(JAPAN from TOKUGAWA to MEIJI – continued)

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JAPAN from TOKUGAWA to MEIJI (3 of 5)

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Meiji Institutions

From 1871 to 1873, the Meiji government sent students abroad to study the West. It was called the Iwakura Mission. There were about sixty students, including five women, and there were forty-eight administrators and scholars. They examined technology, banking systems, political systems, infrastructures, educational systems, zoos and agricultural techniques and considered what would work in Japan and what would not.

Confucianism had been a part of Japan's ideology regarding the ethical character of the state, acquired ready-made from China, with some religious aspects, including ancestor worship. Now the Meiji government relegated Confucianism to a secular philosophy, no longer a part of official state theology. And in 1873, while Buddhism was still under attack, religious freedom was declared. (There was the Tenrikyo sect, its story and that of its founder, Nakayama Miki, told here.)

The Meiji government abolished Japan's class system. Aristocrats were now allowed to marry commoners. Common people were given the right to wear formal apparel and to travel on horseback. The lowest caste status of people called Eta and Hinin was abolished. The government abolished the right of samurai to cut down disrespectful commoners with impunity. Samurai lost their right to wear swords. Daimyo and samurai were paid pensions, putting a heavy drain on government finances, but the pensions of lower ranking samurai were reduced to the pay level of the common soldier. There were samurai revolts, the largest in 1877, involving several thousand men confined to Southern Kyushu – the last feudal uprising against Emperor Meiji's government.

There were many peasant revolts. The agricultural sector of Japan's economy bore the burden in taxes to pay the cost of modernizing and industrializing the nation. One-third of Japan's arable land was farmed by tenants, and the average tenant paid 60 percent of his crop to the landowner as rent – half of which went to the government as a land tax, and 40 percent of farmers who owned their land had only 1.1 acre or less. Peasants were also unhappy about being drafted into the military – called a "blood tax." To create a sense of identity with the national interest, the Meiji government tried to drum into its military recruits a sense of loyalty and service to the emperor.

Universities were founded and an educational system created, influenced in part by what was discovered in the United States and Prussia, or Germany. Elementary education was made universal and four years of schooling were made compulsory, with each school year consisting of four months. In 1872 there was only a 28 percent attendance by those of school age, which jumped to 40 percent by 1878, most of those attending school being boys. Largely the students were unmoved by their studies of Western personages, and Japan's traditionalists in education, steeped as they were in Confucianism, disliked the shift of focus from Confucian moral principles to teaching kids about material things, such as "peaches, chestnuts, and persimmons."

The government allowed Western-style daily newspapers to publish – the first such Japanese language daily being the Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun. Having an impulse toward freedom, newspapers began expressing hostility toward the government, and the government responded with a law requiring owners, editors and printers to register. All comments in the paper were to be signed and the newspaper editor was to be held responsible for slander or articles that "reviled existing laws" or confused people about their duty to observe these laws. In July 1877, Japan's home minister acquired the right to prohibit or delay publication of any newspaper in violation of this government standard. In 1880 these security laws extended to the activities of political and other organizations of private individuals.

Japan adopted a police system and a legal system modeled roughly on what they found in France. There were to be no trials by jury. The Western (Gregorian) calendar was adopted. And in the early 1880s work began on the creation of a European-style constitution.

Meiji Japan established a constitution in 1889 modeled on a political theory of a German, Lorenz von Stein, who held that a monarchy existed to arbitrate between groups with competing interests, to prevent the exploitation of the weak by the strong. The Meiji constitution put on paper the emperor as arbiter of the will of all Japanese. There was to be no division of powers as with constitutions in the West. There was to be a parliament – the Diet – elected by men eligible to vote based on property qualification, but the Diet had no power other than to express grievances or to work on technical details regarding budgetary or security issues. Everything was subject to approval by the emperor. A governmental cabinet, working with the Diet but not responsible to it, was to have no power to initiate legislation or to deny the Meiji government money. In keeping with his godly status, the emperor was subject to no checks on his power. In theory, only the emperor could legislate. He could end parliament sessions. It was the emperor who had the power to declare war. The emperor was the supreme commander of the armed forces. Only he could conclude treaties. And given the emperor's lack of involvement in the study, work and decisions of government, real power rested with those around him who made decisions in his name.

Meanwhile, the government had been pushing for additional control over the thought processes of Japan's citizenry. From the government came detailed regulations of the content of subjects taught in schools. Textbooks were to be government publications and the content of such books to be without thoughts that jeopardized the morality of the Japanese. In 1880, control over Japanese schools was taken away from locally elected school boards and returned to centralized control, and during the 1880s a more conservative direction was applied to schooling. The individualistic values of the West that had found their way into Japan's schools were replaced by Shintoist views and by Confucianism's devotion and respect by children for their elders and other persons of authority. And children were taught the "special virtues" embodied in their emperor.


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