iwakura mission in London in 1872. Iwakura is in traditional dress.
The Iwakura mission in London in 1872. Iwakura is in traditional dress.

The modernization of the economy would require the purchase of foreign goods and services. The government, fearful of being indebted to foreigners, decided to finance these imports by expanding its own exports. Tea and silk were to become Japan’s two biggest exports. The quality of Japanese silk thread was initially too low to be used in Western textile machines, so the government undertook its improvement. In 1872 the government opened a modern silk reeling mill as a model for other mills. Private mill owners soon adopted modern technologies, and from then until 1914, silk constituted about one-third of Japanese exports by value.

The government continued the modernization of the shipbuilding and armaments industries that had begun in the final years of the Tokugawa era. During the 1870s it also set up model enterprises that produced cement, glass, bricks, and other goods. These enterprises operated as profit-seeking businesses, but they also trialed new technologies and trained engineers and other production workers. They inspired Japanese entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses, and the engineers that they trained often moved on to private business ventures. Given their diversity of purpose, it is not surprising that the model enterprises often operated at a loss. The model enterprises were eventually sold to private entrepreneurs, who narrowed their focus and converted them into profitable businesses.

Technology was also imported by reverse engineering Western machines, and by entering into licensing agreements with Western firms. There was little foreign direct investment.

Private and state businesses hired numerous foreign experts, especially engineers and managers, during the 1870s. The expectation was that Japanese would first learn from them and then replace them; by the mid-1880s, most of the foreign experts were gone. Students were sent abroad to study technical disciplines. As well, the Institute of Technology opened in 1877, staffed initially with foreign instructors teaching in English and German. Technical high schools were established. The success of these initiatives owed much to the emphasis placed on education before the fall of the Tokugawa. Literacy rates in Japan were comparable with those in Europe, and the idea of advancement through merit had been cultivated.

Despite these initiatives, technology continued to play a role in determining which industries grew and which did not. The cotton industry employed relatively simple technologies. Japanese spinning mills were competitive with Western mills by 1883, and Japan was self-sufficient in cotton cloth by 1914. On the other hand, pivotal industries such as iron and steel, heavy machinery, and engineering struggled, held back by both inadequate technology and scarce capital.

Japanese spinning mill
Japanese spinning mill

Technology adoption was not the only area in which the government intervened. Japan had serious infrastructure problems, and the government invested in roads, railways, and the telegraph and postal systems. It created the Bank of Japan as its central bank in 1881, and restructured private banks along Western lines. It also implemented the metric system, the Western calendar, and the groundwork for joint stock companies.

The government strategically provided aid to specific private firms, leading to the early rise of powerful conglomerates.

The government’s sponsorship of specific private entrepreneurs did far more to promote the development of large enterprises, by enabling many entrepreneurs to build up large businesses with semi-monopolistic positions in certain fields. The latter half of the Meiji period saw the rise of huge financial combines known as zaibatsu, which dominated many of the new manufacturing and commercial activities. These huge concerns were characterized by certain features. They were essentially united by finance rather than technology. Most had their own bank, which served as the major channel both for funding existing zaibatsu enterprises and for bringing new enterprises under the zaibatsu aegis. While some zaibatsu concentrated on certain fields of industry or commerce, many others, among them the largest, embraced a huge range of activities from textiles, mining and machinery to insurance, trading and transport…These huge conglomerates, led by the four giants Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Yasuda, came to dominate Japanese commerce and industry, particularly in the interwar period.11

Japan’s drive to become one of the world’s economic powers led to these huge corporations, but its yearning for traditional culture led to the preservation of small firms throughout the country.

Japan could not transform its way of life overnight along Western lines, and in fact chose to lay a particularly strong emphasis upon the ‘indigenous tradition’. Some industries catering to traditional needs in, for example, food production, housing, clothing and artefacts, were capable of adaptation to factory production and mechanization, but for most of the Meiji period even these still tended to produce on a relatively small scale for a local market, in marked contrast to the large-scale factory production dominant in the production of Western-type goods. Production of other traditional items was less amenable to large-scale operation, and this led to the persistence of many operations along traditional craft lines. Over subsequent years traditional tastes and modes of living were, of course, modified by Western contact, and technological advance enabled the mechanized production of a wider range of goods; nevertheless a polarity between ‘Japanese’ and ‘Western’ products continued to exist. This polarity has been a major factor in producing the juxtaposition of large and small enterprises which has become so much a feature of Japan’s industrial structure.12

The Japanese government believed that the Ansei Treaties were a national humiliation, and that Japan’s government and economy had to be comprehensively reformed so that Japan could take its rightful place among the leading nations of the world. While this sense of mission did not permeate through all of Japanese society, it did resonate with the merchants and the samurai. The samurai had to fundamentally overhaul their values. Businessmen had previously been at the bottom of the social hierarchy, but now they were portrayed as loyalists undertaking risky ventures for the common good. The samurai adjusted quickly, perhaps because their old social role had been so thoroughly effaced.

The evocation of the nationalist businessman, the industrial samurai embarking on new and untried ventures for the good of the nation, proved so persuasive that within little more than two decades the stigma formerly attached to industrial and commercial activity was insignificant.13

A large fraction of the new entrepreneurs were samurai. They had the advantage of a good education, and they had financial capital, if only in the form of their commutated stipends.

Science

Japan often took its cultural cues from China, but in science, it lagged behind until the Meiji Restoration — and then raced ahead.

During the Tokugawa era there was no tradition of valuing knowledge for its own sake, and no conception of research as an ongoing effort to expand knowledge. Technical knowledge was valued for its practical applications, and the most prominent scientific fields were medicine (for health care) and astronomy (for calendar making). Mathematics was also valued, but seen as unconnected to other areas of study. Some disciplines, including chemistry, remained in a rudimentary state.

