BECK index

Japan's Modernization 1800-1894

by Sanderson Beck

Japan Isolated 1800-37
Japan's Transition 1837-67
Meiji Restoration 1868-73
Meiji Conflicts 1873-77
People's Rights Movement 1877-84
Japan's Constitutional Development 1884-94
Fukuzawa Yukichi's Ethics

This chapter has been published in the book EAST ASIA 1800-1949.
For ordering information, please click here.

Japan Isolated 1800-37

Japan 1615-1800

Ienari came of age and began ruling for himself in 1793. He spent money liberally and did not try to control commerce. The shogunate began mapping and colonizing the northern island of Ezo (Hokkaido) in 1798 and took it over in 1802. The Russian warship Nadezhda arrived at Nagasaki in 1804, but several months later ambassador Vasilii Rezanov was told to leave. In 1807 Russian naval officers Khostov and Davydov attacked settlements in Sakhalin and Ezo, leaving a letter threatening to attack again if Japan did not agree to terms. The next year a British vessel asked for food and supplies at Nagasaki, whose governor was so ashamed of their lack of defenses that he committed suicide. This incident led to improvement of the defenses. In 1811 captain Vasilii Golovnin and his men were captured at Kunashiri and were held for two years before the Japanese learned that Khostov and Davydov had acted against their orders. The Russians captured the merchant Takadaya Kahei, who had a Bakufu monopoly, and traded him for Golovnin.

After Nobuaki died in 1812, Mizuno Tadanari by flattery and influence with the women became Shogun Ienari’s main advisor. Ienari had one wife and twenty concubines, fathering 55 children. His seraglio also included forty principal ladies and nine hundred female attendants. The weddings of his daughters were celebrated extravagantly, and daimyos had to contribute. Many of the daimyos also lived extravagantly during this era of pleasure as trade flourished in the towns. Theaters were well attended, and prostitution spread to more areas. The Bakufu’s reserves of gold and silver fell from one million ryo in 1798 to 650,000 in 1830. Most daimyos and samurai had growing debts. They sold the right to use a surname and carry two swords to prosperous farmers. Peasants were forced to pay heavier taxes, sometimes in advance. Uprisings occurred, but the samurai retained military supremacy. More incidents with English ships led to an expulsion order in 1825. Local authorities were ordered to arrest or kill “without a second thought” anyone who lands.

While Japan experienced economic and cultural development, the shogunate suffered fiscally. The Bakufu government saved nearly half its expenditures temporarily by debasing the currency nineteen times between 1819 and 1837, but this caused price inflation and hardship on the samurai. In 1827 the Bakufu imposed laws that required village officials to crack down on pawn shops, alcohol, gambling, and luxurious life-styles. The sumptuary laws ordered prostitutes arrested, and the government even tried to clamp down on bath-houses, barbers, and hairdressers, using spies to arrest customers. The Mitsui house became the financial agent for the shogunate, the imperial house, and several daimyos. The Konoiki house acquired wealth from shipping and handled financial affairs for about three dozen daimyos. The commerce enabled the urban centers to grow. As the population of Edo approached one million, Osaka and Kyoto neared 400,000 each. Paper currency took the form of han rice or silver certificates. Merchants increased their affluence and became creditors at the expense of the rural and urban poor. The annual rice crops had leveled off at about 30 million koku, while population only increased gradually to about 32 million because of infanticide. In Choshu in 1831 a hundred thousand people demonstrated against the daimyo’s cotton monopoly and attacked houses of the rich, stores, granaries, breweries, and pawnshops.

A devastating four-year famine provoked a peasant rebellion in 1837 led by Osaka magistrate Oshio Heihachiro. His father had been a police inspector in Osaka, and Heihachiro inherited his position. In the 1820s he cleaned out corruption in Buddhist temples, secret religious groups, and prostitution rings, thus gaining a reputation as the best police censor in Osaka. After the corrupt Atobe became city magistrate, Oshio resigned and began educating disciples. He studied and taught the ideas of Wang Yangming, which in Japan were called Oyomei studies, and his famous lectures were published in 1834. He was also inspired by the philosophy of Nakae Toju who said, “Do right for the sake of doing right.”1 Like his friend, Rai San’yo (1780-1832) who wrote the influential General History of Japan (Nihon gaishi), Oshio admired the defenders of the Kemmu restoration of 1333. The historian feared Oshio’s fate and urged him to sheath his sword.

Oshio blamed the Tokugawa shogunate for failing to provide just and moral government, and he wanted to save the people from the hell of the past in order to establish a paradise. He accused the bureaucrats of combining with the huge merchant houses of Osaka to hoard the supply of rice in Edo while famine spread. Unafraid of the government over them and wanting to help the people, Oshio and his followers aimed to bring truth and justice under an emperor. He blamed the Bakufu for not sending rice to the Kyoto court. In 1836 more than a hundred thousand people were reported to have starved to death in the Tohoku. That year the number of rural disputes, peasant uprisings, and urban riots reached their peak.

As the famine became worse, Oshio sent a memorial to Magistrate Atobe; but his petition was ignored. Oshio distributed and posted on temples and shrines in Osaka the manifesto “Punishment from Heaven,” and he urged his followers to kill any official who learned of their revolt. He planned to set fire to the large merchant houses to confiscate their gold, silver, copper, and bales of rice, but Magistrate Atobe learned of the plot the day before it started. Oshio set fire to his own house in order to burn the magistrates in the house opposite. The fire burned the merchant district of Osaka for two days in February 1837 and destroyed 3,300 houses. Hundreds of swords Oshio had distributed were used to sack silk and sake shops, and Bakufu troops hunted down the rebels. Most of them were tortured to death before the trial was completed. Oshio fled, and a month later he was found and committed suicide. The historian Okamoto Ryoichi has argued that Oshio’s radicalism did not coordinate his followers into a unified protest. Ikuta Yorozu was a disciple of Hirata Atsutane, and he also led a rebellion at Niigata during the famine of 1837.

Tsuruya Nanboku IV (1755-1829) adopted the name of his father-in-law in 1811 and wrote more than 120 plays for the kabuki theater that reflected popular tastes and changing cultural values. Whereas the plays of Chikamatsu and others emphasized duty (giri) and its conflicts with feelings (ninjo), in the 19th century the characters and audiences were motivated by the desires for money and sex, which was more overtly depicted. Nanboku’s erotic melodrama, The Scarlet Princess of Edo, was produced in 1817. Lady Sakura falls in love and asks to be the wife of the robber Gonsuke who raped her. The priest Seigen believes that she is the reincarnation of his homosexual lover who committed suicide, and he takes care of her abandoned baby. A couple tries to murder ill Seigen for money. Gonsuke returns and sells his wife Sakura to a brothel. Seigen wants to kill Sakura but stabs himself and dies. His ghost prevents her from sleeping with men. Sakura learns that Gonsuke killed her father and in revenge kills their child and him. She cuts off her hair to become a nun, and in the final scene her family scroll is found and restores her as a princess just as she is being caught for murder. Thus the traditional happy ending is ironic because every main character has degenerated morally.

Nanboku’s most famous play is Ghost Story at Yotsuya, which was produced in 1825 over two days between the two halves of the famous Chushingura. Iemon has been living with pregnant Oiwa and asks her father for permission to marry, but he refuses because Iemon was a retainer of Enya Hangan but did not join the vendetta. Enraged Iemon kills the old man. Naosuke is in love with Oiwa’s step-sister Osode and kills a supposed rival. Iemon and Naosuke deny their crimes and promise to get revenge. Oiwa’s face is disfigured after she takes medicine. The doctor Ito Kihei tells Iemon that he sent the poison so that his granddaughter Oume could marry Iemon, who agrees to leave Oiwa to marry Oume. Kihei says he will recommend Iemon to his master Moronao. Iemon sends the masseur Takuetsu to seduce Oiwa, who pulls out her hair and accidentally cuts her throat and dies. Iemon kills his servant Kohei for having stolen a family heirloom. Then Iemon marries Oume, but he sees Oiwa’s face on her and decapitates her. When he thinks Kihei is Kohei eating his baby, Iemon cuts off his head too. In the third act the ghosts of Oiwa and Kohei haunt Iemon. Osode marries Naosuke to get revenge, but she learns he is a murderer and kills herself. Naosuke discovers that Osode is his sister and also commits suicide. The ghost of Oiwa uses rats to torture Iemon. This horrific melodrama thrilled audiences.

Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) was a self-educated peasant who believed that other peasants could also control their destiny by gaining knowledge. Poverty is best alleviated by developing virtue from below. He helped peasants organize mutual trust cooperatives to manage their own affairs more effectively. He advised farmers to keep statistics so that they could budget their expenses. He suggested a planned agrarian economy so that some of the good harvests could be set aside for the bad years. Sontoku believed that human life should be a continuing act of gratitude for the providence of heaven, earth, and humans. He found the root of virtue in work, and its loss in idleness. Labor is what creates civilization and human advancement. Everyone must contribute to the general welfare, and mutual aid is what protects all. In addition to labor, his practical virtue included thrift and sharing with others. Sontoku became known as the peasant sage of Japan.

