The Meiji Restoration, in Japanese called Meiji ishin (明治維新), denotes events that started during the bakumatsu in the late Edo period and lasted until 1868, resulting in the restoration of imperial rule in Japan. It not only brought about political and economic change but lead to a veritable social and cultural revolution of unprecedented dimensions in Japan. It is also considered the beginning of the Meiji Era.
The rebellion was initiated in 1866 by a group of samurai from the domains of Satsuma and Chōshū, who under their leaders Saigo Takamori and Kido Takayoshi forged the Satchō Alliance (薩摩長州同盟 Satsuma-Chōshū dōmei) to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate.
The events were originally triggered by the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships in 1853, coercing the Tokugawa shogunate into opening Japan’s ports to trade, thus demonstrating the immense superiority of the Western military power over Japan at the time. Other nations followed suit, causing nationalist unrest, under the slogan sonnō jōi (尊皇攘夷, “Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians”). The aim of the rebellious samurai was consequently to restore the pride and power of Japan, by modernising the country at all cost.
Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu (徳川慶喜) abdicated in favour the 15-year-old Meiji Tenno, posthumously known as Meiji (“Enlightened Rule”). The capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo (江戸 Edo, lit. “estuary”) and subsequently renamed Tokyo (東京 Tōkyō, “Eastern Capital”).
The Meiji Restoration saw the abolition of feudalism and the fast modernization, industrialization and westernization of Japan, with many Japanese scholars and politicians (such as Ito Hirobumi or Saionji Kinmochi) dispatched to study the Western system and technologies in Europe and North America, and Westerners invited to Japan to help develop new industries, such beer brewing, the manufacturing of dairy products, and Japan’s first modern railway system.
- Beasley, W. G., The Meiji Restoration, Stanford University Press 1972
- Irokawa, Daikichi, The Culture of the Meiji Period, Princeton 1988
- Jansen, Marius B., The Emergence of Meiji Japan, Cambridge University Press 1995
- Jansen, Marius B., The Making of Modern Japan, Cambridge 2002
- Keene, Donald, Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912, Columbia University Press 2005
- Swale, Alistair, The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan 2009
Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji-tennō, r. 1867-1912)
Nishiki-e (colour woodblock prints) of Meiji dignitaries, depicted by Yamazaki Toshinobu, September 1877 (Meiji 10), click to enlarge.