Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The Meiji period in Japan was a period of transition that moved the nation from the past into the future that the contact with the West had initiated. It was evident that Japan could not continue as it had without becoming a possession of Western countries and the loss of culture like China had become. (1) Survival was to come from embracing enough change to stand strong and not give in. The most amazing and significant aspects of this period was the near bloodless transition it turned out to be.
Through this change to the Meiji period, an intent to “eliminate the pride of status and hereditary income” as well as a desire to change the entire socioeconomic foundation was in the forefront of it. (2) The changes changed how the people interacted as well as how they survived. The legendary samurai were on their way out to make room for a more modern way to govern and use power.
One of the biggest achievements was the land-tax reform which eliminated “the cumbersome and inequitable Tokugawa tax system of payment in produce” which become the “basis for a modern capitalist economy that was more efficient.” (3) A culture once ahead of the world in advancements and technology, Japan was not almost ‘barbaric’ when up against the resources and tools of the West. The Meiji period focused more on industrialization of products that could be used by themselves and the West. The entire economic plan for the country was changing in order to compete and survive.
Yet, another great change during this period was the constitutional government that was created. The leaders of the Meiji government were wise in moving slowly in implementing the drastic changes. By doing so and moving in such a direction with the government, the leaders were acknowledging “that Western strength was based as much on political institutions as on technology and arms.” (4)
The significance of the Meiji period was the wisdom and humility of Japan to see a need for change and to make those changes in a manner that would make the nation stronger. Instead of giving up their souls to the West as it appeared the Chinese had done, Japan embraced the aspects of the West that would make them stronger.
(1) Mark Borthwick, Pacific Century: The Emergence of Modern Pacific Asia, Third Edition, (Westview: Boulder, 2007), 115.
(2) Ibid, 120.
(4) Ibid, 130.