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Essay/Term paper: The role of the emperor in meiji japan

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

Free essays available online are good but they will not follow the guidelines of your particular writing assignment. If you need a custom term paper on History: The Role Of The Emperor In Meiji Japan, you can hire a professional writer here to write you a high quality authentic essay. While free essays can be traced by Turnitin (plagiarism detection program), our custom written essays will pass any plagiarism test. Our writing service will save you time and grade.

Within this historical context the Meiji leaders realized that they needed

to harness the concept of the Imperial Will in order to govern effectively.

During the Age of Imperialism, members of the Satsuma and Choshu, two of

the very powerful clans in Japan, were parts of the opposition to foreign

imperialism. This opposition believed that the only way that Japan could

survive the encroachment of the foreigners was to rally around the Emperor.

The supporters of the imperial government, known as imperialists, claimed

that the Tokugawa Shogunate had lost its imperial mandate to carry out the

Imperial Will because it had capitulated to Western powers by allowing them

to open up Japan to trade. During this time the ideas of the imperialists

gained increasing support among Japanese citizens and intellectuals who

taught at newly established schools and wrote revisionist history books

that claimed that historically the Emperor had been the ruler of Japan.

The fact that the Tokugawa's policy of opening up Japan to the western

world ran counter to beliefs of the Emperor and was unpopular with the

public made the Tokugawa vulnerable to attack from the imperialists. The

imperialists pressed their attack both militarily and from within the Court

of Kyoto. The Japanese public and the Shogun's supporters soon felt that

they had lost the Imperial Will.

The end of the Tokugawa regime shows the power of the symbolism and myths

surrounding the imperial institution. The head of the Tokugawa clan died in

1867 and was replaced by the son of a lord who was a champion of Japanese

historical studies and who agreed with the imperialists' claims about

restoring the Emperor. In 1867, the new shogun handed over all his power

to Emperor Komeo in Kyoto. Shortly after handing over power to Emperor

Komeo, the Emperor died and was replaced by his son who became the Meiji

Emperor, which officially started the Meiji period (1868-1911). The

Meiji Emperor was only 15, and so all the power of the new restored Emperor

fell not in the Emperor's hands but in the hands of his close advisors.

Once in control of the government, the Meiji leaders and advisors to the

Emperor reversed their policy of hostility to Foreigners. The reason for

doing this was because after Emperor Komeo, who strongly opposed contact

with the west, died in 1867 the Meiji Emperor's advisors were no longer

bound by his Imperial Will. They realized that opposing western powers was

impossible, and being anti-western also no longer served the purposes of

the Meiji advisors. Originally it was a tool of the imperialist movement

that was used to show that the Shogun was not acting out the Imperial Will.

Now that the Shogun and Komeo Emperor were dead there was no longer a

reason to take on anti-foreign policies.

The choice of the imperial thrown by the imperialists as a point for Japan

to rally around could not have been wiser. Although the imperial

institution had no real power it had universal appeal to the Japanese

public. It was both a mythic and religious idea in their minds. In this

time of chaos after coming in contact with foreigners, the imperial thrown

provided the Japanese with a belief of stability (according to Japanese

myth the imperial line is a unbroken lineage handed down since time

immortal), and the natural superiority of Japanese culture. The symbolism

of the Emperor helped ensure the success of the Meiji leaders, because it

undercut the legitimacy of the Shogunate's rule, and it strengthened the

Meiji rulers who claimed to act for the Emperor.

What is a great paradox about the imperialist's claims to restore the

power of the Emperor is that the Meiji rulers only restored the Emperor to

power symbolically, because he was both too young and his advisors too

power hungry. By 1869, relationship between the Emperor and his Meiji

bureaucracy were very similar to the Emperor and the Tokugawa Shogun before

the restoration. Both the Meiji Bureaucrats and the Shogun ruled under the

authority of the Emperor but did not let the Emperor make any decisions.

In other words, the Meiji Emperor reigned but did not rule. This was

useful for the new Meiji bureaucrats, because it kept the Emperor a mythic

and powerful symbol.