Aizawa Yashushi (Seishisai) wrote New Proposals (Shinron) in 1825. This manuscript was circulated and discussed by important people and became even more popular when it was published in 1857. He emphasized the divine line of kings going back to the sun goddess Amaterasu, and he found moral values in the Japanese tradition. He argued that the state should be defended by armed preparation. He wrote that the ancients were blessed because they lived as though their enemy was right on the border. His writing greatly stimulated Japanese nationalism (kokutai). His ideas were taken up by samurai intellectuals such as Fujita Yukoku and his son Toko in the Mito domain of Tokugawa Nariaki. Aizawa quoted the advice from Sun’zi’s Art of War about the importance of preparations for defense. He argued that the national government needed military strength to defend the people because of the trend in international affairs and that education is the way to develop this strength and prosperity. He combined Confucian ethics with the filial piety of Shinto worship while criticizing shamans, Buddhists, and the sophistries of pseudo-Confucians. He observed that westerners found strength not only in their scientific technology but also in their common Christian God. He warned,

The subversion of the people and overthrowing of the state
are taught as being in accord with the God’s will.
So in the name of all-embracing love
the subjugation of the land is accomplished.
Though greed is the real motive,
it masquerades as a righteous uprising.2

The ideas of Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) were so aggressively nationalistic that he favored making Shinto the only national religion and the emperor Japan’s only ruler; the Shogun had him put under house arrest in 1841. Hirata emphasized the divinity of the emperor and recommended worshipping him daily by facing the imperial palace in Kyoto. His valuing of work and family attracted a following of farmers and local officials, and he found the ancient way exemplified in the lives of the common people. He identified everyday work with the original creation by the gods, and work is the offering people make to the gods. He believed that government and religion should be one and the same. He held the kami Takami-musubi to be the creator god. Hirata moved away from Motoori Norinaga’s theory of deep emotion, and he replaced Motoori’s concept of the underworld with a permanent Heaven, where believers go after they die.

Japan's Transition 1837-67

Schooling greatly increased in Japan during the middle of the 19th century. Only 57 private academies (shijuku) existed by 1789, and in the next forty years 207 more were established; but 796 were founded between 1830 and 1867. The number of parish schools (terakoya) was 241 in 1789, and 1,286 more were established by 1829; another 8,675 began teaching by 1867.

New religions began springing up that gained large followings among the peasants. Kurozumi Munetada (1780-1850) had a vision during a severe illness and in 1814 founded a sect based on devotion to the sun goddess Amaterasu. In the early 1840s he wrote about serving the way of the circular deity of light. He promised that the age of the gods (kami) had come and that they would be compassionate to all at the end of the world.

In 1838 a farmer’s wife with healing powers named Nakayama Miki (1798-1887), who had been oppressed by her family and husband, began relieving the suffering of others and started the Tenri movement. She chanted, fell into trances, and demonstrated shamanic powers. During a three-day trance she was told to abandon her family to become a vehicle and messenger of the divine work. She gave up her possessions and distributed her family land to the poor. She taught that one must fall into poverty to find relief from pain. She believed that people evolved from monkeys and are equal. She warned that failing to work for universal relief in accordance with divine law would bring down the wrath of the kami. Miki taught that pride is the basic human evil that produces the desire, regret, sweetness, greed, arrogance, hatred, resentment, and anger that she associated with the powerful. She envisioned frugal peasants working together in community.

The farmer Kawate Bunjiro (1814-83) founded the Konkokyo sect in Bitchu. He made pilgrimages to the Shinto shrine at Ise in 1830 and 1846. He believed he was transformed into a kami of love and took the name Konko Daijin in 1859. He also gave up all his possessions. Konko emphasized august intelligence (oshirase), but he advised rejecting the clever learning of society. He said that by listening and understanding, the body would become a reservoir and agent for the intention of the divine. He disapproved of religious austerities and said that eating and drinking are important for the body. Konko also recommended relieving and helping others in need. Mutual help is what makes humans different from other species. He exalted women and said they are close to the gods. Konko emphasized the importance of farming and doing one’s household duties.

Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-60) had become Mito daimyo in 1829. He was influenced by Aizawa Seishisai’s ideas to revere the emperor and repel the barbarians. After the Oshio rebellion in 1837 and especially after learning of the British Opium Wars against China in 1840, Nariaki and his Confucian adviser Fujita Toko (1806-55) implemented reforms in Mito by conducting a land survey, realigning tax quotas, using new agricultural techniques, and recalling samurai from Edo.

Choshu had a huge debt of 85,000 kan of silver and troubles since the peasant uprising of 1831. Murata Seifu was appointed in 1840 and relieved the peasants with a new land survey and a more equitable tax. The domain’s debt was adjusted to allow payments over a longer period of time. The Choshu government sold its monopoly rights on salt, sake, cotton, and other products to merchant guilds. Shipping for the Ryuku trade provided funds to buy western equipment and improve defenses. Zusho Hirosato in Satsuma told creditors that the domain’s debt of 70,000 kan or five million ryo would be paid off over 250 years without interest. Satsuma established a sugar monopoly and made enormous profits in Osaka. They also made high profits by trading illegally with the Luchu Islands. Both Choshu and Satsuma used the mercantilist methods of commercial profits and military capability.

Many of the 264 domains reformed themselves economically and began to provide their own defenses. The Shogun headed the Bakufu government that was six times larger than the largest daimyo, but their territory was scattered over most of Japan. Uprisings in their areas had occurred in Gunnai in 1836, in Osaka, Edo, and Kashiwazaki in 1837, and in Sado in 1838. The Dutch scholar Takano Nagahide (1804-50) wrote a pamphlet in 1838 opposing the exclusion policy and suggesting the advantages of foreign trade. When Watanabe Noboru (Kwazan), a talented poet and painter, was summoned by a magistrate in 1839, he warned Takano, who refused to hide and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Takano later escaped during a fire in 1844 but committed hara-kiri after killing a police officer in 1850. Kwazan was also imprisoned and committed suicide in 1841 in order to protect his feudal lord.

Takashima Shuhan (1798-1866) sent a memorial to the Nagasaki governor urging military reform, but this was criticized by Torii Yozo, who was the son of the official Confucian scholar Hayashi Jussai. Torii was a chief magistrate in Edo; he hated anything foreign and was called the Demon. Takashima urged adopting western military technology; but after his successful demonstration of guns in 1841, Torii had him arrested, tried, and imprisoned. In 1840 Hirose Tanso wrote Circumlocutions (Ugen) criticizing the corruption of the daimyos and samurai class. In 1842 Egawa Hidetatsu was assigned to train one hundred musketeers. Three daimyos were ordered to exchange their domains, but for the first time they were allowed to refuse.

Mizuno Tadakuni (1793-1851) had become senior councilor (roju) in 1834. Even though Shogun Ienari retired in 1837, his control prevented Bakufu reforms until his death in 1841. Then Shogun Ieyoshi (r. 1837-53) let Mizuno govern. He dismissed a thousand officials and issued new sumptuary laws. Female hairdressers could get one hundred days in jail, and in 1842 restaurants and teahouses were closed for allowing lewd behavior. Erotic and heretical books were banned, and publishers had to submit writing for prior approval. This censorship caused the arrest of the comic writer Tamenaga Shunsui (1790-1843), and he died in prison after his hands were cut off. The celebrated actor Danjuro VII was arrested and was not pardoned until 1849, and actor Nakamura Tomijuro died in exile.

Mizuno Tadakuni tried to have more land reclaimed and make peasants return to farms. Ninomiya Sontoku was consulted on agriculture, and most of the officials in eastern Japan were dismissed. The monopolies that the Bakufu had licensed were abolished, but the commercial associations were eventually reinstated in 1851. Mizuno decreed a 20% decrease in prices, wages, and rents; but in the confusion prices went even higher. After another recoinage he compelled seven hundred merchants in Edo, Osaka, Kyoto, and other cities to loan two million ryo to the Bakufu treasury. To refurbish Tokugawa prestige he made a costly procession to Nikko in 1843. Money changers were ordered not to handle copper coins minted in the domains nor local paper currency, and daimyos were required to surrender farmland around Edo.

After officials learned about the Opium Wars and the Treaty of Nanjing, Sato Nobuhiro, who had been banished from Edo in 1832, was allowed to return. In 1843 the restrictions on using western artillery were removed. Nariaki believed that Mizuno was more corrupt than Tanuma Okitsugu, but Nariaki was confined in 1844. That year angry crowds attacked the residence of Mizuno, and he resigned. He was investigated and reinstated for a few months; then most of his property was confiscated while he remained under house arrest. In 1845 Torii Yozo was accused of corruption and sent into exile. Abe Mashiro replaced Mizuno, and he held conferences to discuss the high prices, financial problems, and the concerns of defense and foreign policy. In 1845 Fujita Toko wrote a book to apply the lessons of the Chinese Opium Wars and recommended first repelling the barbarian and then opening the country. He advised national unity by cultivating loyalty to the Emperor. In 1848 the French warship Samarang negotiated with the Luchu Islands, and Satsuma purchased weapons from the French, a violation of the 1639 exclusion laws.

In 1850 Japan established its first modern blast furnaces in Saga and four years later in Satsuma. By 1853 a hundred cannons were in place around Edo Bay, but the next year the Americans noted that their small caliber was not formidable. After Torii’s exile, in 1846 Takashima was released to a mild house arrest. After Perry’s first visit in 1853 Takashima was pardoned and appointed the Bakufu’s maker of ordinance. That year 15,000 peasants rebelled in the Nambu domain demanding equality.

The American merchant ship Morrison had entered Edo Bay in 1837 to deliver Japanese castaways and had been driven off by Uraga batteries. In 1842 Mizuno canceled the order to fire on all foreign ships. In 1844 the Dutch envoy at Nagasaki brought a letter for the Shogun warning that modern technology and international trends were making it impossible for Japan to resist foreign trade. American whaling ships needed ports for supplies. In 1846 Commodore Biddle with two American vessels was also turned away. In 1852 United States President Millard Fillmore sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry to open up Japan. In July 1853 Perry anchored off Uraga and insisted on delivering a letter from President Fillmore before leaving and promising to return the following year with more ships.

