(JAPAN from TOKUGAWA to MEIJI – continued)

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Economic Progress under Emperor Meiji

Early in the reign of Emperor Meiji, Japan's government was determined to modernize the country's economy. The economy was primarily agricultural, with only 20 percent of its land suitable for cultivation and tea and silk as major exports. In 1871, the government freed farmers from restrictions on land use, allowing them to grow whatever they wanted, and in 1872 it granted people the right to buy and sell land. The government invested in agriculture, establishing agricultural colleges, establishing an experimental farm and providing farmers with technical advice. Improvement in seed strains was made and in planting techniques. There was an increase in use of fertilizers, improved pest control and an extension of irrigation systems.

The growth of the agricultural sector of the economy helped make possible the growth in Japan's manufacturing, with farmers paying the taxes that created revenues that the government used for investing in industrial development. Japan's government and its industrialists, the zaibatsu, guided the nation economically. Japan was developing its industries at a fast pace, largely because the government wanted to make Japan a significant military power, with its slogan "rich country, strong army." Shipbuilding commenced. Japan's government encouraged the building of railroads across much of the nation and encouraged the creation of a telegraph network and shipping lines. A modern banking system was developed. The textile and silk industries expanded rapidly.

In total population, Japan was just a little ahead of Britain, Japan's population rising from 35 million in 1873 to 43.8 million in 1900 – 58 percent of the U.S. population, at 75.9 million in 1900. But only 8.6 percent of Japan's population was urbanized in 1900, compared to 32.8 percent for Britain, 18.7 percent for the United States, 15.5 percent for Germany and 13.3 percent for France.

Laborers suffered during Japan's rapid industrialization, as laborers had in Europe and the United States during their industrial revolutions. Miners lived in barracks and worked 12 hours a day for little pay and in the presence of guards who did not allow them to slacken their pace of work – at temperatures that might reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. For the sake of industrial growth the Meiji government supported the industrialists and was opposed to strikes. But strikes occurred, such as that of 100 female workers at a cotton mill. And strikes continued to grow to the end of the century, while the government made strike organizing a crime.

During the Meiji period (1868-1912), wealth concentration occurred in agricultural areas. Sixty-seven percent of all peasant families were driven into tenancy. Writes Wikipedia, productivity stagnated. As tenants were forced to pay over half their crop as rent, they were often forced to send wives and daughters to textile mills or to sell daughters into prostitution to pay for taxes. note98

Industrialization and the government giving free reign to business interests were opposed by some Buddhists from their position of diminished influence. Such Buddhists saw ambition for material things and money as something that people should deny themselves. And some Confucianists were not happy about the individualism and utilitarianism that accompanied Japan's revolution.


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