The teachings and symbols of Confucian beliefs and the Imperial

Institution were already deeply carved into the minds of the Japanese, but

the new Meiji rulers, through both an education system and the structure of

the Japanese government, were able to effectively inculcate these

traditions into a new generation of Japanese. Japan, as a nation close to

China, was greatly influenced by the teachings of Confucius, the greatest

teacher in China. Japanese people believe in integrity, uprightness,

respect for superiors, filial loyalty, and they also believe that a

virtuous man must have culture and manners, which is being humble and

benevolent. These exactly resemble the teachings of Confucianism to act

as an individual. The education system the Meiji rulers founded

transformed itself into a system that indoctrinated students in the ideas

of Confucianism and reverence for the Emperor. After the death of Okubo,

a very important figure in Meiji government, in 1878, Ito, Okuma, and

Iwakura emerged as the three most powerful figures among the young

bureaucrats that were running the government in the name of the Meiji

Emperor. Iwakura, one of the only figures in the ancient nobility to gain

prominence among the Meiji oligarchy allied with Ito who feared that

Okuma's progressive ideas would destroy Japan's culture. Iwakura's thought

was able to manipulate the young Emperor to grow concerned about the need

to strengthen traditional morals. Thus in 1882, the Emperor issued the

Yogaku Koyo, the forerunner of the Imperial Rescript on Education. This

document put the emphasis of the Japanese education system on a moral

education from 1882 onward.

Previous to 1880 the Japanese education system was modeled on that of the

French education system. After 1880 the Japanese briefly modeled their

education system on the American system. However, starting with the

Yogaku Koyo in 1882 and ending with the 1885 reorganization of the

department of Education along Prussian lines, the American model was

abolished. The new education minister Mori Arinori, after returning from

Europe in 1885 with Ito, was convinced that the Japanese education system

had to have a spiritual foundation to it. In Prussia, Arinori saw that

foundation to be Christianity, and he decreed that in Japan the Education

system was to be based on reverence for the Imperial Institution. A

picture of the Emperor was placed in every classroom, children read about

the myths surrounding the Emperor in school, and they learned that the

Emperor was the head of the giant family of Japan. By the time the

Imperial Rescript on Education was decreed by the Emperor in 1889 the

Japanese education system had already begun to transform itself into a

system that taught what to think instead of how to think. The Imperial

Rescript on Education in 1889 was according to Japanese scholars such as

Hugh Borton, "the nerve axis of the new order." Burton believes that the

Imperial Rescript on Education signaled the rise of nationalistic elements

in Japan. The Imperial Rescript on Education was the culmination of this

whole movement to the right. The Rescript emphasized aspects from

Confucianism, especially loyalty and filial piety or respect for the

constitution and readiness to serve the government. It also exalted the

Emperor as the coeval between heaven and earth.

The Constitution of 1889, like the changes in the education system, helped

strengthen reverence for the Imperial Institution. The 1889 Constitution

was really the second document of its kind passed in Japan, the first being

the Imperial Oath of 1868 in which the Emperor laid out the structure and

who was to head the new Meiji government. This Imperial Oath was referred

to as a constitution at the time but it only vaguely laid out the structure

of government. The constitution promulgated by the Emperor in 1889 did

much more than lay out the structure of Japanese government. It also

affirmed that the Emperor was the supreme sovereign over Japan. The

signing ceremony itself was an auspicious event on the way to it. Mori

Arinori, one of the moderate leaders of the Meiji government, was attacked

and killed by a crazed rightist. The ceremony itself evoked both the past

and present and was symbolic of the Meiji government's shift toward the

right and the government's use of the Emperor as supreme ruler. Emperor

Meiji signed the constitution, which affirmed the sanctity of the Emperor's

title (Tenno Taiken), and his right to make or abrogate any law. The

constitution also set up a bicameral legislature. The constitution

codified the power of the Emperor and helped the Meiji rulers justify their

rule, because they could point to the constitution and say that they were

carrying out the will of the Emperor. Even after the Constitution of 1889,

the Meiji Emperor enjoyed little real power. The Meiji Emperor did not

even come to cabinet meetings because his advisors told him if the cabinet

made a decision that was different then the one he wanted, then that would

create dissension and would destroy the idea of the Imperial Institution.