Sakuma Shozan (1811-64) studied the Confucian classics under Sato Issai in the Hayashi school, but he was influenced by the intuitive philosophy of Wang Yangming that united knowledge and action. Sakuma served Sanada Yukitsura, who in 1841 was put in charge of Japan’s coastal defenses. A few months after Wei Yuan had recommended western learning for China in 1842, Sakuma wrote a similar proposal for Japanese maritime defense. Sakuma studied gunnery with Takashima Shuhan and Egawa Tan’an, and he submitted an eight-point program to Sanada that included equipping strategic fortifications with artillery, suspending the export of copper so that it could be used in guns, building large merchant ships, supervising maritime trade, building modern warships and training naval officers, establishing widespread schools for men and women, making governmental rewards and punishments clear, and employing men based on ability. Sakuma studied Dutch, and with an encyclopedia he learned how to use chemicals to cast cannon and small arms in 1848.

Sakuma’s friend Yoshida Shoin stowed away on one of Perry’s ships in 1854. Both were arrested, and after a year in jail they were kept in domiciliary confinement. Sakuma became a proponent of opening the country and called for the union of the civil and military government. He was released in 1862 and was on a mission to the Kyoto court in 1864 when he was assassinated by an enemy of the reconciliation. Sakuma made famous the slogan, “Eastern ethics and western science.” He wrote about his thoughts in prison, but because of his criticism of the current regime it was not published until after 1867. He noted how mathematics is the basis of science and advanced military tactics. He recommended combining the objective scientific techniques on the material side of life with the spiritual ethics. Yoshida Shoin wrote on leadership, emphasizing the importance of will and determination. He advised openly expressing one’s resentments and anger straightforwardly to clear the air. In addition to studying history he learned about conditions in the world in order to see the trends so that they could be rectified first in one’s own domain, then in others. Yoshida observed that most people are selfish and indulge their desires, but he called on grass-roots heroes to rise up.

Yokoi Shonan (1809-68) led the Practical Party and favored western science, but he was resented by traditional physicians. He urged Japan to prosper by using mercantilist methods, and he advocated a strong navy. In his 1860 book Kokuze sanron he criticized Tokugawa despotism. He defined leadership as what helps the public interest. He believed that agriculture is the basis of prosperity but argued that a market system was needed to regulate exchange and the distribution of products. He admired the political model of the United States and proposed that a federal system could provide unity while allowing for domain interests.

During the crisis of 1853 Abe Masahiro sent out letters to all the daimyos asking their advice. Most wanted to reject Perry’s request; some advised conciliation; Nariaki and seven others recommended military action; and only Ii Naosuke and one other were for opening up to foreign trade. In March 1854 at Kanagawa both Abe and Perry compromised on a treaty that opened up the ports at Shimoda and Hakodate to American ships. In the next twenty months Japan made similar agreements with the British, Russians, and Dutch. Abe appointed Nariaki commissioner of national defense, and he removed the limits on han military defenses. While improving national defense, this put the Bakufu in greater internal danger. For the first time in the Tokugawa era the imperial court at Kyoto issued a major order to melt down temple bells for guns.

In 1855 a naval training school with Dutch instructors opened at Nagasaki while modern military training began at Edo. The next year a new translation bureau for western books was established. New village schools (terakoya) were opening in large numbers at this time. The United States envoy Townsend Harris was allowed to meet the Shogun in person in December 1857, and the new roju chairman Hotta Masayoshi negotiated a trade treaty with Harris in 1858. Its fourteen provisions called for diplomatic relations and trade with a conventional tariff at Kanagawa (Yokohama), Nagasaki, Niigata, and Hyogo as well as at Shimoda and Hakodate. Foreigners could reside in Osaka and Edo, and extraterritorial jurisdiction was granted. In 1860 a mission of eighty samurai officials went to the United States to ratify the treaty, and others went to Europe in 1862 and 1863.

In 1858 Shogun Iesada died without an heir. Powerful Ii Naosuke favored Tokugawa Yoshitomi of Kii, but others supported Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu (Keiki), son of Nariaki who appealed to the imperial court. The roju named Ii Naosuke tairo. He signed the American treaty without consulting the Emperor and made Yoshitomi shogun. The new treaty took effect in July 1859, and foreigners began arriving. The Bakufu purged many of its enemies, beheading Yoshida Shoin in October 1859. In 1860 those wanting to “expel the barbarians” began making terrorist attacks on foreigners. Nariaki was blamed and punished, but in revenge Mito and Satsuma clansmen assassinated Ii Naosuke at an Edo castle gate in March 1860. The imperial court approved continued threats against the Bakufu, and samurai attacked the American and British legations. In 1862 the roju chief Ando Nobumasa was critically wounded. A bodyguard of the Satsuma daimyo killed an Englishman named Richardson, and in retaliation the British shelled Kagoshima and burned the city. As a concession in 1862 Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu was made regent of the Shogun, and the next year the Shogun went to the court of Kyoto for the first time since Iemitsu went there with 300,000 troops in 1634.

In 1863 Choshu samurai attacked foreigners in Yokohama and burned the British legation. Later that year Choshu batteries bombarded American, French, and Dutch ships in the Shimonoseki Straits, but in 1864 these allies and the British destroyed Choshu’s coastal batteries to reopen the straits. The Choshu forces tried to protect the Emperor from the Bakufu by taking over Kyoto, but Satsuma and other clans helped the Bakufu defeat them. However, when the Bakufu tried to destroy the Choshu clan, Satsuma gave them military aid. In November 1865 nine allied ships entered Hyogo Bay and forced the Bakufu officials at Osaka to make the Emperor sign the treaties. In an arms race between 1864 and 1868 Japan bought more than 100,000 new rifles from Western arms dealers.

In March 1866 daimyo agents Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi of Satsuma made a secret alliance with Kido Koin and Takasugi Shinsaku of Choshu. The Shogun found the vassals were not supporting the attack on Choshu, and the Bakufu suffered a significant defeat in July 1866. Shogun Iemochi died in August at Osaka. Yoshinobu Keiki succeeded him and appealed for unity. Emperor Komei died in February 1867 and was succeeded by his 14-year-old son Mutsuhito. The French minister Leon Roches had been trying to prop up the Bakufu in Edo since 1864 by using French administrative methods, but these were too little and too late. In 1866 a government edict banned plays about thieves and prostitutes. The actor Kodanji was ill, got worse, and died; but the playwright Mokuami (1816-93), whose popular plays had portrayed robbers, blackmailers, and swindlers as heroes, decided to turn to historical plays.

Meiji Restoration 1868-73

In November 1867 Shogun Keiki agreed to resign and be prime minister under the Emperor and a daimyo council, and the Tokugawa house was to retain its lands. Satsuma and Choshu leaders did not accept this, and on January 3, 1868 their forces joined by Echizen, Owari, Tosa, and Aki seized the palace and proclaimed the restoration of the Emperor and the Meiji era. Meiji means “enlightened rule” and became the posthumous name of Emperor Mutsuhito. A council that excluded the Tokugawa abolished the shogunate and confiscated their lands. Keiki accepted this and withdrew his troops to Osaka. Some of his commanders tried to retake Kyoto on January 27, but they were defeated by the Satsuma, Choshu, and Tosa forces. Prince Arisugawa was put in command of a new imperial army, made up of mostly Satsuma and Choshu forces, that marched on Edo, where Keiki peacefully surrendered. Some Tokugawa forces held out north of Edo until they capitulated in November. Yokoi Shonan was murdered in February 1869. The shogunate navy retreated to Hokkaido but surrendered in May 1869.

After the restoration of the Emperor and proclamation of the Meiji era in January 1868, the city of Edo changed its name to Tokyo, meaning eastern capital, and it became the seat of the new government. Faced with foreign threats and the need to reform the Bakufu government, the Japanese nation rallied around the Emperor with the slogan “to prosper the state and strengthen the armed forces” (fukoku-kyohei). About two dozen young intellectuals with good Confucian educations, mostly from Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, Hizen, and the imperial court, provided the leadership that made this revolutionary transition with little violence. The Meiji leaders wanted to apply western science and technology while keeping to their ethical traditions. In 1868 the territories of the Tokugawa house were reorganized as prefectures and municipalities with new governors. The Choshu samurai Kido Koin persuaded the daimyos of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, and Hizen to return their domain titles to the Emperor. The two princes Iwakura Tomomi and Sanjo Sanetomi provided civilian authority under the 15-year-old Emperor.

In March 1868 delegates from all the domains formed an assembly, and the next month they agreed to the following charter oath that was drafted by Yuri Kimimasa, Fukuoka Kotei, and Kido Koin:

1. An assembly widely convoked shall be established,
and all matters of state shall be decided by public discussion.
2. All classes high and low shall unite
in vigorously promoting the economy
and welfare of the nation.
3. All civil and military officials
and the common people as well
shall be allowed to fulfill their aspirations
so that there may be no discontent among them.
4. Base customs of former times shall be abandoned,
and all actions shall conform
to the principles of international justice.
5. Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world,
and thus shall be strengthened
the foundation of the imperial polity.3

Fukuoka and Soejima Taneomi began working on a constitution that was hastily completed by June. The central organ of government was called the Dajokan, and it had legislative, executive, and judicial branches. A Justice Department was established for the separation of powers, and the Legislative Department was bicameral with an upper Council and an ineffective lower Assembly made up of han representatives. The other departments were Executive, Shinto, Finance, War, Foreign Affairs, Civil Affairs, Public Works, and Education. All officials were to be changed after serving four years, and they had to pay one-thirtieth of their salaries as tax. Making Shinto the state religion caused the suppression of Buddhism. For example, in Toyama Han 1,630 Buddhist temples were abolished, leaving only seven to serve the entire han. The new Meiji government proscribed Christianity in April 1868, and in the next four years about 500 native Christians were killed. In June the government was reorganized into the five departments of Religion, Military Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Finance under the Executive Council (Gyoseikan) led by Sanjo and Iwakura.

