The foundations of imperial rule will be strengthened by building up the knowledge of the world.

Pledge of 1868

When Emperor Meiji took over the throne in 1867, Japan theoretically restored power to the emperor. However, because he was only 15 years old, he had little influence.A small, close-knit cabinet of advisers governed the country instead.A series of reforms were immediately implemented by the new cabinet to strengthen and unite Japan.The main concern that they expressed was that if Japan didn't modernize, it would lose its sovereignty.Commodore Perry's recent demonstration of the superior armament of the United States military in 1853 could not have been unfounded due to the superior armament of the United States military.

.This resulted in the removal of the old system of social hierarchy based on inheritance.Samurai, who were historically known as warriors, could now engage in farming and trade and commerce, and townspeople were able to join the army.

Several changes were communicated to the country by the Meiji government with the publication of the Charter Oath in 1868.With this brief document, the new government laid the foundation for all the reforms scheduled for the ensuing decades.The original text is believed to have been written by Yuri Kimimasa, an official of the Fukui government.


Meiji Period in Japan Gallery


Meiji Restoration (1868) Charter Oath

This oath commits us to establishing the nation on a widely defined basis and framing a constitution and laws.

Every matter must be discussed by a substantial number of deliberative assemblies.

Classes of high and low shall unite in vigorously administering the affairs of the state.

In order to prevent discontent, everyone, from the civilized to the military, shall be allowed to choose his own calling.

There should be no evil practices of the past, and everything must be governed by the just laws of nature.

To strengthen imperial rule, knowledge of the world must be sought.

Early Meiji reformers believed that these measures were needed to achieve diplomatic equality and military strength as well as to start building a path to democracy.Emperor Meiji took the slogan "Enrich the Country and Strengthen the Military" to heart during this era.He embraced these efforts in both spirit and in fact.He wore Western-style military clothing, styled his hair western-style, and grew a kaiser mustache.In Japan, the philosophy of "Civilization and Enlightenment" permeated all aspects of society. It aimed to correct Japanese culture and cultivate a "civilized" nation.Government officials outlawed mixed bathing and excessive skin exposure in public, for example.

In addition to concentrating power among an elite band of oligarchs, government officials pacified the country.Around the emperor they formed a tight circle and advised him on everything.To strengthen the government, they implemented land tax reforms and military conscription.During the following four decades, the emperor and his oligarchs made education compulsory and invested in everything from banks to railroads to printing presses that encouraged the circulation of newspapers.Western-style weapons and uniforms were adopted by the military, and new military education models were developed.Japanese people remained unaware of the changes taking place while others remained directly opposed to them.The changes caused tremendous upheaval for a people who had been ruled for decades by a warrior class.

No reform this wide-reaching was put into place overnight.A trip by Japanese officials to the United States and Europe led to the creation of the reform ideas.Iwakura Tomomi led a delegation of nearly 50 government officials on an 18-month diplomatic mission to Europe and the United States five years after the emperor was restored to the throne.It was Iwakura's belief that Japan would de facto retain sovereignty only if it embraced modernization to a certain degree. .Although Iwakura and his delegates were largely unsuccessful in renegotiating the provisions of the treaties, they brought back many ideas on how to reform schools and universities, factories, power plants, cultural life, and the police, military, and government.

A member of the delegation was Ito Hirobumi.In his writings, he discussed every aspect of life including currency systems, education, and technology.The constitutions of the nations he visited influenced the manner in which their affairs were conducted and their institutions.Ito, Japanese leaders, and Western scholars began drafting the Meiji Constitution in 1881 after studying the Austrian and Prussian constitutions.This document was promulgated eight years later.2 It defines the functions of the emperor, the rights and obligations of all Japanese, and the establishment of government institutions such as the Diet (Japanese legislature) and the judiciary.The rule of law became institutionalized in Japan.Maintaining a link between past and present, essential to preserving order, the Meiji Constitution maintains the imperial system while becoming a modern nation-state.In fact, Meiji Emperor announced the constitution on February 11, 1889, the anniversary of Jinmu's alleged ascension to the throne 2,349 years earlier.

Several sections of the preamble and the constitution are included below to illustrate these changes in Japan:

Introductory Statement

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Our Ancestors inherited the rights of sovereignty of the State, which We shall pass on to Our descendants.

(Each of the 17 articles from Chapter 1 has been omitted)

According to the Imperial House Law, the Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by male descendants of imperial lineal descent.

It is the right of the Emperor to be sacred and inviolable.

Emperor as head of the Empire, article IV.

Article XI. The Emperor is the ultimate commander in chief of the Armies and Navy.

The Emperor determines the organization and peacestanding for the Army and Navy.

Art. XIII. The Emperor declares war, makes peace, and concludes agreements.

Chapter 2: Rights and duty of the subject (excerpted four out of fifteen articles)

Japanese subjects shall be subject to the laws of the country according to Article XVIII.

Japan is amenable to service in the Army and Navy, according to the provisions of law.

Article XXIII. No Japanese person may be arrested, detained, tried or punished unless the law requires it.

Japan guarantees its subjects, within the limits of the law, the rights to freedom of speech, deliberation, writing, publishing, public assembly, and association.

Chapter 3: The Imperial Diet (Extracted from three articles out of 22)

Diet of the Empire consists of two houses, the House of Peers and the House of Representatives.

House of Peers according to the Ordinance regarding the House of Peers shall consist of members of the Imperial Family, of the nobility, and of persons nominated by the Emperor.

The House of Representatives is composed of Members elected by the people in accordance with the Election Law.

Citations