Therefore, even after the Meiji Constitution, the Emperor was still

predominantly a symbol. The Constitution ingrained in Japanese society

the idea that the government was being run by higher forces that knew

better than the Japanese people did. It also broadened the base of support

of the Meiji Rulers who now had a document to prove they were acting on

Imperial Will and their decisions were imperial decisions instead of those

of normal mortals.

The symbolism of the Emperor and use of Confucianism allowed the Meiji

rulers to achieve their goals. One of their goals was the abolishment of

the system of feudalism (taxes paid by peasants to landowners) and return

of all land to the Emperor. At first the new Meiji Rulers allied

themselves with the Daimyo clans, which are the strongest samurais just

below the shogun and own a great deal of lands, in opposition to the

Tokugawa Shogun. However, once the Meiji leaders had gained control, they

saw that they would need to abolish the feudal system and concentrate power

in the hands of a central government. The Meiji rulers achieved their

goals by having the Choshu, Satsuma, Tosa, and Hizen clans give up their

lands, granting the Daimyos large pensions if they gave up their clans, and

by having the Emperor issue two decrees in July 1869, and August 1871.

The role and symbolism of the Emperor, although not the sole factor in

influencing the Daimyo to give up their land, was vital. The Meiji rulers

said that not turning in the fiefs to the Emperor would be disloyal and

pointed to the historical records, which Meiji scholars claimed, showed

that historically all land were the property of the Emperor. They showed

this by claiming that the Shogun would switch the rulers of lands and this

proved that the Daimyos did not control the title to their land but merely

held it for the Emperor. Imperial decrees and slogans of loyalty to the

Emperor also accompanied the abolishment of the Samurai system. In the

abolishment of both these feudal systems, the symbolism of the Emperor, as

both the director of the initiative and recipient of the authority

afterwards, played a vital role in ensuring there success.

The abolishment of feudalism and the samurai class were essential for the

stability and industrialization of Japan. Without the concentration of

land and power in the hands of the Meiji rulers and the Emperor, the Meiji

rulers feared they would receive opposition from powerful Daimyos and never

gain control and authority over all of Japan. Historical examples bear out

the fears of the Meiji rulers. In 1467, the Ashikaga Shogun failed to

control many of the lands. As a result, a civil war raged in Japan. The

centralization of power allowed the Meiji government to have taxing

authority over all of Japan and pursue national projects. The unity of

Japan also allowed the Meiji rulers to focus on national and not local

issues.

The use of Confucianism and the Emperor also brought a degree of stability

to Japan during the tumultuous Meiji years. The Emperor's mere presence on

a train or in western clothes was enough to convince the public of the

safety or goodness of the Meiji rulers' industrial policy. In one famous

instance, the Japanese Emperor appeared in a train car. Since then, train

became a common transportation in Japan. The behavior of the Imperial

family was also critical to adoption of western cultural practices. Before

1873, most Japanese women of a high social position would shave their

eyebrows and blacken their teeth to appear beautiful. However, on March

3rd, 1873, the Empress appeared in public wearing her own eyebrows and with

unblackened teeth. From that day on, most women in Tokyo and around Japan

stopped shaving their eyebrows and blackening their teeth. The Imperial

institution provided both a key tool to change Japanese culture and

feelings about industrialization while providing stability to Japan, which

was critical to allowing industrialists to invest in factories and increase

exports and production.