In early 1869 Emperor Meiji moved to the capital Tokyo, and the Confucian Motoda Eifu became his tutor in 1871. Income from the Tokugawa lands was already financing half of the government’s expenditures. Omura Masujiro was put in charge of the War Department and founded military schools and arsenals. He proposed replacing the feudal armies with conscription, but his request was denied. Two unemployed samurai mortally wounded Omura in 1869, and he was replaced by Yamagata Aritomo from Choshu. By 1871 the old han guards had been nationalized, and the Imperial Guard had about 10,000 men drawn from the armies of Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, and Hizen.

The Conscription Act in January 1873 required all twenty-year-old males to register for military service. Men were liable for three years active service plus four years in the reserves. Exceptions included family heads, heirs, and some professions, or one could pay 270 yen to be exempt. An army of 46,000 was planned, and about 10,500 men a year were drafted, mostly from Tokyo. This system effectively erased the social distinction between samurai and commoners. In promulgating the ordinance Yamagata noted that the occidentals called this obligation a “blood tax.” Some farmers resisted, and there were nearly thirty rural uprisings a year during this period. In 1870 about 70,000 peasants in Matsushiro Han rose up to demand the cancellation of debts, land reform, and reduced taxes. Imperial troops defeated them and imprisoned or executed more than three hundred leaders.

After a secret meeting of the leaders in August 1871 the old domains (han) were abolished and replaced by 72 prefectures and three municipalities with new governors. Most of the daimyos of the 273 han domains were retired on pensions along with their armies and guards. The daimyos were ordered to move with their families to the capital. The central government confiscated the castle headquarters of the daimyos, and the old han debts and paper currencies were taken over by the new government. The collection of taxes continued, and to make a more accurate census the entire country was divided into uniform squares called ku. However, local administration based on these units failed and was abolished in 1877. The Tokyo government hired many of the former samurai and capable village headmen. Assemblies were also formed by the prefectures, districts, and villages; but they were primarily for debate while the central government had the power. In 1871 Kido started a weekly newspaper to explain why feudalism was being abolished. That year the sale of girls as prostitutes or geishas was banned. The daimyos and retainers could no longer confiscate farmland, and the sale of private holdings was legalized in 1872.

Ito Hirobumi and Okuma Shigenobu changed the currency to a decimal system with the yen as the standard coin and equivalent of the United States dollar. The han debts amounted to 78,130,000 yen, and the pension obligations for the daimyos and samurai were 190 million yen in bonds and 200 million yen in currency. From September 1868 to the end of 1872 the Meiji government had only 50 million yen in revenues while it spent 148 million yen. A new banking system was modeled after the United States Federal Reserve, and England loaned Japan £2.4 million.

In 1869 the system of four social classes was simplified into kwazoku (daimyos and courtiers), shizoku (samurai and soldiers), and heimin or commoners (everyone else); but soon the distinction between soldiers and commoners disappeared as commoners were allowed to use surnames and change their occupations and residences. After 1871 samurai and commoners were allowed to intermarry. In 1872 some peasants rioted against abolishing the classification of pariahs (eta and hinin). The next year some objected to the new Gregorian calendar and changes in dress. In Tottori peasants destroyed official buildings and schools because they believed their land tax assessments were too high. Ex-samurai were allowed to marry nobles, and they retained less than half their previous stipends as pensions. Samurai were no longer required to wear swords, and the topknot was abandoned for short hair. The rickshaw was invented in Japan in 1870, and 136,761 rickshaws were registered by 1877.

In 1871 Soejima Taneomi became Foreign minister, and Japan made a commercial treaty on equal terms with China. In 1872 Japan took administrative control over the Ryukyu Islands, and their Navy took the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands the next year.

David Murray of Rutgers University helped Japan develop an elementary school system, and in 1872 the Education Ordinance mandated modern elementary education, proclaiming, “Learning is the key to success in life.”4 Even Christian missionary activity was permitted in 1873. Erasmus P. Smith advised Japan’s Foreign minister Soejima on diplomatic technology. The British provided technical expertise on railways, telegraphy, and public works. The Japanese navy was based on British models, while its army used French instructors. Yamagata Aritomo compared the French and Prussian military methods and decided the Prussian was better. Gustave Boissonade recommended French legal codes, and Italian painters and sculptors taught art. Western communities were established in Yokohama, Kobe, and other ports with their own churches, schools, and hospitals. In 1873 the first railroad extended 17 miles from Tokyo to Yokohama. The number of western educators and advisors in Japan reached a peak of 574 in 1874. Many Japanese took quickly to western technology and styles. The number of post offices increased from 21 in 1872 to 3,224 by 1874, and Japan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1877.

Meiji Conflicts 1873-77

In July 1873 a new law reformed the land tax system and gave the new government financial stability. Taxes were now paid directly to the central government in cash by individuals based on the value of the land instead of the crop. Certificates of ownership were issued to those who had paid the taxes before, but common lands were taken over by the government. Wealthy landlords owned much of the land, and by investing capital to improve technology they increased their profits that were not taxed. The poor peasants had more difficulty paying taxes in cash, causing bankruptcies and more tenancy. In 1873 a quarter of the land was worked by tenant farmers, and this increased in the years ahead. In 1874 the land tax provided 83% of the government’s revenue. An effort to get samurai voluntarily to accept smaller pensions failed and provoked rebellions. In 1874 Kawaji Toshiyoshi recommended that the police be transferred from local control to be under the Home Affairs Ministry, and the Meiji government gradually centralized police power.

In 1871 Nakamura Masanao translated Self-Help by Samuel Smiles and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Smiles taught that heaven helps those who help themselves. In 1872 the Mainichi in Yokohama became Japan’s first daily newspaper, and by 1875 Japan had more than a hundred periodicals. Nakamura argued that western technology and art were hollow without Christianity, and Nishima Jo, after studying in the United States, founded the Doshisha as a Christian college. In 1873 Fukuzawa Yukichi, Nakamura, Mori Arinori, the utilitarian Nishi Amane, and the social Darwinist Kato Hiroyuki founded the Meiji Six Society (Meirokusha) to promote education. They had been criticizing the Meiji persecution of Christians since 1871, and they advocated religious freedom.

Mori Arinori was a Satsuma samurai who went to England to study in 1865. He became a disciple of Thomas Lake Harris, who had founded the Brotherhood of Life. Mori converted to Christianity and went with Harris to New York. After the Meiji restoration he returned to Japan. In 1869 Mori suggested making sword-wearing for samurai optional; he was attacked, but he survived the wounds. From 1871 to 1873 he was ambassador to Washington, where he studied education. He favored equal rights in marriage for women and asked Fukuzawa to revise the marriage ceremony. His suggestion to replace the Japanese language with English made him unpopular. Mori organized Japan’s first commercial college in 1875. He was ambassador to China and then to England. By 1875 Japan had about 20,000 primary schools, and a survey found that 40% met in Buddhist temples, 33% in private homes, and 18% in new buildings. More than 6,000 students were in 156 English-language schools.

Iwakura Tomomi and Okubo Toshimichi led a mission of forty officials to the United States and Europe in order to revise the “unequal treaties” of 1858 so that they could raise import and export duties; but this effort failed because all the “most favored nations” would not agree. While they were traveling abroad in 1873, a decision was made to threaten Korea with war. Saigo Takamori volunteered to go to Korea as an envoy, knowing he would probably be put to death, in order to provoke a war. After returning from abroad, Iwakura argued that confronting the Russian threat was more pressing, and Okubo persuaded them that internal reform and economic growth should be their first priorities.

They did send a naval expedition with 3,000 samurai to Taiwan in 1874 in retaliation for its aborigines having killed 54 shipwrecked Ryukyuan sailors two years earlier. Saigo’s brother Tsugumichi was chosen to command the expedition. The Government gave thirteen ships used as transports to the Mitsubishi Company, and in 1875 Mitsubishi was granted an annual 250-million-yen subsidy for fifteen years. Two years later Mitsubishi received nine more ships and 700,000 yen for helping transport troops during the Satsuma rebellion.

Saigo, Itagaki Taisuke, Eto Shimpei, Goto Shojiro, and Soejima left the government in protest of the Korea policy. They formed the Public Party of Patriots (Aikokukoto) and petitioned for an elective assembly in January 1874. Itagaki argued that the people who pay taxes have a right to share in the government’s decisions by electing a council. He believed that a council chosen by the people would create a community that would unite as one and arouse the spirit of the empire. Princes Sanjo and Iwakura remained in the highest offices, and Okubo, Ito, and Okuma held important positions. Kido Koin opposed radical changes and the attack on Taiwan and also withdrew from the government; he died of tuberculosis in 1877. Enomoto Takeaki was imprisoned for proclaiming a republic in Hokkaido, but in 1872 he was released to go to St. Petersburg for negotiations. In the 1875 treaty Japan ceded its portion of Sakhalin Island to Russia in exchange for the Kuril Islands.

Shima Yoshitake was the head of the Party of Patriots (Yukokuto). The Attack Korea Party (Seikanto) enrolled a thousand members in December 1874, and two months later Shima and Eto Shimpei, who had chaired the translation committee that coined the term minken for people’s rights, agreed to join the hopeless cause. Eto led 2,500 Hizen samurai in the revolt that was easily suppressed by an expeditionary force and garrison troops led by Okubo. Eto and other leaders were executed, and about a hundred were sentenced to three or more years in prison.

