We all know that Japan is one of the world’s most powerful economies. This is the country where two nuclear bombs were dropped, the country which suffered more than 250 years of feudalistic rule. But how did it suddenly became one of the world’s superpower? This rapid change in Japan from isolated, pre-industrial and feudal country to one of the great powers on the world stage is due to ‘Meiji revolution’.
Unlike other revolutions such as in France, Russia and China, it was non-violent, without any drama, destruction and political violence. The Meiji revolution is 45-year reign of the Meiji emperor, Mutsuhito (from 1868 to 1912). Under his rule, Japan began its modernization. Meiji means ‘Enlightened Rule’ and the main theme of this revolution was to combine western advancements with traditional eastern values.
Factors facilitating the Meiji revolution
Before the Meiji rule, Japan experienced corrupt feudal rule and pressure from western imperialism. The foreign powers obtained many privileges by means of unequal treaties. The Meiji leaders were aware of what happened to China, which opposed western imperialism – China was defeated and humiliated. They believed Japan was in danger of foreign attack. To counter the threats of imperialism, Japan had to be strong. They recognized that the need for transformation of traditional feudal society into a progressive and modern one was urgent.
Political & societal changes
In order to strengthen itself, the Meiji government abolished feudalism, where class distinctions were removed. Abolition of feudalism strengthened the nationalism and people began extending their loyalty to the nation. It created a large mobile force for industrialization.
They introduced modern system of land taxation in order to ensure a continuous and large income to finance different modernization programs.
Agriculture was the main source of economy for Japan. The Meiji leaders recognized that a modernized agriculture is the foundation of success. They encouraged agricultural students to go abroad to learn more advanced techniques in agriculture. Foreign experts were employed to improve agricultural techniques. New kinds of plants and seeds were imported from different countries. Agricultural colleges and experimental stations were established throughout the country to test new methods of planting and provide new agricultural techniques to farmers.
Thus the agricultural production steadily increased. On the other hand, silk manufacture was technically improved. Great progress was made in Japanese silk production and export. The high quality of Japanese silk attracted many buyers.
The Meiji leaders knew that in order to improve economy and industrial sector, they need to enhance their technical skills. They employed foreign advisers and engineers to run new industries and train native Japanese technicians quickly. For the long run, technical schools were set up to provide modern education. Education was made compulsory. More machines were used to improve production in the industries.
There was a development in consumer goods industries, silk-reeling plants, glass and chemical manufacturing plants, a cement works, cotton-spinning factories and sugar factories. Japan was able to produce machinery and electrical equipment by itself in a quick time. It didn’t loose focus on small industries. Japan knew they were particularly important because they required less capital and less technical knowledge, they could be developed in small workshops, and they made use of the rural labour, which is easily available. The modern industrialization enhanced greater circulation of goods, capital and even labour. It also raised the standard of living in society.
Till 1870, there was no national army in Japan. It was only under the Meiji rule in 1873, a truly national army evolved. Military colleges were established for greater specialization of military functions in Japan. Industries producing ammunition and construction of war-ships were set up. Because of this rapid modernization of military sector, Japan was able to fight successful wars, where it defeated China and Russia.
The Meiji government adopted western, liberal education which brings direct material and practical benefits. It established national control over education, imposed uniform educational standards, and introduced universal and compulsory education. Moral lessons of the past were replaced by progressive and modern curricula. Western popular, scientific and technical knowledge was spread.
With the modernization of education in Japan, it developed social and national unity, increased social literacy and resulted in greater political consciousness among the people and contribution to successful modernization.
Within a span of 45 years, Japan became a super power. There was an increase in standards of living, people became more literate and politically conscious, increased urbanization, well developed infrastructure and communications, and specialized administration by the government.