The symbols and the traditions the Meiji leaders inculcated Japanese

society with helped the Meiji government maintain stability and pursue its

economic policies but it also had severe limitations that limited the

revolutionary scope of the Japanese government and helped bring about the

downfall of the Meiji era. The use of Confucianism and the Emperor to

bolster the Imperial restoration laid the foundation for a paradox of state

affairs. The system that sought to strengthen Japan through the use of

modern technology and modern organization methods was using traditional

values to further its goals. This caused some to turn toward the west for

the "enlightenment" the Meiji era promised. As a result, Okuma was

eventually forced out of the increasing nationalist Genro, advisors of the

Emperor. For others it led them to severe nationalism rejecting all that

was western. This was such the case of Saigo who believed till his death

on his own sword that the Meiji leaders were hypocritical and were

violating the Imperial Will by negotiating and trading with the west. The

Meiji government used the same symbols and traditions that the Tokugawa

used, and, like the Tokugawa, gave the Emperor no decision-making power.

The Meiji Emperor, although having supreme power as accorded in the

constitution, never actually made decisions but was instead a pawn of the

Meiji Genro who claimed to carry out his Imperial Will. Like the

Shogunate, the idea that Meiji governments claim to rule for the Emperor

was full with problems. The Imperial Will was a fluid idea that could be

adopted by different parties under changing circumstances. Just like the

Meiji rulers were able to topple the Shogun by claiming successfully that

they were the true administrators of the Imperial Will, the militarist

elements in the 1930's were able to topple the democratic elements of Japan

partially by claiming the mantle of ruling for the Emperor. From this

perspective, the Meiji ruling class, built up of the Imperial Myth, was a

fatal flaw in the government. The constitution, which says in article I,

"The Empire of Japan shall be governed over by a line of Emperors unbroken

for ages eternal" gave to whoever was acting on the Imperial Will absolute

right to govern.

The symbols of the Emperor and the tradition of Confucianism did not

disappear with the end of the Meiji era or World War II. Nowadays, the

idea of filial piety is still strong, and multiple generations of a family

still usually live together even in cramped Japanese housing. The religion

of Shinto, traditional Japanese animism or nature worship, that the Meiji

leaders rejuvenated during their rule in order to help foster the imperial

cult is still thriving as the thousands of Tori gates and Shrines around

Japan attest. But the most striking symbol to survive is that of the

Emperor, stripped after World War II of all power, is still revered.

During the illness of Emperor Showa in 1989, every national newspaper and

television show was full of reports related to the Emperor's health.

During the six months that the Showa Emperor was sick, all parades and

public events were canceled in respect for the Emperor. Outside the gates

of the Imperial palace in Tokyo long tables were set up where people lined

up to sign cards to wish the Emperor a speedy recovery. The news media

even kept the type of illness the Emperor had a secret in deference to the

Emperor. At his death after months of illness, it was as if the Imperial

Cult of the Meiji era had returned. Everything in Japan closed down,

private television stations went as far as to not air any commercials on

the day of his death, and now almost six years after his death more than

four hundred and fifty thousand people travel annually to the isolated

grave site of Emperor Showa.

The traditions and symbolism of Confucianism and the Emperor were critical

to the Meiji rulers gaining control of power and goals of

industrialization. The rulers implanted the Japanese public with these

traditional values through an education system that stressed moral

learning, and through a constitution that established the law of Japan to

be that of the Imperial Will. The values of Confucianism and symbol of the

Emperor allowed the Meiji government to peacefully gain control of Japan by

appealing to history and the restoration of the Emperor. However, the

Meiji rulers never restored the Emperor to a position of real political

power. Instead, he was used as a tool by the government to achieve their

modernization plans in Japan, such as the abolishment of feudalism, the end

of the samurai class, the propagation of new cultural practices, and pubic

acceptance of the Meiji government's industrialization policies. The

symbols and traditions of Japan's past are an enduring legacy that have

manifested themselves in the Meiji Restoration and today in Japans

continued reverence for the Emperor.





References



1. Nagata, Hidejero. (1921). A Simplified Treatise on the Imperial House

of Japan. Tokyo: Hakubunkwan.



2. Kuwasaburo, Takatsu. (1893). The History of the Empire of Japan.

Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho Kabushiki Kwaisha.



3. Reischauer, Edwin O. (1987). Japan Past and Present. Tokyo: Tuttle

Publishing.