Itagaki and Kataoka Kenkichi formed the Risshisha, which was named after the Japanese title to Self-Help by Smiles, and they used democratic elections to organize their activities. They hoped to revive the economic conditions of the samurai by sponsoring mutual aid and education, but it became a political movement in Tosa for a popular assembly. Kataoka was president, but during the rebellions he plotted a liberal uprising and was imprisoned with a few others. Itagaki and others refused to join Eto’s rebellion, saying that he would fight the government with people’s rights (minken) instead of weapons. He submitted a memorial to the government asking that the rights and privileges of the people be respected. Freedom (jiyu) was also emphasized, and it became the jiyu-minken movement. To make the movement national, Itagaki and Kido at a meeting in Osaka in January 1875 founded a political party called the Society of Patriots (Aikokusha). When Okubo promised gradual progress, Itagaki and Kido rejoined the government with Goto in March. They agreed to replace the Left and Right Chambers with a Supreme Court (Daishin-in) for an independent judiciary. Kido persuaded Okubo to accept the idea of representative government, and a Senate (Genroin) was appointed to draft a constitution in secret.

In July 1875 three Japanese warships were sent to explore the coast of Korea. On September 19 those landing to get water were fired on by the Kanghwa fortress, and in the battle thirty Koreans were killed. In January 1876 Inoue led a team of negotiators with several thousand soldiers with secret orders to stay in Korea until they got a reply. China’s Li Hongzhang advised “poor and weak” Korea to come to terms with Japan, which imposed an unequal treaty that established diplomatic relations and opened three ports in Korea to Japanese trade.

Enforcement of the Press Law of 1875 curtailed free expression and resulted in the jailing of 49 editors and the suspension of their newspapers in 1876. Some hired “jail editors” to do their time in prison. Over five years more than 200 writers were punished.

For eight years the peasants had suffered, provoking almost two hundred disturbances, including about a hundred after the land tax system was changed in 1873. In February 1876 in Tottori 112 villages challenged their assessments. In the Naka district of the Wakayama prefecture 177 village officials petitioned the governor in April; more than a thousand people were arrested, and 688 were convicted. In Kumamoto 200 warriors rebelled in October. The Government suppressed them and banned sword-bearing. Maebara had been a councilor in the Meiji government, but he was reprimanded for cutting taxes while governing Echigo. His rebellion was also crushed, and he was executed. A new land law authorized on-site assessments, and in January 1877 the land tax was reduced from 3% of market value to 2.5%. Later that year an amendment reduced the tax if a natural disaster caused the loss of more than half the crop.

Saigo Takamori had also declined to join Eto. He and Shimazu Hisamitsu had been refusing to cooperate with the modernizing program in Satsuma since 1870. Saigo established a system of private military academies. After the government prohibited the wearing of swords in public, in 1877 Saigo began a major rebellion in Satsuma with 15,000 samurai. His army grew to 42,000, and 65,000 troops and six months were needed to quell the revolt. About 18,000 rebels were killed, and the imperial forces lost 6,278 dead and had 9,523 wounded. Saigo committed seppuku on September 24, and 2,764 rebels were executed. The historian Sansom considered this event the final demise of feudalism in Japan after six centuries. The Satsuma rebellion cost the new government 42 million yen, which was eighty percent of its budget for that year. The 2,827 miles of telegraph lines had helped them suppress the rebellion. Because the shizoku rebellions were isolated by region and had disdained to involve the peasants except to supply them with food and labor, the central government was able to suppress them one at a time.

People's Rights Movement 1877-84

The Senate proposed four constitutions between 1876 and 1878, but they were all too liberal for Iwakura Tomomi and Okubo Toshimichi. In July 1878 the second conference of prefectural governors agreed to establish elected prefectural assemblies, and this was implemented the following March with males paying five yen or more in land taxes being eligible to vote. These local assemblies were limited to discussing taxes and budgets, and the governors could veto their decisions and dissolve them. Itagaki Taisuke and his followers revived the Society of Patriots, and their People’s Rights Movement became very popular with political groups forming all over Japan, especially in the cities and the prosperous farming areas in central Honshu near Tokyo. Some believed in assassinating tyrants, and the police watched them. Six samurai killed Okubo with swords on May 14, 1878. That summer 232 villages in the Ishikawa prefecture refused to accept their new land assessments. Itagaki sent Sugita Teiichi who filed suits for them, causing Okuma Shigenobu in Tokyo to order new surveys. The new assessments were lower, but the administrative costs charged were more than twenty times the annual savings.

The Government promulgated three new laws on local government in 1878. The first gave the Home Ministry the power to appoint prefectural governors who then appointed district officials. The second law imposed a tax on the prefectures of up to 20% of the national land tax, and the taxpayers had no influence on how the revenues were spent. The third law created elected prefectural assemblies, but they could only discuss budgetary matters and could not legislate. The abolition of the fiefs in 1871 had removed the power of the local headmen, and the state bureaucracy gradually replaced their influence. After a mutiny in the Imperial Guards Division in 1878 Yamagata worked to improve the army’s morale and technical skills by developing more autonomy. In December he implemented the German general staff system, and as chief of staff he was directly commanded by the Emperor. With this position Yamagata resigned from the army ministry. He issued his “Admonition to the Military” to emphasize loyalty, courage, and obedience, though he allowed soldiers to question an illogical order by appealing to a higher authority. He also forbade all military personnel from participating in political activities.

In June 1877 Japan ordered the King of the Ryukyu Islands to stop paying tribute to China. The Chinese ambassador in Tokyo tried to start negotiations, but Japan sent an administrator to Ryukyu with 200 gendarmes. In April 1879 Japan annexed the Ryukyu Islands. The principal island of Okinawa had been controlled by the Satsuma clan since their invasion in 1609. The prefecture that included the Ryukyu Islands was named Okinawa in 1879. Their royal line was ended, and the last King of Okinawa was forced to live in Tokyo.

Itagaki organized the first national convention of the Society of Patriots in September 1878, and 18 prefectures were represented at the second convention the following March. In 1879 the farmer Sakurai Shizuka from Chiba published appeals for representative government and mailed thousands of handbills. The prefectural assembly in Okayama began a petition campaign, and other assemblies joined. In April 1880 at the fourth convention 96 representatives of 24 prefectures mostly from Tosa brought petitions with 101,161 signatures demanding a national assembly, and they changed their name to the League for Establishing a National Assembly. By the end of the year they had 130,000 members and a quarter million signatures. Many in rural areas became involved in these political activities, and 303 societies were organized in the six provinces near Tokyo, 120 in the northeast, and 200 in the west and southwest.

Intellectuals were inspired by Fukuzawa’s Popular Account of People’s Rights and Nakae Chomin’s 1877 translation of Rousseau’s Social Contract. Alarmed by the growing movement, the number of arrests increased from about sixty in 1876 to more than three hundred in 1880. The Ordinance on Public Meetings became law in April and required associations to submit charters and membership lists and to get permits for public meetings, which were attended by police in uniforms. Soldiers, police, teachers, students, and women were prohibited from attending political meetings. Many meetings were denied permits, and police stopped 131 political meetings in 1881 and 282 meetings in 1882.

In 1879 Iwakura asked the main oligarchs to submit their ideas for a constitution. Yamagata wanted to build the army and was concerned about loyalty; he proposed the best men from the prefectural assemblies be selected in order to gradually develop a national assembly. Others also suggested a limited assembly except Kuroda Kiyotaka who thought it was premature. Okuma Shigenobu delayed and then in March 1881 presented the most radical proposal that essentially adopted the British system of a cabinet responsible to a parliament. Okuma also wanted elections in 1882 for an assembly, and he criticized the proposed sale of the Hokkaido Colonization Office’s assets to Kuroda and his cronies for the ridiculously low price of 387,000 yen. Ito Hirobumi complained that Okuma’s plan would weaken imperial sovereignty, and he threatened to resign. When the Emperor returned from inspecting the north, he dismissed Okuma on October 11; but he cancelled the Hokkaido sale and promised a national assembly by 1890. Okuma and some young officials organized a second opposition party called the Constitutional Progressive Party (Rikken Kaishinto). The government now had major leaders only from Satsuma and Choshu, and it was called a two-han oligarchy or the “Sat-Cho clique.”

Itagaki and his followers formed the Liberal (Jiyuto) party in 1881 and soon claimed to have 100,000 petitioners. That year Nakae and Saionji Kinmochi started the Asian Liberal Press, which was quickly banned. In 1882 Fukuzawa founded the News of the Times. The Government organized the Imperial Party and the Nichinichi newspaper, but they had less influence. The number of newspapers increased from 199 in 1883 to 716 in 1890. The laws against public meetings were made more strict by prohibiting local party branches. Itagaki spoke to thousands of people, and in April 1882 a police officer attacked him. While collapsing he shouted, “Itagaki may die, but liberty never!” The Emperor sent a government physician to take care of him and later a monetary grant. After he recovered, Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru arranged for the Mitsui firm to finance a trip for Itagaki and Goto to travel to Europe; Mitsui’s Army contract was extended for two years. Okuma declined a similar offer, and the Government helped Mitsui compete with his Mitsubishi transport interests. Itagaki met with Herbert Spencer in England, but the latter was not impressed. When Itagaki returned to Japan, he was much more moderate. Progressives accused the Liberals of being bribed, but the latter accused the former of having connections to the Mitsubishi shipping line.

Ito Hirobumi went to Europe in 1882 to study their constitutions and governments. He was dazzled by Otto von Bismarck and spent most of his time in Berlin studying with Rudolf von Gneist and Albert Mosse and in Vienna with Lorenz von Stein. The German jurist Hermann Roessler had become the first legal advisor to Japan’s government in 1878 and continued in that influential position until 1893. In 1882 Emperor Meiji issued his “Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors” to affirm that the Emperor was the supreme commander of the army and navy, and he emphasized prudence, self-control, and disciplined loyalty more than bravery. The military police (kempeitai) had been established in 1881. Yamagata’s disciple Katsura Taro studied in Germany for eight years and persuaded Jakob Meckel to come to Japan in 1885 as a military consultant for three years. An army staff college had started training Japanese officers under a German advisor in 1884, and a naval training college was begun in 1888. Japan had ordered three ironclad warships in 1875 from England, but in 1889 they still had only those and three composite warships of iron and wood.