The primary source of knowledge was books written in Chinese or Dutch. Translation was an important activity among scientists, and many scientists were recruited from the among the official translators in Nagasaki. Other scientists were medical doctors who had broadened the scope of their activities.

The Japanese, lacking the idea of an emperor who mediated between heaven and earth, were less passionate about the calendar than were the Chinese, and their enforced isolation made ocean navigation useless to them. As a result, Japanese astronomy lagged behind that of the Chinese. The jesuits had introduced Ptolemaic astronomy in the middle of the seventeenth century, before they were ousted. In the eighteenth century there was a slow absorption of the heliocentric system (the name Copernicus first appeared in Japan in 1722) and simple non-mathematical Newtonian mechanics. Lenses were ground and telescopes constructed by 1800. The first recorded observation of sunspots by a Japanese astronomer was in 1835.

The Opium Wars and the Perry expedition were a clear demonstration of the West’s power, and caused Japan to reach out to Western science, if only tentatively.

Eight shogunal delegations traveled abroad between 1860 and 1867, and they brought back two hundred books to Japan. In 1862 the first Japanese was sent to Europe for formal technical study. Akamatsu Daizaburō, an officer in the shogunate’s new navy, enrolled at Leiden in mathematics and engineering. In 1864 Chōshū sent Inoue Masaru to the University of London, also for engineering studies. But there were limits to change under Tokugawa feudalism: in 1863 several Chōshū samurai had to sneak out of the country for studies overseas.14

All hesitancy was abandoned after the Meiji Restoration. The development of science became part of the national mission to advance Japan’s standing in the world. Numerous students were sent abroad to study scientific and technical disciplines. Several institutions within Japan expanded their science programs — Tokyo University was soon preeminent among them. The universities needed people to teach and to lead research, so they recruited prominent academics in Europe and America. The attitude toward foreigners in academia was the same as in business: they would be there only until young Japanese could be trained to take their place. By 1900 at the latest, foreign academics were widely seen as an impediment to the progress of native talent.

The foreigners at Tokyo University attempted to instill a research ethic in their students from the beginning, but it took some time for indigenous research to develop. The dearth of technical ability in Japan meant that science graduates found themselves pressured to act as experts and advisors to both private businesses and governments, leaving them little time for research. The ranks of the scientists would have to fill out before research could become a priority.

Scientist was another new role that the samurai could embrace to advance their country’s interests. The doctorate degree was introduced in Japan in the 1880s, and James Bartholomew has argued that there was a strong correlation between holding a doctorate degree in a scientific discipline and being a scientist. Using this proxy, he found that the samurai dominated science after 1868.

About 72 percent of [doctorate] recipients in basic chemistry between 1888 and 1921 came from samurai families. In physics they accounted for 66 percent, in engineering for 64 percent, in mathematics and geology for 50 percent, and even in medicine for 43 percent of doctorates.15

The samurai constituted about 8 percent of Japan’s population but accounted for 53 percent of its scientists.

Japan and China present a striking contrast. The Opium Wars spurred China’s interest in Western science, but China did not achieve the momentum that Japan did. By the end of the nineteenth century, Japanese mathematics and science books were being translated into Chinese for use by Chinese students, and Japan had become the preferred destination for Chinese students studying abroad.

Over ten thousand Chinese traveled to Japan to study from 1902 to 1907. Some 90 percent of the foreign-trained students who joined the Qing civil service after 1905, for instance, graduated from Japanese schools.16

Japan, once the student, was now the teacher.

Japanese Expansionism

Japan, having abandoned its isolation, quickly involved itself in military actions in China, Manchuria, Korea, and Taiwan. It aimed for political dominance, if not outright colonization. These conflicts were driven by several factors.

From the 1880s many Japanese also saw their strength on the continent as a strategic and military necessity for their defence against other powers. As the economy grew its need for raw materials and markets expanded, and the Asian continent could offer both of these. Ample territory suggested accommodation for Japan’s mushrooming population. Ideology, too, played a part. The duty of Japan to lead Asia in resistance to the West was widely advocated. Modernization and the prevailing orthodoxy encouraged the view that Japan was superior to her Asian neighbours and had a duty to promote change in them and fulfil her own destiny. Last, but not always least, came a desire to emulate Western nations for whom the securing of concessions in East Asia and elsewhere was an indicator of Great Power status.17

Japan’s military actions were of some concern to Western military powers, who did not want the balance of power to be upset. When the balance of power finally gave way and the West tumbled into World War I, Japan fought successfully on the side of the Entente Powers. Yet, only twenty years later, Japan became an ally of its former enemy, and an enemy of its former allies, in a war that devastated the country and ended the twenty-six hundred year reign of the imperial family.


  1. Alexander Astroth, “The Decline of Japanese Firearm Manufacturing and Proliferation in the Seventeenth Century,” Emory Endeavors in History (2013), pp. 141-2.
  2. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , pp. 85-6.
  3. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , pp. 65-6.
  4. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 88.
  5. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 87.
  6. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 8.
  7. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 8.
  8. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 20.
  9. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 169.
  10. Some of the more powerful domains did show an interest in industrialization. Satsuma built Japan’s first wind-powered manufactory and its first steam-powered cotton spinning mill.
  11. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 117.
  12. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 116.
  13. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 115.
  14. James Bartholomew, The Formation of Science in Japan (Yale University Press, 1989), p. 41.
  15. James Bartholomew, The Formation of Science in Japan (Yale University Press, 1989), p. 53.
  16. Benjamin Elman, A Cultural History of Modern Science in China (Harvard, 2008), pp. 198-9.
  17. Janet Hunter, The Emergence of Modern Japan , p. 42.