4. McLaren, Walter. (1916). A Political History of Japan During the Meiji

Era 1867-1912. New York: Scribner and Sons.



5. Sato, Shusuke. (1916). Some Historical Phases of Modern Japan. New

York: Japan Society.



6. Allen, Louis. (1971). Japan the Years of Triumph. London: Purnell and

Sons.



7. Duus, Peter. (1976). The Rise of Modern Japan. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin Company.



8. Large, Stephen. (1989). The Japanese Constitutional of 1889. London:

Suntory-Toyota International Centre.



9. Best, Ernest. (1966). Christian Faith and Cultural Crisis the Japanese

Case. Leiden: E.J. Brill.



10. Borton, Hugh. (1955). Japan's Modern Century. New York: Ronald Press.



11. Murphey, Rhoads. (1997.) East Asia: A New History. New York: Addison

Wesley Longman, Inc.





Endnotes



1 Nagata, Hidejero. (1921). A Simplified Treatise on the Imperial House

of Japan. Tokyo: Hakubunkwan. p.47.



2 Kuwasaburo, Takatsu. (1893). The History of the Empire of Japan.

Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho Kabushiki Kwaisha. p.206.



3 Ibid. p.17.



4 Reischauer, Edwin O. (1987). Japan Past and Present. Tokyo: Tuttle

Publishing. p.112.



5 McLaren, Walter. (1916). A Political History of Japan During the Meiji

Era 1867- 1912. New York: Scribner and Sons. p.32.



6 Sato, Shusuke. (1916). Some Historical Phases of Modern Japan. New

York: Japan Society. p.4.



7 McLaren. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era 1867-1912.

p.44.



8 Allen, Louis. (1971). Japan the Years of Triumph. London: Purnell and

Sons. p.8.



9 Duus, Peter. (1976). The Rise of Modern Japan. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin Company. p.73.



10 Nagata. A Simplified Treatise on The Imperial House of Japan. p.142.



11 Ibid. p.35.



12 Large, Stephen. (1989). The Japanese Constitutional of 1889. London:

Suntory- Toyota International Centre. p.27.



13 McLaren. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era 1867-1912.

p.70.



14 Murphey, Rhoads. (1997). East Asia: A New History. New York: Addison

Wesley

Longman, Inc. p.44.



15 Ibid. p.45.



16 Duus. The Rise of Modern Japan. p.116.



17 Best, Ernest. (1966). Christian Faith and Cultural Crisis the

Japanese Case.



18 Leiden: E.J. Brill. p.108.



19 Ibid. p.105.



20 Ibid. p.105.



21 Ibid. p.106.



22 Ibid. p.106.



23 Ibid. p.106.



24 Ibid. p.106.



25 Duus. The Rise of Modern Japan. p.117.



26 Borton, Hugh. (1955). Japan's Modern Century. New York: Ronald

Press. p.524.



27 Duus. The Rise of Modern Japan. p.118.



28 McLaren. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era 1867-1912.

p.69.



29 Nagata. A Simplified Treatise on The Imperial House of Japan. p.60.



30 Large. The Japanese Constitutional of 1889. p.9.



31 McLaren. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era 1867-1912.

p.193.



32 Ibid. p.192.



33 Large. The Japanese Constitutional of 1889. p.27.



34 Nagata. A Simplified Treatise on The Imperial House of Japan. p.89.



35 McLaren. A Political History of Japan During the Meiji Era 1867-1912.

p.77.



36 Ibid. p.78.



37 Ibid. p.77.



38 Ibid. p.83.



39 Ibid. p.82.



40 Reischauer. Japan Past and Present. p.66.



41 Duus. The Rise of Modern Japan. p.117.



42 Allen. Japan the Years of Triumph. p.41.



43 Duus. The Rise of Modern Japan. p.84.



44 Ibid. p.119.



45 Ibid. p.88.



46 Ibid. p.94-95.



47 Reischauer. Japan Past and Present. p.166.



48 Ibid. p.167.



49 Ibid. p.13.



50 Large. The Japanese Constitutional of 1889. p.20. 

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