On July 23, 1882 a Korean mob attacked the Japanese legation in Seoul and killed or wounded several on the staff. The minister fled to Inch’on, where a British ship picked him up and took him back to Japan. Tokyo sent diplomats to demand an apology and payment for damages, and they were accompanied by three warships and 800 troops. Beijing sent 4,000 troops with a naval escort. A treaty was signed on September 3 that included an indemnity of 500,000 yen and the right of the Japanese to station a battalion in Seoul to guard their legation. Takezoe Shinichiro became ambassador to Korea, and Kim Ok-kyun and his conspirators consulted him about a plan to murder most of the Korean cabinet at a dinner on December 4, 1884. When the Korean people heard about the coup, they marched in the streets shouting, “Death to the Japanese” while a mob killed forty Japanese or burned their property. When a large Chinese garrison attacked the palace, the Japanese retreated to their legation. After they ran out of food, they fled to Inch’on and back to Japan, taking Kim, Pak Yong-hyo, and four other coup leaders with them. Those left were executed by King Kojong, who appealed to the Chinese for military support.

Inoue managed to negotiate with Korea without Chinese interference and won an indemnity of 130,000 yen. Ito replaced Takezoe but denied any wrongdoing. Ito and Li Hongzhang agreed at Tianjin on a treaty that was signed on April 18, 1885 but was not published until May 27. Japan and China agreed that they both had the right to send troops to Korea but only after informing the other. Inoue refused to extradite Kim and kept him detained on Hokkaido.

Matsukata Masayoshi became Finance minister in 1881. The notes in circulation had increased from 107 million yen in 1876 to 164 million yen in 1879. This inflation caused the price of rice to nearly double. Government deficits led to new taxes on sake and tobacco. Of the capital in national banks in 1880, the former daimyos and nobles owned 44%, samurai 31%, and merchants 15%. Inflation had caused the samurai’s bonds to lose a third of their value while land tax reform had enabled farmers with capital to increase their profits. In a memorial Ito explained how the unequal treaties prevented Japan from protecting its domestic economy with import tariffs as America and Britain had done to prosper. Inflation was reducing government income and discounting its bonds while the value of land was rising and enabling the farmers to spend their extra wealth on imported luxuries.

Matsukata deflated the economy by drastically reducing government expenditures and by selling off industries to private interests. Yet military expenditures remained more than a third of the budget. Private firms such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, and Yasuda increased their wealth and control over markets. Mitsui and Mitsubishi merged to form the Japan Mail Line and drove out foreign competition. The fukoku kyohei slogan for a “rich country and a strong army” was revived. The Bank of Japan was founded in 1882 with the exclusive right to issue paper money. The notes issued decreased from 159.4 million yen in 1881 to 118.5 million yen in 1885. The government increased its reserves, and Japan’s trade balance went from a deficit to a surplus. Interest rates went down and encouraged investment that benefited industrial enterprises.

However, the effect of Matsukata’s deflation on the poor was the opposite. The Government withdrew 36% of the paper money while increasing excise taxes fivefold. The costs of public works and services were transferred to prefectural and local government, forcing them to raise taxes. Lower prices reduced farm income. Rice prices fell from 14.4 yen per koku in 1881 to 4.6 yen per koku in 1884. Raw silk declined by half in two years. Yet taxes on farms were increasing. The land tax went from 16% of the national harvest in 1877 to 33% in 1884. Bankruptcies multiplied from 33,845 in 1883 to 108,050 in 1885. The Matsukata recession began in 1882 and lasted four years. By 1887 tenancy had doubled during the Meiji era to 40%. Meanwhile the real property owned by the Meiji household increased from 634 cho in 1881 to 3,654,000 cho in 1890, and by 1887 its stocks and bonds were worth nearly eight million yen.

Elections for prefectural assemblies began in 1878, and by 1890 all the prefectures were electing their assemblies. Kono Hironaka of the Liberal (Jiyuto) party had been elected chairman of the Fukushima prefectural assembly in 1881. He called for universal male suffrage, the election of district magistrates, reduced spending for police and the governor’s office, and the free expression of opinions in the assembly. Governor Mishima Michitsune ignored the assembly and refused to attend. In December 1882 Jiyuto speakers drew large crowds, and the police broke up their meetings. At the same time the Aizu Jiyuto in western Fukushima organized a petition drive and tax boycott in protest of a road project that ignored the rights of residents. Mishima sent 230 police to Aizu to raid homes, seize property, and arrest leaders. When they marched to the jail where two leaders were held, the police with swords attacked the unarmed crowd, killing one and wounding others.

In Chichibu 70% of households raised silkworms. In September 1883 they formed the Poor People’s Party. After protests over their debts were ignored by the courts, Tashiro Eisuke organized an armed resistance with 3,000 farmers in order to protect farmers from foreclosure, regulate usury, and reduce local taxes. In November 1884 their Poor People’s Army attacked moneylenders, credit companies, and municipal offices to destroy debt and tax records. They were dispersed by the military in ten days; some leaders were executed, and others were imprisoned.

In May 1884 the Liberal party in Gumma prefecture led 3,000 peasants against a moneylender. Police arrested and punished the leaders, and some died from torture. Fifteen Jiyuto radicals tried to foment a revolution in Kabayama in September; but seven were executed, and others received long prison terms. Mishima had become governor of Tochigi prefecture, and he ordered Liberal party members arrested. Also in 1884 at least 5,000 people revolted in the Saitama prefecture near Tokyo. The Government sent in troops to arrest them; 4,000 were found guilty, 300 of felonies, and seven were executed. The Liberal party was split between the ideological radicals and the conservative landowners. Itagaki persuaded the Liberals to condemn the revolts and dissolve the party in October. The Jiyuto radicals who plotted more insurrections were arrested, and the Popular Rights Movement ended. Okuma resigned from the Progressive party in December.

Education minister Tanaka Fujimaro was aided by David Murray and decentralized the Japanese school system in 1879, giving control to locally elected school boards. Emperor Meiji was influenced by the conservative Motoda Eifu and issued “The Great Principles of Education” in 1879, emphasizing Confucian principles of morality, but Ito criticized this and got Motoda’s post as Confucian tutor to the Emperor abolished. Fukuzawa Yukichi argued for a more practical and modern educational system. In 1880 the Education Ministry published an ethics textbook by Nishimura Shigeki, and that year teachers, students, and women were forbidden to attend political meetings. In 1881 a new directive to elementary school teachers suggested that morality came from loyalty to the Emperor, patriotism, filial piety, respect for superiors, fidelity to friends, charity toward inferiors, and respect for oneself. Central control was strengthened, and the Confucian Nishimura Shigeki was put in charge of the Compilation Board in the Education Ministry. His writings became the basis for teaching morals, and discussion of political rights was to be avoided. The Education Ministry banned some translations of Western works and Fukuzawa’s Popular Account of Sovereignty. In 1882 the ethics courses were made the center of the primary school curriculum. That year Emperor Meiji issued the Imperial Code of Military Conduct that emphasized loyalty, propriety, courage, justice, and simplicity. The courageous soldier was to treat others with love and respect.

Japan's Constitutional Development 1884-94

Mori Arinori became minister of Education in 1884. He wanted “to elevate the spirit of the entire nation” and bring up men of character. Fukuzawa taught at Keio University, and Okuma had started Waseda in 1882. The Government sponsored Tokyo Imperial University in 1886, and top graduates were honored by the Emperor with prestigious positions. Students came from the upper classes all over Japan, and this national meritocracy would replace the generation of Meiji founders. Special high schools prepared students for the Imperial University. Parents were expected to pay the costs of primary schools, but little was collected and only covered ten percent of school expenditures. Mori established an elite institution in Tokyo to train teachers for the normal schools, and after graduation they had to teach for ten years. The military became involved in physical education and thus brought their discipline into the schools. During the ceremonies for the constitution on February 11, 1889 Mori was stabbed to death by a youth who had been offended by a report that Mori had violated religious etiquette at the Ise shrine.

Iwakura died before Ito Hirobumi returned in August 1883. Ito became minister of the imperial household and chairman of the commission to draft the constitution the following March. In July they created the House of Peers, giving out empty Chinese titles translated as prince, marquis, count, viscount, and baron to 137 court nobles and 507 former daimyos. The Imperial House was granted three million yen a year for court expenses, and Government accounts in several banks were transferred to Emperor Meiji along with companies and 8.6 million acres of land.

In December 1885 Ito replaced the Council of State with a new cabinet with each minister responsible to the prime minister. Chosu had Ito as prime minister, Inoue as Foreign minister, Yamagata as Home minister, and Yamada Aikyoshi as minister of Justice. Satsuma was represented by Finance minister Matsukata, Army minister Oyama Iwao, Navy minister Saigo Tsugumichi, and Education minister Mori Arinori. The cabinet was completed by General Tani Kanjo from Tosa who was minister of Agriculture and Commerce, and by the Communications minister Enomoto Takeaki from the shogunal navy. Sanjo Sanetomi was given special access to the Emperor as the Inner Minister (Naidaijin). In 1886 Kaneko Kentaro supervised the development of examinations for recruiting officials based on Germany’s system, and in July 1887 Ito put it into effect. In April 1888 Ito resigned as prime minister to be president of the new Privy Council, which was appointed by the Emperor and served for life. Ito chose Kuroda Kiyotaka from Satsuma as prime minister, and that position would alternate between Choshu and Satsuma men until 1898.

Inoue was trying to end the unequal treaties, but his compromises extending extraterritoriality with mixed courts and foreign residents brought a storm of criticism in 1887. Conservative Japanese became upset that year when the court took up ballroom dancing. Goto led a revived opposition, but on December 25 Home minister Yamagata got the Peace Preservation Law enacted so that his police could remove any person from Tokyo who was considered “a threat to public tranquility.” Within a week 570 political party members were expelled from the capital. The Government co-opted Okuma by making him Foreign minister in February 1888, and Goto became Communications minister a year later. Okuma dismissed the resented Satsuma and Choshu oligarchs, but on October 18, 1889 a terrorist bomb destroyed one of his legs. Kuroda resigned, and Yamagata became prime minister until 1891.

