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Meiji Period (1868 - 1912)

During 1867/68, the Tokugawa era had an end in the Meiji Restoration. The emperor Meiji was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo which became the new capital; his imperial power was renewed. The current political power was moved from the Tokugawa Bakufu into the hands of a short group of nobles and former samurai.

As other subjugated Asian nations, the Japanese were obligated to sign irregular treaties with Western powers. These treaties granted the Westerners one-sided economical and legal advantages in Japan. To recover independence from the Europeans and Americans and constitute herself as a respected nation in the world, Meiji Japan was resolved to close the gap to the Western powers economically and militarily. Drastic reforms were carried out in virtually all areas.

The renewed government wanted to make Japan a democratic state with equality between its entire people. The demarcations among the social classes of Tokugawa Japan were progressively broken down. Accordingly, the samurai were the losers of those social reforms since they lost all their privileges. The changes also included the constitution of human rights such as religious freedom in 1873.

The antecedent feudal lords (daimyo) had to devolve all their lands to the emperor for to stabilize the new government. This was achieved already in the year 1870 and followed by the restructuring of the country in prefectures.

The education system was reformed after the French and later after the German system. Among those reforms was the introduction of compulsory education.

Principles of Confucianism and Shinto including the worship of the emperor were progressively emphasized and taught at educational institutions.

Development of the military sector was a priority, as result of the European and American imperialism. Universal conscription was introduced, and a new army modelled after the Prussian force, and a navy after the British one were established.

To reconstitute the agrarian economy of Tokugawa Japan into a ripe industrial one, several Japanese scholars were sent abroad to study Western science, economy and languages, while foreign experts educated in Japan. The transportation and communication networks were perfected by means of large government investments. The government also directly supported the prospering of businesses and industries, particularly the large and powerful family businesses called zaibatsu.

The big expenses led to a financial crisis in the middle of the 1880's which was followed by a reformation of the currency system and the establishment of the Bank of Japan. The textile industry grew fastest and remained the largest Japanese industry until WW2. Work conditions in the early factories were very bad, but developing socialist and liberal movements were soon suppressed by the ruling clique.

Conflicts of interests in Korea between China and Japan led to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95. Japan defeated China, received Taiwan, but was forced by Russia, Japan and Germany to return other territories. The so called Triple Intervention caused the Japanese army and navy to intensify their rearmament.

New conflicts of interests in Korea and Manchuria, this time between Russia and Japan, led to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. The Japanese army also won this war gaining territory and finally some international respect. Japan further increased her influence on Korea and annexed her completely in 1910. In Japan, the war successes caused nationalism to increase even more, and other Asian nations also started to develop national self confidence.

In 1912 emperor Meiji died, and the era of the ruling clique of elder statesmen (genro) was about to end.

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