Ito’s commission submitted the constitution to the Privy Council in May 1888, and they made only minor revisions before promulgating it on February 11, 1889. Civil rights were listed but could be limited by laws and dangers to “peace and order.” The bicameral Diet had the upper House of Peers and the lower House of Representatives, which was to be elected by men who paid national taxes of fifteen yen or more. This was about one percent of the population. The House of Peers allowed the fifteen highest taxpayers in each city or prefecture to choose one of themselves every seven years. The Diet was given the power to approve all laws. The Emperor could dissolve the House of Representatives and could issue imperial ordinances when they were not in session. If the Diet did not approve the new budget, the budget of the previous year was continued. The Emperor was recognized as divine and presented the constitution as his gift to the nation. For the first time his successor had to be a male. He was the supreme commander of the military and initiated legislation through his ministers. Even the judiciary was controlled by the Justice Ministry. The Privy Council and high court officials could speak for the Emperor, but the prime minister and cabinet did not have to follow their ideas. Imperial decrees had to be counter-signed by the appropriate minister.

On October 30, 1890 when Yamagata was prime minister, Motoda influenced a new Imperial Rescript on Education which promoted conservative principles that were no longer called Confucian but Imperial. Students were urged to

be filial to your parents,
affectionate to your brothers and sisters;
as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true;
bear yourselves in modesty and moderation;
extend your benevolence to all;
pursue learning and cultivate arts,
and thereby develop intellectual faculties
and perfect moral powers;
furthermore, advance public good
and promote common interests;
always respect the Constitution and observe the laws;
should emergency arise,
offer yourselves courageously to the State;
and thus guard and maintain the prosperity
of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth.5

This document was displayed in classrooms with the Emperor’s picture and was memorized by students.

Japan held its first national elections on July 1, 1890, and 94% of those eligible voted. The Diet first met in November, and the House of Representatives had 300 seats. The two opposition parties had a majority because the revived Liberal party won 130 seats and the Progressives 41 while only 79 supported the Government. An Imperial Rescript made the cabinet ministers accountable to the Emperor instead of to the prime minister. The Diet cut the budget 11% by reducing salaries and the perquisites of officials. Prime Minister Yamagata tried to intimidate and bribe them, and eventually Itagaki and his Liberals restored about a quarter of the cuts. On December 6 Yamagata spoke before the House and argued that Japan’s independence should reach beyond its sovereign territory to “defend the line of advantage.” Thus more appropriations were needed for the Army and Navy. In 1891 Tokyo Imperial University professor Kume Kunitake published an article in which he described Shinto as the “survival of a primitive form of worship,” and he lost his job.

When Ito criticized Yamagata for being stubborn, the military man resigned in May 1891. The economist Matsukata from Satsuma became prime minister and led what was called the “puppet cabinet” that was controlled by him, Ito, Yamagata, and the other oligarchs. When the Diet tried to slash the budget again in November, Matsukata had them dissolved. In the election on February 15, 1892 Home minister Shinagawa Yajiro and Yamagata’s Choshu henchmen used bribery and the police to break up and even fire on opposition rallies; 25 were killed and 388 were wounded in police riots involving hired thugs. The two opposition parties still had a majority with 163 seats, and in May both houses condemned the Government. When the Army and Navy ministers withdrew from the cabinet in August, Matsukata had to resign.

Ito became prime minister on August 8, 1892, and the Diet refused to pass a budget with three million yen for shipbuilding. In order to gain a compromise the Emperor contributed 300,000 yen annually, and officials gave up ten percent of their salaries for six years. The Progressives became isolated by their attacks on the unequal treaties as the Liberals went along with Ito. The Progressives impeached the Liberal House speaker Hoshi Toru, who was removed because of charges he benefited from how the national stock exchange was established. Ito prorogued the Diet twice and dissolved it in January 1894. He insisted on a fair election on March 1, and the Government did better. Yet the Diet condemned the cabinet for having dissolved them, and Ito dissolved them again in June. The Savings Bank Act of 1893 enabled many private banks to pay a little more interest than the postal savings system and attract deposits.

In 1885 young Tsubouchi Shoyo published The Essence of the Novel (Shosetsu Shinzui) in which he lamented the current state of Japanese literature and rejected the kanzen choaku stories that rewarded virtue and punished vice. Tsubouchi called for realistic novels about human emotions and social customs rather than didactic novels. The same year he published his novel The Characters of Modern Students. Much of it was written in colloquial language, and it was especially praised by intellectuals. In 1886 Futabatei Shimei published the first part of his novel, The Drifting Cloud, and Tsubouchi let him use his name in the first edition. Futabatei’s novel was written almost entirely in colloquial language and described a young man living with relatives in Tokyo who loses his government job for insubordination. He was going to marry his cousin, but she turns to a glib talker with better prospects. Futabatei was strongly influenced by Russian literature, and The Drifting Cloud is generally recognized as the first modern Japanese novel.

From October 1893 to April 1894 Tsubouchi Shoyo also published “The Historical Plays of Japan” to recommend realistic drama as well. His tragedy A Paulownia Leaf (Kiri Hitoha) was published 1894-95 but was not performed by the Kabuki theater until 1904; it had seven acts and depicted the decline and fall of the house of Toyomi after Hideyoshi’s defeat at the battle of Sekigahara.

Fukuzawa Yukichi's Ethics

One of the main proponents of “civilization and enlightenment” was Fukuzawa Yukichi. He was born on January 10, 1835 in a lower samurai family. He hated the feudal system because of how it oppressed his father. Lower samurai had to abase themselves before upper samurai, prostrating their bodies on the ground. Yukichi went to Nagasaki and began studying Dutch in 1855 even though this alienated everyone in his clan except his mother. In 1858 the clan authorities ordered him to go to Edo and start a school to teach Dutch to young clan samurai. In Yokohama he could not find any foreigners speaking Dutch; so he began learning English. In 1860 he traveled to San Francisco, where he obtained a Webster’s Dictionary. Back in Japan he published his first book, his translation of an English-Chinese Dictionary. In 1862 he visited France, England, Holland, Prussia, and Russia with a Japanese embassy. The first volume of his Conditions in the Western World (Seiyo-jijo) was published in 1866 and sold a quarter million copies, counting the pirated editions. He ignored the scholarly writing style and made his language as clear as possible by having his housemaid notify him of any word she did not understand. In 1868 he started the Keio Gijuku as a cooperative school in which both teachers and students searched for knowledge without distinction. This school in Edo (Tokyo) grew quickly and eventually became Keio University.

By 1869 Fukuzawa had published fifteen more books explaining Western science and social customs. Travelers used his guidebook. In addition to material science he emphasized spiritual and political independence. He did not waste time on empty learning but taught practical (jitsugaku) knowledge. His ideas influenced the Education Act of 1872 that changed moral teaching from the most important part of the curriculum to the least. Confucian traditions were put aside and were replaced by a few translations of Western books on law and ethics. The seventeen pamphlets in his Encouragement of Learning (Gakumon no susume) came out from 1872 to 1876 and sold 3,400,000 copies. In the first sentence he declared that heaven created no person above another, and this became the credo for his philosophy of equality. People may differ in their circumstances and conditions, but they are all equal in rights. He believed that people can become great by studying. In the fourth essay on “The Social Role of Scholars” he noted that civilization stands on the three pillars of science, commerce, and law, but Japan was behind the Western countries in these.

Fukuzawa did not accept a government position. He considered himself a diagnostician and did not want to wield political power. His aim was to lead Japan into the ways of civilization and to make it a nation strong in military power and prosperous in commerce. In 1873 he argued that the same principle of reason that ordained that all people have equal rights also ordained that all nations have equal rights. Later after many years of observing how the great Western powers ignored international law he became more realistic. Fukuzawa was co-founder of the Meirokusha group, and in March 1874 they began publishing the monthly Meiroku Magazine. In June 1875 the Press Law severely restricted political criticism and threatened editors with suspension, heavy fines, and imprisonment. The members of the Meirokusha Society met on September 1, and in his speech Fukuzawa said, “We cannot compromise our integrity, nor can we express our ideas freely. In short, there is just one course left open to us: to cease publication of the magazine.”6 Others agreed, and they suspended publication, leaving them outside the ensuing struggle for freedom of the press.

Fukuzawa’s Outline of a Theory of Civilization (Bunmeiron no gairyaku) was published in 1875. His theory of civilization concerns the spiritual development of the individual and the people of the nation as a whole. Only after the Americans arrived in the 1850s did the Japanese make commercial treaties and begin to understand the enormous differences between Eastern and Western civilizations. Since then Japan has been going through rapid changes as the feudal system was transformed. Learning from the West, their first step of reform was to overthrow the nobles. He noted how the Americans tried to exercise their God-given rights fully and that their independence was based on the “natural principle of impartial justice.”

Fukuzawa analyzed the spirit of civilization as “a manifestation of the knowledge and virtue of the entire population.” Every person is either lofty or low in integrity depending on one’s natural endowments and education. He was especially influenced by the ideas of François Guizot and Henry Buckle. Fukuzawa wrote that great historical personages were only able to achieve success because the level of the people’s knowledge and virtue allowed them to accomplish their plans. He recognized that Confucius and Mencius were great thinkers in world history, but in their time they were unable to bring their teachings into fruition. Fukuzawa’s strategy was to rectify the ills of public opinion rather than blame the policies of officials. He believed that the scholar’s job is “to consider the future in the light of the present and suggest policies for future courses of action.”7 The scholar’s task is to diagnose and educate, and the government’s work is like surgery. He saw national opinion as the views of an intelligent minority because the ignorant majority follow like sheep. He considered Japan’s recent revolution not as a struggle between the Imperial Household and the Bakufu but as a battle between intellectual power and despotism. He argued that the government can find out the mood of the times by allowing freedom of the press and listening to the views of the learned. He noted that Europeans took parliamentary government for granted because it had been the custom for several centuries.

In analyzing civilization Fukuzawa distinguished the private virtues of fidelity, purity, modesty, and integrity from the public virtues of social relations such as a sense of shame, justice, honesty, and courage. Also the private knowledge of know-how is different from the public knowledge that he called wisdom, which is the most important. Virtue has not really improved since the days of Confucius and Jesus, but knowledge has increased a hundred times since then. Teaching morality externally is difficult, but people can learn the skills of intelligence. A person’s inner efforts determine whether morality makes progress or declines. In comparing Japan to the West he admitted, “Only the most ignorant thinks that Japan’s learning, arts, commerce, or industry is on a par with that of the West.”8 Fukuzawa doubted whether morality could be applied in society on a large scale because it depends on personal cultivation. Regulations are designed to protect the good by preventing and correcting the actions of those who do wrongs. International law may still be vague, but it can effectively reduce human slaughter. Popular parliaments can provide a balance of power to restrain governments. Books and newspapers can also prevent mass violence. He even noted that recent talk has suggested “creating international peace by establishing a world government in Brussels,” and he considered this “increasing refinement and development of regulations, through which great moral good is being achieved.”9

Fukuzawa noted that Western civilization has more diverse opinions, and this enables autonomy and freedom to develop. His knowledge of civilization led him to the conclusion that national independence should be their primary concern at that time. Asian inferiority was not only technological but also mental. Westerners were more intellectual and well-disciplined with orderly social relations. At the present time they could not match Western economies. Fukuzawa believed that Japanese public sentiment was awakening and that their civilization could now quickly move forward. He believed that power and wealth are essential in the modern world. Nations relate to each other either by trading in peace and competing for profit or by killing each other in war. Patriots may try to extend the rights of their nation by war. Thus he noted, “The ethic of impartial and universal brotherhood and the ethic of patriotism and establishment of national independence appear to be incompatible.”10 Western nations have become rich by manufacturing and commerce.

Recently people have been advocating equal rights and have abolished titles of the aristocracy. Yet few were suggesting equal rights between nations. Fukuzawa identified two reasons why the Japanese had not yet lamented the imbalance of rights with foreigners. First, those who advocated equality had not yet deeply experienced the doctrine. Second, relations with foreigners were new, and they had not yet had much trouble from them. He pointed to the cruel treatment of India by the British as an example. China had only been penetrated along the coast, but in the future he predicted it could be “a garden for the Europeans.” Self-interest makes partisanship and patriotism the same thing. He criticized those who bring harm to Japan by assassinations or by advocating the expulsion of foreigners. Fukuzawa concluded that Japan could gain its independence by developing its civilization.

Fukuzawa believed that national independence may not be the most noble goal, but in 1876 he considered it Japan’s highest priority. After the Satsuma rebellion he wrote an article advocating a national assembly or Diet, and he gave it to the editors Fujita Mokichi and Minoura Katsundo of the Yubin Hochi Shimbun. In the summer of 1879 they published it as a series of editorials without using his style. The editors challenged other newspapers to publish their opinions, and the idea caught on. Fukuzawa favored the English system of a cabinet and parliament. In a speech before the Tokyo Academic Society on February 15, 1880 he argued that Keio students should be granted exemptions from military service. He noted that it was unfair to give students at public schools exemptions from conscription but not students at private schools. The Government agreed but only until 1884.

Ito, Inoue, and Okuma wanted Fukuzawa to start a newspaper, but during the political crisis in 1881 he was accused of plotting with Okuma and Mitsubishi. In 1882 Fukuzawa founded the daily News of the Times (Jiji Shimpo) to disseminate the principles of independence. That year he wrote that his main goal had become “to extend Japan’s national power.” He believed that Japan was the best country to take leadership in the Far East, and he argued that Japan should strengthen other Asian nations. He wrote that Korea was weak and that China was decadent. He believed that only Japan could free them from Western imperialism. In July 1885 Fukuzawa gave a speech on “Christianity and Christian Missionaries” in which he praised the missionaries for encouraging higher morality among the foreign businessmen and so restraining their aggressive behavior.

Fukuzawa believed that ethics as well as science could be learned from studying the laws of Nature. He found that doubt and experimentation could discover more consistent knowledge, though intuitive Oriental healing methods, for example, could be correct often. He used the term wakudeki to describe old habits that had outrun their usefulness. The samurai still valued swords because they had been so important during the medieval civil wars. Governors claiming divine rights was another example of wakudeki. Fukuzawa taught that nothing was good or bad in itself, but good and bad depended on how things were used. An idea may work in one context but not in another.

Fukuzawa criticized the traditional Confucian relationships that locked in a preponderance of power. He argued that social distinctions of high and low should be replaced by personal independence and responsible initiative. The harmony between a parent and a child needs to be preserved by both sides. Fukuzawa believed strongly in monogamy and criticized the Great Learning for Women (Onna Daigaku) that made wives subservient to husbands. He suggested that if women were given property, they would develop responsibility, which is necessary for a full and happy life.

Fukuzawa was opposed to government interfering in private life, but neither should people interfere in what is the government’s role. He condemned private vengeance by which individuals tried to punish criminals. He believed that a social contract gave government this power. If the government exceeds its proper limits, then private citizens have the right to appeal to reason and may even sacrifice their lives in doing so. Thus he valued both intelligence and courage. Acquiescing in tyranny is wrong, but for Fukuzawa substituting one form of violence for another is also wrong.

“Fukuzawa’s Moral Code” gathered together his main ethical ideas, and this text was used in Keio high schools from 1923 to 1933. Here is a concise summary. Moral teachings are passed down from past ages, but they need to keep up with the progress of civilization. The universal human duty is to raise one’s personal dignity by developing moral and intellectual faculties and always press on to higher attainments. Fukuzawa’s two main tenets of the moral life are independence and self-respect, and he urged self-help and self-support by working. We should take care of mind and body and refrain from any action that injures health. He considered taking one’s life an unreasonable and cowardly act unworthy of self-respect. Independence and self-respect depend on audacious and active courage. A person should determine one’s own conduct by thinking for oneself.

Treating women as inferior is barbarous because in a civilized society men and women “should love and respect one another as equals.” Marriage is serious and is the origin of all human relations. Only death should separate this loving and respectful cohabitation. Neither the husband nor the wife should interfere with the independence and self-respect of the other. The love that binds parents and children is sincere and pure, and keeping this unimpaired is the basis of domestic happiness. Children should obey their parents and grow into persons of independence and self-respect when they go out into the world.

The ideal person continues learning even in old age. The individual should respect the independence and self-respect of others while seeking our own happiness and protecting our own rights. Seeking revenge is a cruel relic of the dark ages. We should use only just methods for clearing ourselves and vindicating our honor. Every person should be faithful in discharging duties and not neglect responsibilities. Trust others, and they will trust you. Courtesy is necessary to social life and should be observed. We should strive to extend to others the love we feel for ourselves to lighten their burdens. Humanity should prevent people from treating animals with cruelty. Art and literature elevate the character and delight the mind, and they contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind.

Every country needs a government to protect the people and guarantee for every citizen life, property, honor, and liberty. In return citizens have the duty to contribute to national expenses and serve in the military. In addition every citizen has the duty and privilege to influence legislation and government expenditures. “Citizens of Japan, of either sex, should never forget their supreme duty to maintain their national independence.”11 Every citizen has a duty to obey the laws and to see that others obey them too. All nations are our brothers, and there should be no partiality or boasting that leads to despising other people. People today have a duty to improve civilization and to hand it on unimpaired to posterity. Education increases the number of the wise and strong. Those who share our convictions should take them seriously and spread them throughout society.

When “Fukuzawa’s Moral Code” was distributed after World War II, students protested his introductory homage to the Imperial Household and the duty to serve in the military. Although most of Fukuzawa’s ideas are very beneficial, he did promote the development of Japan’s imperialism through military power. He died on February 3, 1901.

Imperial Japan 1894-1937


1. Quoted in A History of Japan, Volume 3 by James Murdoch, p. 454.
2. Takasu, Shinron kowa, p. 198 in Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume 2, p. 96.
3. Quoted in The Meiji Restoration by W. G. Beasley, p. 323.
4. Quoted in The Western World and Japan by George Sansom, p. 456.
5. “The Imperial Rescript on Education” in Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume 2, p. 139-140.
6. “A Proposal to Cease Publication of the Meiroku Zasshi” in The Speeches of Fukuzawa tr. Wayne H. Oxford, p. 112.
7. An Outline of a Theory of Civilization by Fukuzawa Yukichi tr. David A. Dilworth and G. Cameron Hurst, p. 62.
8. Ibid., p. 99.
9. Ibid., p. 123.
10. Ibid., p. 179.
11. “Fukuzawa’s Moral Code” in Fukuzawa Yukichi on Education tr. Eichi Kyooka, p. 273.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book EAST ASIA 1800-1949.
For ordering information, please click here.

Japan to 1615
Japan 1615-1800


Qing Decline 1799-1875
Qing Dynasty Fall 1875-1912
Republican China in Turmoil 1912-1926
Nationalist-Communist Civil War 1927-1937
China at War 1937-1949
Korea 1800-1949
Japan's Modernization 1800-1894
Imperial Japan 1894-1937
Japan's War and Defeat 1937-1949
Philippines to 1949
Pacific Islands to 1949
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Chronology of East Asia to 1950

BECK index